Local politicians support push for smoke-free zones in parks

Local lawmakers and Indian Harbour Beach City Manager Mark Ryan are supporting an effort in the state Legislature that would allow municipalities to designate and enforce smoke-free zones in public parks.

That may seem like a logical step, considering the growing trend toward the establishment of other smoke-free areas. But the legislation may be delayed as a bigger battle is waged. Smoke-free zones are only the latest skirmish in the ongoing conflict between state and local governments over the concept of home rule. Other measures up for debate involve whether cities can regulate the cutting of trees, or the types of businesses that can operate locally. Cities like Indian Harbour Beach want local control, but certain factions at the state level want to take that power away under the guise of reducing over-regulation.

Voters in 2002 passed the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, which also regulates outdoor air, which created smoke-free indoor work spaces. However, a clause was added to the legislation that “expressly preempts regulation of smoking to the state and supersedes any municipal or county ordinance on the subject.” The result is that the state dictates all smoking rules, indoors and outdoors.

Florida is one of the few states in the country that lets state lawmakers – not the county, city or town – determine where smoking is and is not allowed. Two bills have been introduced by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R-Rockledge) and state Rep. Thad Altman (R-Indialantic) giving rights back to the communities to regulate smoking in parks and some other public facilities owned by cities.

Ryan recently spoke in favor of Mayfield’s Senate Bill 562.

“The youth of our community and communities throughout the state currently play on playgrounds or athletic fields with inconsiderate individuals smoking around these children providing them with unhealthy second-hand smoke. The current law prohibits municipalities from setting up a reasonable smoke-free zone for our young people to enjoy playing on public playgrounds, athletic fields or watching a sibling play youth sports,’’ he said.

Senate Bill 562 was passed unanimously in the Community Affairs and Health Policy Committee and now goes to the Florida Senate Rules Committee.

Altman’s bill, House Bill, HB 627, is having a harder time of it. It has not had a committee hearing, although requested, before the Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, and is hanging on by a thread with time running out, he said. The gavel is set to bang the 2018 regular session closed March 9.

“The state doesn’t have the resources to monitor every park so there’s really no regulations governing those assembly areas. We’re not saying no smoking in parks. We’re giving them authority to designate smoking and non-smoking areas,” Altman said. “The cities, like Mark Ryan with Indian Harbour Beach, have come out in force. It’s a big deal across the state because they really want to do this.”

The Legislature has eroded more and more of that local control and local responsibilities and duties, but there are a lot of powerful interests still that are lobbying in Tallahassee on smoking issues, Altman said.

One of the groups pressing for a local clamp-down on outdoor smoking is the QuitDoc Foundation, based out of Coral Springs. Its CEO, Dr. Barry Hummel, MD, asserts that the public wants smoke-free public areas, but the difficulty of getting this put on agendas and passed puts politics over the public will.

“Our organization conducted a survey of likely voters in 2015 to gauge support for smoke-free parks and beaches. In that survey, 65 percent of voters believed that local governments should have the right to establish smoke-free municipal parks and playgrounds. Seventy-two percent of voters also said that local governments should have the right to prohibit smoking in public places wherever children may be present,” Hummel said. “A single legislator should not be able to hold up legislation supported by such a large percentage of the population in Florida, as well as advocates for public health.”

Altman, who brings the unique perspective of having served eight years on the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners before heading to Tallahassee, says there’s a major disconnect between the bicameral state legislature and those running things day-to-day in cities and counties around Florida.

“It’s interesting. Some of the things that make the most amount of sense seem to be the hardest. This particular bill is very unfortunate and I think what we’re fighting is this attitude in Tallahassee is that they can do better than everyone else and they know everything,” Altman said.

He should know, as Altman served in the Florida House before rising to the Senate, and now he’s back in the House representing Melbourne Beach, Indialantic, beachside Melbourne, Indian Harbour Beach, Satellite Beach, South Patrick Shores and South Tropical Trail.

“When you consider there are hundreds of cities and tens of thousands of parks, I think it would be good for the state to give the cities that authority,’’ he said.

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