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Controversy Swirls Around Straws And Sunscreen

What started out as an effort to prevent local governments from regulating the distribution of plastic straws morphed Monday into a push for a study on the issue, lumped in with an attempt to prohibit cities and counties from banning certain sunscreens.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Florida Retail Association and Disability Rights Florida are among the groups supporting the study on straws.

A number of environmental groups opposing the proposal (SB 588) argue that studies already show plastic and certain sunscreens are detrimental to the environment.

Sen. Travis Hutson, the bill’s sponsor, told the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee he wanted a pause on straws.

“I realized that I was putting my own thoughts into this and going a little over too far,” Hutson, R-Palm Coast, said. “So I think we should do a study … to see what the actual effect on the environment is with the use of these plastic straws.”

The bill, approved by a 3-1 vote Monday, would impose a 5-year moratorium that would keep local governments from enforcing regulations on plastic straws until a study on the impact of a plastic straw ban is completed.

The study would look into the environmental impact as well as the quality of life of people with disabilities who “may rely on single-use plastic straws for feeding and hydration."

There is no estimate on the costs of the study yet as details continue to be ironed out, Hutson said.

Huston has an ally in Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who is co-sponsoring the bill a year after he unsuccessfully tried to keep local governments from regulating utensils, including plastic straws.

Cities and counties are in a constant tug-of-war with the state Legislature over local regulations, and sunscreen and plastic straws are the source of this year’s skirmish.

Currently, there are 10 cities in Florida that regulate the use of plastic straws. Key West, meanwhile, recently approved a ban on sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. The two chemicals have been shown to be damaging to coral reefs.

Former House Speaker Dean Cannon has registered to lobby Hutson’s bill on behalf of Islamorada, a village in the Florida Keys, that relies heavily on tourism and boasts on its website about its “wide variety of shallow coral reefs” and “underwater habitat for scientific research.”

The Surfrider Foundation’s Holly Parker argued that the plastic straw bill should not include the provision on sunscreen regulation, which she said deserves separate scrutiny.

“At every single cleanup we conduct, we find plastics. In fact, generally if you clean the beach for five minutes, you’ll leave with a fistful of straws,” Parker said. “We don’t need a study. We need action.”

But Olivia Babis, with Disability Rights Florida, argued that a ban on plastic straws poses a risk for people with disabilities, who may not be able to suck on a paper straw. Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said Babis’ argument is what persuaded him to sign off on the revised proposal.

“Nobody wants to see a turtle with a straw stuck up its nose, but we also do not want to jeopardize the health and safety for a vulnerable population either, and unfortunately, that is what is happening,” Babis told the Senate committee Monday.

The measure has two more committee stops before heading to the floor for a full Senate vote. A similar House bill (HB 603), which does not include a study, would restrict food service establishments to distributing plastic straws upon request.

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