TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The Florida Senate made a renewed attempt Wednesday to overturn a 2020 vote by Key West residents restricting cruise ship operations, adding the issue to a wide-ranging transportation bill.
A day after the issue appeared dead in the House, the Senate voted 21-17 to attach broad language about local referendums involving seaport operations to a transportation bill (SB 1194) that must return to the House. The transportation bill includes 27 issues.
Sen. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican who is sponsoring the transportation bill, and Sen. Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican who sponsored a stand-alone port bill (SB 426), called the amendment a compromise with the House.
“This is week nine (of the legislative session), and the Senate and the House sometimes reach compromise language, that this could be one of those that nobody likes and maybe that’s the right way to end it,” Hooper said.
But Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, said the amendment would apply to all 15 seaports in the state. It would prohibit local ballot initiatives that restrict maritime commerce involving vessel sizes, points of origin and even environmental and health records of the ship or company.
“If you have a port in your district, know that the people in your district, the voters, are not going to be able to have their voices heard on some of these issues,” Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, said.
Key West voters in November approved limiting the size of ships and the number of passengers who can visit the city daily. Boyd’s bill, as approved by the Senate, ended up being narrowly targeted to overturning the Key West vote. But it was not brought up on the House floor and appeared Tuesday to have died.
On Monday, the Miami Herald reported that 11 companies owned by Mark Walsh, who owns the company running the Pier B cruise ship dock behind Margaritaville Key West Resort and Marina, have donated nearly $1 million to the Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee backing the governor’s re-election effort.
Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, said the state should allow the Key West issue to be handled in court, where a property owner could argue the local vote involved a “taking” of business interests.
“They have a business, that they have a reliance, that they have a long-term contract on that business entity and that the city is doing something that amounts to taking of property and a reduction,” Pizzo said.
The Florida Ports Council, which opposed the earlier legislation, viewed the amendment as narrowing the preemption of local seaport operations, with the Senate taking “steps to help ensure Florida’s seaports remain a major economic driver.”
“With thousands of cruise-related employees still sidelined, and cruise ships still unable to sail, it’s vital that local seaports are not further restricted in their ability to conduct business and create economic development opportunities,” council Vice President of Governmental Affairs Michael Rubin said in a prepared statement.
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