UPDATE: June 22, 2021: On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill (SB 694) intended to limit local governments from pursuing franchise systems, effective July 1. Commissioners in Polk County recently opted not to pursue consideration of a change that could limit the number of commercial waste haulers, citing the pending law as one factor in their decision, as reported by The Ledger. The law also sets new definitions for "storm-generated yard trash" and kicks off a state review of regulation for certain types of bags or containers.
- The Florida Legislature recently passed a bill (SB 694) intended to limit local governments from pursuing franchise systems or other actions that could "displace" private waste company competition, building on an existing law requiring notice or payment for such decisions. Following final votes on April 27, the bill is over to Gov. Ron DeSantis for approval.
- Supporters estimate about a dozen of Florida's 67 counties still have fully open market systems. If the bill is signed, any governments seeking to change the nature of those systems would have to provide three years' notice to any displaced private waste companies and pay those companies "an amount equal to the company’s 18 months' gross receipts."
- The bill also defines "storm-generated yard trash" and says haulers are not required to collect this material unless specified by a local government contract. Additionally, it directs the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to review and update a 2010 report on the regulation of retail bags and related "auxiliary containers."
This bill has flown relatively under the radar in Florida, due in part to larger issues during the pandemic according to observers, but it contains multiple notable elements for local waste policy. Because the legislation passed by a vote of 112-2 in the Florida House of Representatives and unanimously in the state Senate, its chances of becoming law are considered favorable.
Florida's existing competition law, enacted in 2000 with backing by the waste industry, requires local governments to either provide three years' notice or pay displaced private companies the equivalent of 15 months gross receipts. While the concept has since been emulated in some other states, the updated version is considered more stringent and the issue is seen as a uniquely regional priority.
Sen. Ray Rodrigues, the bill's primary sponsor, couldn't be reached for comment but he said at a February committee hearing haulers deemed an update necessary because “what we’ve discovered is that’s not enough to protect them from bankruptcy."
The National Waste & Recycling Association's state chapter has backed the bill for multiple years and reports some members felt the existing law wasn't strong enough because of how local governments interpreted the notice period.
"In some areas we’ve seen the members felt like they weren't getting a fair shake, they wanted some sort of certainty to it," said Keyna Cory, president of Public Affairs Consultants and a lobbyist for the chapter, on why the association pushed for requiring notice and payment. "By having them do both they're going to think long and hard about doing that."
Cory confirmed this would not apply to any local governments with franchise agreements already in place and described it as a more preemptive approach to avoid a switch that "could be devastating for some of our members" in the remaining open market counties.
The bill didn't receive notable attention from local governments or related associations during the session. The Florida League of Cities deferred to the Florida Association of Counties for comment. Cragin Mosteller, director of external affairs for the latter group, said rising recycling costs have been a more pressing issue for county members in recent years, though noted this bill could possibly also have a cost effect.
Following cost increases by major waste and recycling companies in recent years, a number of city and county governments in Florida have been discussing the possibility of deprivatizing certain parts of their systems and potentially establishing new regional agreements to do so.
"We’re working in a number of jurisdictions that are evaluating the possibility of taking this in house because of substantial rate increases that they are seeing," said Mitch Kessler, president of Kessler Consulting, adding this mainly applies to cities because many counties are not equipped to take on collection or related services.
The bill's yard waste language could potentially have broader applications, given the frequency of major weather events in Florida. While local governments often contract with special debris collection companies via federal funding, opinions vary about the responsibility of regularly contracted collection companies when it comes to this material. Some say regular haulers benefit from extended periods of not collecting yard waste after storms, while often still getting paid, but others say haulers can be overly burdened by excess volumes as well.
"What’s happened to us in past years is people will just put out everything right before a storm and expect us to pick it up," said Cory, citing one example.
In an unrelated but potentially notable move, the bill also revisits Florida's approach to preempting local regulations on single-use bags and containers by asking the DEP to study the current policy landscape. Since the agency's original 2010 report on this issue, numerous state and local governments around the country have passed laws banning or limiting bags, expanded polystyrene foam containers and related items.
While certain restrictions are allowed for facilities on government property, municipalities such as Coral Gables have unsuccessfully attempted to overturn the state preemption policy for broader ordinances. Preemption supporters say allowing multiple local ordinances could create confusion with a "patchwork" of approaches, but others see it differently.
"If that’s the concern then to me the logical conclusion is to adopt a statewide policy and I think the study is a good first step to at least consider what those options are," said Holly Parker, state policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation, whose organization has backed multiple state bills on this issue in recent years.
“I'm hopeful that having all of those regulatory options in front of the legislature [from the DEP report] will hopefully make them comfortable enough to think about how they can get their arms around plastic pollution."