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St. Petersburg City Council committee advances plastic bag ban

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A St. Petersburg City Council committee took the first step toward crafting a citywide ban on plastic shopping bags Thursday, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

St. Petersburg’s Energy Natural Resources and Sustainability Committee voted 3-1 to start drafting the ordinance, with City Council member Ed Montanari casting the lone vote against the measure.

Plastic bags have drawn the ire of many environmental groups since they don’t break down, can harm or kill wildlife, clog flood control systems and even serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“A wasteful plastic bag that you use for a minute shouldn’t be something that pollutes our environment for decades,” City Council Chair Darden Rice said.

The city council decision follows a court victory for the bag ban supporters earlier this year.

In that case, the city of Coral Gables successfully defended a ban passed on polystyrene containers from a challenge by the Florida Retail Federation.

The case resulted in a circuit court judge tossing out a 2016 state law blocking municipalities from plastic foam bans, as well as the 2008 state law pre-empting local plastic bag bans.

That case is currently being appealed, but Coral Gables followed up their victory with a plastic bag ban in May. St. Petersburg officials are looking to do the same while they can.

“I believe there is a window of opportunity here,” said Assistant City Attorney Joe Patner. “I don’t know how big the window is. I don’t know how long it stays open.”

Patner said the city should expect a challenge from the Florida Retail Federation if they pass a ban, but that the verdict in the Coral Gables case gives him some confidence the city could prevail in court.

Montanari said he would rather wait for the outcome of an appeal than pass a ban, fearing that the city could rack up litigation costs that could all be “for nothing” if the pre-emption law is upheld in appeals.

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

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