By Rachel Brown Hackney, SarasotaNewsLeader.com
As he has in previous years, state Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) has filed a bill in the 2021 Florida legislative session that would give local governments the ability to restrict smoking at their beaches and in parks.
The short title of Senate Bill (SB) 334 is “Florida Clean Air Act.”
The bill would amend Section 386.209 of the Florida Statutes to allow counties and municipalities to “further restrict smoking within the boundaries of any public beaches and public parks that they own. Municipalities may further restrict smoking within the boundaries of public beaches and public parks that are within their jurisdiction but are owned by the county if doing so would not conflict with a county ordinance.”
Additionally, the bill would prohibit smoking within any state park.
If it wins passage in the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it into law, it would go into effect July 1.
Gruters filed the bill on Dec. 18, state Senate records show. On Jan. 26, it won approval from members of the Senate Community Affairs Committee on an 8-1 vote. The next day, it moved to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
A companion Florida House bill has been filed, legislative records also show. As of March 5, no votes had been taken on it.
The sponsor of the House version — House Bill (HB) 239 — is Rep. Thad Altman (R-Indialantic).
In his previous two terms in the state Senate, Gruters filed bills to try to end smoking on public beaches, but he was unable to garner sufficient support from his colleagues for the measures to pass.
In a December 2012 court ruling involving the City of Sarasota, a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge pointed to a state law that prevents local governments from imposing smoking bans on public property.
A July 21, 2011 opinion issued by the Florida Attorney General’s Office in a case involving the St. Johns River Water Management District said, “In sum: The Regulation of smoking is preempted to the state pursuant to [the Clean Indoor Air Act], and the … District may not adopt a policy prohibiting smoking or tobacco use that is broader than the terms of [that statute].”
After the December 2012 court ruling, the Sheriff’s Office ceased enforcing the county ban on smoking on Siesta Public Beach. Sgt. Scott Osborne, then the leader of the Siesta substation, said the citation included a $100 fine.