New legislation could allow local governments to ban cigarettes in public parks

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TALAHASSEE – Legislation allowing Florida cities and counties to outlaw smoking at public beaches and parks cleared its first House committee Tuesday.

The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee advanced a bill (HB 239) that would authorize local governments to regulate smoking at those locales. Right now, Florida law leaves the decision to regulate smoking only to state government.

Rep. Thad Altman, an Indiatlantic Republican, stressed the bill won’t ban all smoking, but would give officials the ability to set local rules. That could include setting up areas where smoking is allowed while restricting it in most areas of a beach.

“It doesn’t mean they will prohibit smoking, but it will give them the opportunity at least to address those conflicts,” Altman said.

The presence of cigarette butts on beaches also pose a threat to tourism, Altman said. The discarded items are the single most frequent piece of litter cleaned up on beaches, Altman said, and some destination-ranking lists deduct points on beaches that allow smoking because of that.

“We want to get those type of butts off the beach to get other butts on the beach,” Altman said.

Notably, the Legislature in recent years has been at odds with local government on matters of preemption, stepping on municipal and county decisions about cruises, lotions and plastic straws. Last year, a push to limit cigarette butts on beaches cleared a few Senate committees but died without a House vote.

Within the committee, the legislation faced some resistance. Rep. Alex Rizo, a Miami-Dade County Republican, pressed Altman on whether the legislation limits the rights of smokers. He also expressed concern whether the bill would affect pipe and cigar smoking, which don’t generate the same amount of litter. Rizo voted in favor of the bill Tuesday, but said he’d like those concerns addressed before the bill hits the floor.

Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican, filed an eye-popping amendment that would gut the bill and put a $10-million fine on local governments payable to Cigar Rights of America. He withdrew the amendment before it could be ruled out of order, but it showed how cigar interests continue to provide the most visible resistance to the legislation.

Altman’s bill must still go through two other committees before it can be heard on the floor. It now goes to the Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. James Buchanan, a Venice Republican.

Companion legislation (SB 334) sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, cleared the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee on Monday. It now goes to the Rules Committee, it’s last stop before the Senate floor.

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Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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