Plastic bags litter the Miami Beach shoreline. They get wrapped around the mangroves and clog the drainage system.
But there’s little city leaders can do because Florida law prohibits local governments from regulating or banning disposable plastic bags.
Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, is hoping to change that. He’s filed a bill that would allow coastal communities with fewer than 100,000 residents to create pilot programs addressing the issue.
The proposal won the unanimous support of the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee Wednesday, thanks partly to testimony from South Florida municipal leaders.
“We need your help,” Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco told state lawmakers, pointing out that hundreds of thousands of tourists go shopping in his city.
Still, the proposal is a long shot. The powerful retail industry is against it, and its companion in the House (HB 661) has stalled.
“We talk about the environment all of the time,” Bullard said. “A majority of voters passed Amendment One to protect our natural areas and the Everglades. This bill falls in line with those goals.”
Bullard said the idea came from students at Dr. Edward L. Whigham Elementary in Cutler Bay. They asked the town council in 2009 to place restrictions on plastic bags — only to learn that the state did not allow it.
The children turned to Bullard, then a state representative.
Bullard could not pass a plastic bill proposal in the House. He tried as a member of the Florida Senate in 2013 and 2014, but was unsuccessful.
This year, Bullard limited his proposal to small municipalities on the coast. Those communities would be able to establish 30-month pilot programs to regulate or ban plastic bags.
“It allows them to figure out what is best for their communities,” he said.
On Wednesday, Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michelle Lazarow said plastic bags often get caught in her city’s waterways and sand dunes.
“They are also impacting our storm water system,” she said, noting the only remedy is “costly storm drain cleaning maintenance.”
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said two cities in her commission district were already interested in starting pilot programs: Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay.
“It is a sensitive environmental area and they join me in support of this first step,” she said.
Elected officials from Cape Canaveral and Fernandina Beach voiced their support, too, as did representatives from several environmental groups.
But the the Florida Retail Federation insisted the bill wasn’t practical.
“Millions of visitors come to Florida each year,” general counsel Samantha Padgett said. “They are going to purchase items and they have to have some means of carrying those items.”
Other types of bags, Padgett said, wouldn’t cut it. Reusable bags collect germs. And paper bags “can be very inconvenient for consumers on a rainy day,” she said.
An analysis of the bill noted that “a ban or restriction on the use of disposable plastic bags will result in an indeterminate negative fiscal impact on businesses, consumers, or both, depending on the costs of alternatives.”
Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, however, said she saw it as an opportunity to “think creatively and work collaboratively” with local business owners.
“We have never been in a position where we want to take on our local businesses, restaurants and local store owners and make their lives more difficult,” she said.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.