Key West's effort to limit cruising defeated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill overturning a decision by Key West voters in November to limit cruise ship visits.

A Florida Senate transportation bill (SB 1194) includes language nullifying measures that would cap the number of cruise passengers allowed ashore daily, ban ships that carry more than 1,300 people from docking, and prioritize ships based on their health and environmental records. Key West voters had overwhelmingly approved these measures last November. 

A roller coaster of events that today ended on DeSantis’ desk began in January, when Republican Sen. Jim Boyd of Bradenton sought to overturn the results of Key West’s referendum with legislation that would not allow local governments to regulate Florida seaport commerce.

When Boyd’s bill seemed to die in the Florida House in April, Boyd introduced it as an amendment to a 38-page unrelated state Senate transportation bill (SB 1194) that passed both the Senate and House and says that “any local ballot initiative or referendum may not restrict maritime commerce” at any one of Florida’s 15 deep-water ports. The amendment also voids any preexisting referendum, thus nullifying the Key West vote.

Defenders of the bill to overturn the Key West vote said that it is elitist and would only allow in smaller ships that cost more. Florida Keys News reported that Rep. Spencer Roach, a Republican from North Fort Myers and the House sponsor of the bill, defended the amendment and said the referendum was backed by “a cabal of wealthy landowners in Key West that don’t want what they consider cruise ship riffraff walking down their pier.”

Voters in Key West, including Mayor Teri Johnston, had held out hope that the governor would veto SB 1194.

“The people making this legislation haven’t been here,” said Johnston, according to the Florida Phoenix. She was referring to Boyd and Roach, neither of whose districts encompass any part of the Keys. “They have no idea how important the environment of the Keys is to us and our economy.”

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