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Proposed Bill Blocks Port Regulations and Key West’s Cruise Ship Ban

bill would block local regulation of ports and revoke Key West cruise ship ban
Cruise ship in Key West at sunset - Yinan Chen/Wikimedia

Published Jan 7, 2021 6:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

A new bill being presented for consideration in the spring session of Florida’s state legislature proposes blocking local governments from making rules that restrict the activity at the state's ports saying that authority rests only with the state or federal government. The bill would govern all of Florida’s 15 seaports and its provisions would overturn the residents of Key West’s efforts to block cruise ships from their town.

The bill was introduced by Senator Jim Boyd, a Republican elected in November 2020 to represent the city of Bradenton, Florida on the southwest coast of the state. The proposed legislation seeks to prohibit local governments from restricting or regulating commerce, the size, and types of vessels, the source or type of cargo, or the number, origin, or nationality of passengers.

"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," says the draft bill according to Florida media outlet WLRN. 

In introducing the bill they are contending that permitting local authorities to set individual policies for their local ports could interfere with the state’s commerce, the flow of goods in and out of the state, and the public’s health, safety, and welfare.

Equally contentious in the draft bill is a preemption clause, meaning that if the bill became law, it would nullify previous local regulations that are covered by the restrictions in the bill. Organizations in Florida have specifically targeted preemptive bills seeking to eliminate the practice of making rules retroactive to cover actions prior to the passage of the legislation. The Florida League of Cities reports that nearly 140 bills have been passed in the last four years with a preemptive element.

If this bill is passed one of the most visible impacts would be the ability to nullify the vote in Key West in November that directed the town manager to block cruise ships from the city’s docks. The hotly contested referendums were adopted with voters approving bans on large cruise ships, limiting the number of people coming ashore each day from cruise ships, and giving priority to cruise ships with the best environmental records.