CAN CRUISE SHIPS RETURN TO KEY WEST?

ON The legislature’s attempt to annul a referendum on cruise ships in Key West came a step closer on March 10th.

A majority of Key West voters voted in November to reduce the pre-pandemic Key West cruise industry by about 92% compared to pre-pandemic port visits.

Using ballot papers as votes, these voters – about 62% of them – urged city lawmakers to amend the city’s charter to allow cruise lines carrying more than 1,300 people, not just passengers, to dock in Key West. The charter change would also mean that no more than 1,500 people can disembark in Key West on any given day, and ships with the best environmental records will be given priority docking.

Then the Florida legislature met on March 2, and Senator Jim Boyd, a Republican from Bradenton, filed Senate Act 426This would undo the changes to the Key West Charter by depriving port cities of the power to refuse certain ships based on their size, number of passengers or other characteristics.

Boyd’s bill also specifically repeals any local referendum or electoral initiative to change a city’s port operations. The bill applies to four of Florida’s 15 ports that are owned by cities, not counties – Key West, Pensacola, Panama City, and St. Petersburg.

Senate Bill 426 states: “A local government may not restrict or regulate trade in the seaports of that state … including, but not limited to, regulating or restricting the type or size, source or type of cargo or cargo Number, origin or ship, nationality of the passengers. All such matters are expressly prohibited by the state. “

The bill also states: “A local electoral initiative or referendum may not restrict maritime trade in the seaports of that state, including, but not limited to, restricting such trade based on any of the following criteria: 1. Ship type, size, number , or capacity. 2. Number, origin, nationality, embarkation or disembarkation of passengers or crew members or their entry into that state or a local jurisdiction. 3. Source, type, loading or unloading of the cargo. 4. Environmental or health data of a specific ship or a specific shipping line. (b) Any local electoral initiative or referendum or any local law, statute amendment, ordinance, resolution, ordinance or policy passed in a local electoral initiative or referendum will violate this Subsection which shall be made before, on or after the date of Entry into force of this law is prohibited and void. “

Bradenton State Senator Jim Boyd discusses his bill to lift restrictions on cruise lines in Key West during the Senate Transportation Committee meeting in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

The Florida Senate Transportation Committee passed Senate Draft 426 by a 5-2 vote on Wednesday morning. Senator Keith Perry was absent from the vote.

Florida Keys State Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, who sits on the Transportation Committee, voted against the bill after clarifying that the bill would pass the committee based on members’ comments prior to the vote.

Two other Senate committees and two State House committees must approve the bill before it goes to the full floor of the State Congress for final vote.

Senator Rodriguez told Keys Weekly on March 9, the day before the committee meeting, “I’m not sure if this bill came from the Key West vote. It is possible that this was what caused Senator Boyd to table it, but I will still give my all on my amendment. “

Florida Keys Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez voted against the bill that would remove discounts on Key West cruise lines during Wednesday’s Senate Transportation Committee meeting. The committee approved the bill, which is now being continued in the legislative process.

Rodriguez was hoping for support for a proposed change that Key West would have exempted due to its designation as an Area of ​​Critical State Concern. But Rodriguez withdrew her proposed amendment before the March 10th vote.

Legislators and other officials confirmed during Wednesday’s Transportation Committee meeting that the bill was specifically written to nullify attempts by Key West voters to restrict cruise lines in their community.

“It’s no secret that this was due to what was going on in Key West,” Senator Boyd testified at Wednesday’s session.

Warren Husband of the Florida Harbor Pilots Association spoke out in favor of Boyd’s bill, saying, “The state is investing millions in these ports based on economic projections of traffic in these ports. A rogue city government could jeopardize these plans. “

Joseph Salzberg, a lobbyist representing the city of Key West, spoke out against the bill, saying, “The city is against any legislation that tries to thwart the direction of its voters. The city must oppose anything that violates the almost 200-year history of the local port operation. “

Key West business owner Danny Hughes flew to Tallahassee to speak for the bill. At the meeting, no one spoke from the Safer Cleaner Ships Committee, which chaired the Key West voter referendum to limit cruise lines. But the opposition came from that Surfrider Foundation and by Florida Ports for Economic Independence lobbyist Josh Aubuchon.

The Key West City Commission and Islamorada Village Council have passed resolutions against SB 426 and its identical companion bill in the House of Representatives, House Bill 267, submitted by Fort Myers Republican Spencer Roach.

Monroe County Commissioner, Craig Cates, is also expected to come up with a similar resolution against the bills at the county’s next meeting of the county’s administration committee.

“It has been made very clear that the bill is targeting Key West and that they are trying to target and punish Key West,” said Arlo Haskell, treasurer of the Safer Cleaning Vessels Committee. “They’re trying to reverse the Key West vote. It takes control of the voters and the city out of control. “

Haskell called Wednesday’s poll “a great test for Senator Rodriguez. Does it represent the people of the Florida Keys or does it represent the cruise industry? It is annoying to see elected civil servants disregarding the will of the majority of voters. “

Who supports SB 426?

In addition to Hughes, who traveled to Tallahassee to support SB 426, Key West businessmen Ed Swift, CEO of Historic Tours of America, and John Wells, founder of Caribe Nautical’s shipping agents, are two outright proponents of port requirements.

Both were quoted by FloridaPolitics.com on March 3rd as a support.

An independent website, FloridaPolitics.com quoted Wells and Swift in its coverage of the Cruise Ships Reference Law on March 3:

“A coalition of trade associations and companies called ‘Keep Florida’s Economy Sailing’ was formed on March 2nd, calling on lawmakers to pass laws to protect trade in Florida seaports.

“… Keeping Florida’s Economy Sailing members informed (the bills) would protect seaports from potential economic damage….

“‘Florida’s ports have become major economic drivers and global hubs for maritime trade, and Senate Bill 426 (and its counterpart House Bill 267) are critical protections for our Florida deepwater ports,” said John Wells, chairman of Caribe Nautical Services and a native of Key West. “We were right to hear concerns that the Key West referendums could open a Pandora’s box to jeopardize the continued success of our ports. Therefore, maritime trade should be responsibly managed by the state. Thank you Sen. (Jim ) Boyd and Rep. (Spencer) Roach for their good accounts and look forward to supporting them in this session. ‘

“Other members of the coalition are them Florida Restaurant and Accommodation Association, Florida Harbor Pilots Association and Historical tours of America.

“Representatives from each group pointed out the importance of passing the preliminary ruling.” FloridaPolitics.com writes. “FRLA President Carol Dover said the Key West ordinance is threatening the livelihood of hospitality workers in port areas. Florida Harbor Pilots Association President Ben Borgie said the proposal “enables ports to operate safely” through regulations that “make port operations unpredictable and threaten port investments.”

“And Historic Tours of America President Edwin Swift III said the bills could save his industry further harm as it recovers from the ‘brutal wake-up call’ of the pandemic.”

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