By Rachel Brown Hackney, SarasotaNewsLeader.com
Once again, Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota has set his sights on banning smoking on the beaches. For the 2020 session of the Legislature, however, he is taking a different tack from the one he followed for the 2019 session.
Instead of trying to achieve a statewide ban, Gruters’ new measure would allow counties and municipalities to restrict smoking within the boundaries of public beaches and public parks that the local governments own.
Senate Bill 670 also would prohibit smoking in state parks.
The bill specifies, “Municipalities may further restrict smoking within the boundaries of public beaches and public parks that are within their jurisdiction but are owned by the county if doing so would not conflict with a county ordinance.”
The bill does point out that the regulation of smoking is the state’s purview.
It was filed on Oct. 25, 2019,with state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, as co-sponsor.
On Jan. 6, Gruters’ bill was put on an upcoming Senate Community Affairs Committee agenda, Florida Senate records showed. Earlier —on Dec. 13, 2019 — it was referred to the Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee.
Companion legislation — House Bill 457 — was filed by state Rep. Chip LaMarca, a Republican who lives in Lighthouse Point. On Nov.7, 2019, it was referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, the Health Quality Subcommittee and the State Affairs Committee, legislative records show.
If the measure passes this year, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it into law, it would take effect on July 1,Florida Senate records say.
A report of the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy notes that of all the trash collected during its 2017International Coastal Cleanup, cigarette butts held the top spot, with a count of 2,412,151. As the report put it, that was enough butts to line the distance of five marathons.
The results of the organization’s2018 International Coastal Cleanup again had cigarette butts at the top of the list. That year, however, the total reported was more than double the 2017 figure. The butts in 2018 added up to 5,716,331.
The Ocean Conservancy created an app called Clean Swell, “which allows volunteers to upload cleanup data in real-time to the world’s largest debris database,” its website explains.
Last year, Gruters’ smoking ban bill was referred to four Senate committees, but none of them scheduled a hearing on it.
The 2020 Florida legislative session began on Jan. 14 and will end on March 13. The early start reflects the fact that 2020 is a Presidential Election year.
March 3 will be the last day for regularly scheduled committee meetings, according to the Florida Senate’s calendar.