Florida Senate steams forward on port restrictions for cruise ships

Key West voters side with new limits on cruise ship tourism
Key West voters side with new limits on cruise ship tourism

The Senate continued moving forward Wednesday with an effort to overturn a 2020 vote in Key West intended to limit cruise ship operations.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee voted 5-3 to approve a bill (SB 426) that had been narrowed to address municipal-run ports in Key West, Pensacola, Panama City and St. Petersburg.

It was amended Wednesday to prohibit past and future local referendums that alter cruise-ship operations.

“We’ve tried to refine it as tightly and as specifically as possible to address the problem and protect maritime commerce,” bill sponsor Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said.

Of the municipal-run ports, only Key West has cruise ship operations, though negotiations are underway to bring cruise ships to Panama City.

Lobbyist Josh Aubuchon, representing the group Florida Ports for Economic Independence, said the Key West referendum didn’t ban cruise ships.

“What they did was adopt reasonable limits to protect the natural environment and conserve and promote the community character of the Florida Keys,” Aubuchon said. “This bill is an attack on the private property rights of the local ports. It takes away the ability of the ports of self-governing themselves, something they’ve been able to do successfully for the past 200 years.”

But Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said backers of the Key West vote need to look at the “bigger picture” of the role Florida’s ports play in the world.

“I know there’s a lot of illustrations about living on an island, but they’re very dependent on a lot of other things when they can’t prosper on their own, and these are avenues of prosperity for these communities,” Baxley said. “Where the ships go, there’s commerce for these people. And there’s jobs because of the businesses that sell to these tourists and entertain these tourists. I don’t think it’s their call alone.”