Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, like many of us in the communities fronting Biscayne Bay, has seen too many plastic shopping bags littering our shoreline and neighborhoods. These lighter-than-air bags float effortlessly, live forever, and seem to be multiplying somewhere. They endanger marine life, and they are the favorite breeding ground for summer mosquitoes.
Mayor MacDougall looked into a town-wide ban on the plastic invaders, but found out that Florida towns are powerless to restrict the frisky critters. In 2008, our legislators in Tallahassee decided that banning bags is a power with which local government just can’t be trusted (Section 403.7033, Florida Statutes).
So the mayor gave up on the idea, until an 8-year-old student asked why. And Ed MacDougall asked himself, “Why, indeed?”
Other cities in other states — and even entire countries — have banned plastic shopping bags. There probably is enough support in the community to at least debate the idea.
Maybe in Orlando, they don’t want a plastic bag ban. Maybe Jacksonville doesn’t have the afternoon storms that send these things aloft to a bay. Maybe people in other towns all carefully recycle their bags, and they just want to keep them legal.
The point is that special places have special situations. Why tie the hands of all the municipalities in the state? Well, it turns out that plastic bags are much cheaper than paper bags for the retailers, and the lobbyists for the retail chains knew it would be easier to influence state legislators instead of fighting in every town hall.
Lobbyists are doing that kind of thing more and more. There is a lobby for airboats, so they get a bill going to stop cities from imposing a late-night curfew on airboat noise (Senate Bill 1794). There’s a lobby for beekeepers, so they cook up a bill to keep towns from restricting beekeeping in neighborhoods (Senate Bill 1132).
They do this with ease at the state level, because you would complain to the mayor and council members if your neighbor on the left started his airboat at midnight and it woke up all the angry bees belonging to your neighbor on the right. But you never see your state representative, so he never has to hear your complaints about the state laws that might create this catastrophe.
The Florida League of Cities lists dozens of intrusive state laws that restrict the home rule of towns like Cutler Bay to govern themselves according to the will of residents, and according to the special character of each community. Some of these restrictions are deadly serious, involving regulation of guns, pit bulls, wage theft, and hurricane preparation. It’s time for Florida legislators to stop meddling in the home rule of our municipalities.
Starting with these pesky shopping bags, let’s hope the mayor and the young people of Cutler Bay will help show our Tallahassee government that local governments know best what our local communities need.
Ross Hancock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a candidate for State Representative for the new House District 114, including parts of Coral Gables, South Miami, Ludlam, and Pinecrest, plus all of West Miami and Cutler Bay.