Coalition calls on legislature to protect maritime commerce

by | Mar 3, 2021

A newly formed coalition made up of businesses and trade associations are pledging their support for two bills that would “responsibly regulate” commerce and seaports.

The Keep Florida’s Economy Sailing coalition launched on Wednesday, throwing its weight behind two bills in the Florida legislature that would protect maritime commerce. Members of the group say they seek to protect the uniform, federally-regulated flow of commerce at Florida’s seaports from local ordinances that could interrupt or negatively impact commerce that is critical to Florida’s economy.

“Florida’s ports are major economic drivers and have become global hubs for maritime commerce, and Senate Bill 426 and its counterpart House Bill 267, are a vital protection for our deep-water ports in Florida,” said John Wells, chair of Caribe Nautical Services and a native Key Wester.“Rightfully so, we have heard concerns that Key West’s referendums could open a Pandora’s box that threatens the continued success of our ports. That is why maritime commerce should be responsibly regulated by the state. I thank Senator Boyd and Representative Roach for their good bills and look forward to supporting them this session.”

The measures that seek to protect seaports from potential economic harm are spearhead by State Senator Jim Boyd and State Representative Spencer Roach. The pair of bills (SB 426/HB 267) would overturn ordinances and prohibit local governments from denying entry into a port based on the size, cargo type, and number or nationality of passengers.

 “Florida’s harbor pilots work diligently to maximize the efficiency of Florida’s seaports that serve as hubs for economic growth and stimulus, making their safety and well-being our top priority,” said Captain Ben Borgie, president of the Florida Harbor Pilots Association.“We believe that Senate Bill 426 by Senator Jim Boyd and House Bill 267 by Representative Spencer Roach empowers the ports to operate unencumbered by local ordinances that could otherwise make port operations unpredictable and threaten port investments that have made them the economic powerhouses they are today. We will wholeheartedly advocate this session for the passage of SB 426 and HB 267.”

The legislation has also received praise from several leaders in the hospitality industry, with many noting that the proposals would safeguard people’s livelihoods as the state deals with the ongoing pandemic.

 “I would like to thank Senator Boyd and Representative Roach for offering this public policy that ensures local ordinances do not threaten the livelihoods of those who work in the hospitality industry surrounding Florida’s seaports, which benefits from the cruise passengers, who before and after their cruise, spend time in Florida, staying in hotels, shopping and eating in restaurants, contributing millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the state’s economy. Also, when cruise ships stop at Florida seaports, passengers enjoy the local attractions, museums, shops, restaurants and bars, which exposes people to places for the first time and often encourages them to return for subsequent vacations, where they stay in local hotels and spend even more time patronizing local businesses,” said Carol Dover, president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.“Florida’s tourism-based businesses, including the restaurant and lodging industry, have already suffered a substantial blow because of COVID-19, and the referendums in Key West will do irreversible short and long-term damage to local businesses around the state. We simply must insist on uniform regulation of commerce in our ports to ensure other businesses do not have to close their doors permanently, because of misguided attacks on our state’s commerce.”

But the divisive measures have also drawn the ire of several opponents who argue that the twin bills seek to suppress the wishes of voters in Key West.

Roach is presenting his version of the bill in the House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee today.


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