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Coral Gables plastic bag ban will force lawsuit — exactly as planned

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

As A-Team’s Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith often says: “I love it when a plan comes together.”

If current momentum holds, starting May 9, Coral Gables will become the first Florida city to ban single-use plastic shopping bags.

It’s a move directly contradicting Florida law, which gives the state regulatory purview over the issue.

And Coral Gables’ ban, if successful, will no doubt provoke a lawsuit — exactly as planned.

Why? Among those happiest over the prospect of lawyering up — beyond trial attorneys, that is — are environmentalist groups, most notably the Surfrider Foundation.

Certainly, taxpayers will be less than enthused.

A lawsuit is one of two ways Surfrider sees Florida’s “ban the bag” movement going its way.

For Surfrider, Coral Gables in a lawsuit waiting to happen is fairly low stakes and low commitment, compared to traditional legislative channels.

In fact, Surfrider is so “stoked” about the prospect of having its day in Miami-Dade court that it offered to help with legal expenses.

With luck, one of Florida’s more activist judges will hear the case.

If not, well, it’s no big deal. Surfrider has a choice of 39 other Florida communities for legal provocations to ban the bag.

Eventually, they’ll win, right?

Surfrider, as with other similar activist groups, made its name by bringing lawsuit after lawsuit, litigating its way into the headlines.

But, remarkably, Surfrider does its work as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, which is prohibited from engaging in significant direct lobbying — something Surfrider does while paying next to nothing to do so.

Nevertheless, Surfrider does not hide the fact it is openly playing lawsuit roulette in Florida.

Also, Surfrider continues its local and state campaigns, in Florida and around the country, to force product bans (think bags, straws, balloons, water bottles and Styrofoam), energy moratoriums and other prescriptive policies. This is accomplished with impunity as a tax shield, effectively subsidized by the communities and taxpayers it seeks to regulate.

Surfrider engaged a similar tactic when it targeted Portsmouth, New Hampshire. As reported by the New Hampshire Political Buzz website, the group’s clear playbook was to search out a community willing to contradict state statutes, thereby drawing a lawsuit.

Coral Gable’s bag ban — on which the City Council votes Tuesday — includes a regressive bag tax on any paper bags grocers continue to distribute to shoppers.

Violations of the ban and tax requirements will be met, after an initial grace period, with $50 fines, which could graduate to $500 fines for repeat mistakes.

What about taxpayers and business owners who don’t like the prospect of Coral Gables thwarting Florida’s regulatory framework, while repressing consumer choice and bilking taxpayers for even more money?

Activists promise THEY’LL GET USED TO IT.

And maybe, just maybe, if the inevitable lawsuit breaks favorably, it will embolden other Florida activists, giving them a green light to pursue similar bans and tax policies in communities throughout the state.

Just as planned.

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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