Republican State Senator Jim Boyd is pushing for a bill that would bar local governments from regulating Florida’s seaports. The bill includes language that would make its effect retroactive, which would have an immediate impact on Key West and their recently enacted restrictions on cruise ship stops on the iconic island.
If passed in the Florida House and Senate and signed into law by the governor, the bill specifically would strip local governments of the ability to impose a wide variety of regulations on any of the state’s 15 seaports, including restrictions on the size and types of vessels, the source or type of cargo, or the number, origin or nationality of passengers.
An email seeking comment from the Florida League of Cities was not answered. The League is an advocacy group that has pledged to step up efforts to oppose to state “preemption” laws that strip local governments of the power to regulate their own communities.
But Boyd believes that in the case of seaports, the power to regulate should belong to the federal and state governments because “the economic impact of a seaport extends far beyond the boundaries of the local jurisdiction in which the port is located, materially contributing to the economies of multiple cities and counties within the region and to the economy of the state as a whole.”
It’s an argument that resonates with business owners locally who depend on tourism, and regionally, who depend on nearby seaports for supply and logistics. In November, Key West voters approved city charter amendments that limit the cruise ships to 1,300 people maximum, banning the larger cruise ships operated by companies like Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines.
Carnival Cruise Lines did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story. But Royal Caribbean Cruises seemed supportive of Boyd’s proposal on the company’s official blog.
A Key West restaurant owner also weighed in.
“This is about people, hardworking people who were directly affected by the stoppage, because we care,” restaurant owner Bill Lay told KeysWeekly.com. “Now is the time to set differences aside and begin to work together to achieve a compromise for the betterment of all.”
State Rep. Jim Mooney, who represents the Keys, convened a Wednesday meeting of local government and agency officials to discuss their legislative priorities. Boyd’s bill was a central part of the discussion.
“A large portion of our community voted these ordinances in and now they’re at risk,” said Greg Veliz, Key West’s City Manager. “We need to at least protect the city’s right to govern whether or not cruise ships should be regulated or not.”
Florida’s legislative session is scheduled to start March 2, though committees begin meeting next week.