During a Dec. 7 retreat, Sarasota County commissioners cited park maintenance as a major goal for 2013.
Three days later, Judge Maryann Boehm ruled the city of Sarasota couldn’t enforce an outdoor smoking ban. The Florida Clean Indoor Air Act delegates that power to the state.
As a result of that ruling, neither the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office nor Parks and Recreation staff can prevent smoking at the 111 public parks and 10 public beaches in Sarasota County.
But, Florida Rep. Bill Hager plans to file a bill that would remove the so-called pre-emptive clause from the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act. Municipalities would then be allowed to regulate outdoor smoking.
“There is great support for protecting the health and safety of our community, and for preserving the natural beauty of our Florida beaches,” Hager said in an emailed statement.
In 2011, Hager led the push to allow local school districts to ban smoking on school property, which is part of the pre-emptive clause in the smoking act.
“They obviously acknowledged there’s a problem, because they carved out that exception for schools,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta, during a Jan. 11 phone interview.
Also in 2011, Rep. Kathleen Passidimo sponsored a similar bill with Rep. D. Alan Hays that died the following year in the Community and Military Affairs Committee.
“There’s going to be a big push,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson.
The Florida League of Counties and the Florida League of Cities will be behind the bill, according to Patterson. The two organizations lobby for municipalities’ interests in the state, such as local government’s share of the British Petroleum settlement funding.
“This bill will be filed shortly, and I am expecting strong, bi-partisan support,” Hager said in the statement.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to ban smoking,” said Jean Guy-Brochu, a tourist from Quebec, Canada, and former smoker, as he left the beach Jan. 15. He said that smoking can do harm to people and the environment.
“I think you can just politely ask someone to stop, and that’s enough,” Brochu said.
Brochu and at least eight other tourists visiting Siesta beach Jan. 15 said they did not notice anyone smoking on the beach. There were split on preference for an outright ban.
Patterson said during the Jan. 15 Siesta Key Condo council meeting that the legislative change that Hager wants to initiate would likely trump a court challenge.
“I mean, the American Cancer Society is behind (the bill),” Patterson said.