The slow march of straw bans across the country is starting to get some pushback in the form of proposed state preemption laws.
In both Florida and Colorado, legislators have introduced bills that would impose state-wide straw-on-request policies that ban food service businesses from issuing customers unsolicited straws, while also forbidding local governments from banning the plastic suckers outright.
For advocates of unbridled straw liberty, these policies are hardly ideal. Indeed, the country's current anti-straw mania got kicked into high-gear in early 2018 when California legislators pushed (and eventually enacted) a straw-on-request law. The policy's spread to more purple states in 2019 is a testament to the popular momentum behind the anti-straw movement.
That said, both Colorado and Florida's straw-on-request bills also come with a number of exceptions that limit their impact. Both allow for self-serve straw dispensers in restaurants and unsolicited straws to be included in delivery and take-out orders. More importantly, these two bills also forbid local governments from piling on even more onerous restrictions on straws or other plastic utensils and containers, including outright bans and mandates that restaurants swap out their plastic fare for biodegradable alternatives.
Given that most of the straw banning energy is coming from local governments, the preemption of municipal action could do a lot to forestall future straw bans in those states. In Florida, where cities like St. Petersburg and Miami Beach have already passed straw bans of their own, a preemption bill could even restore some modicum of choice for consumers.
Preemption laws themselves are hardly new, and in fact have been used in a number of midwestern states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, to overturn local bans on plastic bags—yesteryear's chief environmental hazard. Wrapping these preemption policies with a lesser restriction on plastic straws is likely smart politics for industry groups with a vested interest in straws.
"If you were to allow 64 counties, 300 plus municipalities, the ability to dictate what products you can use, how you can use them, it's going to be virtually impossible for someone who operates in multiple counties to understand what standard they're operating under at any given time," the Colorado Restaurant Association's Nick Hoover told the Associated Press.
Florida's Restaurant Association similarly urged its members to adopt a straw-on-request policy, but has so far stayed silent on Florida's two straw preemption bills, both of which have been introduced by Republican members of the state Legislature.
The Plastics Industry Association—a trade association representing plastic manufacturers—has staked out a neutral stance on straw-on-request policies while opposing full-on bans.
Less compromising defenders of plastic straws may want to look to Utah, where Rep. Mike McKell (R–Spanish Fork) has introduced a bill that simply preempts local governments from banning straws, bags, or other plastic containers without including a straw-on-request mandate.
Still, the fact that conservative Republicans and restaurant lobbyists are willing to make their peace with straw-on-request policies outside of deep red Utah suggests that the days of laissez faire straw regulation are gone for good.
Rent Free is a weekly newsletter from Christian Britschgi on urbanism and the fight for less regulation, more housing, more property rights, and more freedom in America's cities.