Sarasota city attorney directed to draft new ordinances banning cigarette smoking on Lido Beach and in city parks, thanks to new state law

City Commission acts quickly in response to Gov. DeSantis’ signing of bill Legislature approved this year

This is the southern part of the renourished Lido Key Beach on March 27, 2021. Image courtesy of Michael Holderness

It took less than 5 minutes on July 5 for the Sarasota city commissioners to agree that City Attorney Robert Fournier should prepare a new ordinance that would prohibit the smoking of cigarettes on Lido Key Beach, which the city owns.

At the board’s direction, Fournier will prepare a separate ordinance that would outlaw cigarette smoking in city parks.

The action came in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing last month of a state bill that gives municipalities and counties the right to ban cigarette smoking on public beaches and in public parks.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, had advocated for four years for a provision in state law to give such powers to local governments, as The Sarasota News Leader reported in late June. Previously, the state had been in control of all smoking regulations.

On July 1, Sarasota Vice Mayor Kyle Battie and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch joined Gruters on Lido Key Beach to celebrate the fact that the new law went into effect that day. Stephen Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University in Miami — who is known around the world as “Dr. Beach” for his Top 10 Beaches lists — also was present for the event. Leatherman told the News Leader last month that he had worked with Gruters to try to ensure passage of the bill during the 2022 session of the Florida Legislature.

City Attorney Robert Fournier. File photo

Fournier brought up the law during his remarks to the commissioners near the end of their regular meeting on July 5. He did note that, “curiously enough,” the law does not allow local governments to ban cigar smoking.

Then Fournier explained that, in 2008, the City Commission seated at that time “adopted an ordinance that opted into Sarasota County’s ordinance,” prohibiting smoking on public beaches and in beach parks adjacent to those beaches.

The City Commission did approve a “carve-out” resolution that allowed smoking in beach parking lots, Fournier noted, in keeping with provisions of the county regulations.

While the County Commission also had banned smoking in parks when youth athletic competition was underway, Fournier added, “The city did not act to prohibit smoking in parks.”

A lawsuit that challenged the city ordinance resulted in a December 2012 ruling by 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Maryann Boehm that smoking regulations were pre-empted to the state.

On July 5, after explaining the background of the issue, Fournier asked how the city commissioners would like for him to proceed.

For example, they could just wait and see what the County Commission does, he pointed out, and then take a similar tack as the city commissioners did in 2008, if the county board members approve a new ordinance.

On the other hand, Fournier said, he could go ahead and prepare an ordinance and schedule its discussion during a future City Commission meeting.

“I would say move as swiftly as possible,” Ahearn-Koch replied.

“I completely agree,” Mayor Erik Arroyo added.

State Sen. Joe Gruters. File image

Pointing to the fact that the Legislature has taken more control from local governments on an array of issues in recent years, Arroyo lauded Gruters for championing the beach cigarette smoking ban.

Arroyo also pointed out that, following its 2021 renourishment, Lido Key Beach was named one of the top restored beaches in the United States.

Further, he said, Leatherman, as Dr. Beach, has honored Siesta Key Beach in his Top 10 Beaches list. (Siesta first won the honor in 2011. After earning the distinction as No. 1, a beach automatically was excluded from future consideration. However, in 2016, Leatherman chose to start all over again, enabling past winners once again to take top honors. Thus, in 2017, Leatherman named Siesta No. 1 for the second time.)

During the City Commission discussion, Mayor Arroyo noted that Leatherman grants extra points to beaches with smoking bans, as he compiles his Top 10 list each year.

To the News Leader’s knowledge, Lido Key Beach never has been in that Top 10 list.

Arroyo also noted the fact that the new law allows cigar smoking. “I’ve been to dirty beaches before,” he told his colleagues. “It’s always cigarettes” that are the problem, he added, not cigars. Therefore, he continued, “I can see why [the legislators] created that distinction.”

Then Arroyo admitted, “I’m a cigar smoker,” though he was quick to add, “I don’t smoke ’em at the beach.”

Although they took no vote on July 5, Arroyo formally directed Fournier to place the proposed ordinances on an upcoming agenda.

Commissioner Hagen Brody was absent from the meeting. City Manager Marlon Brown announced at the start of the session that Brody had to attend to a personal matter that morning. The meeting ended almost exactly at noon.

In response to a News Leader question about any county action on the new law, Kim Francel, the county’s public records coordinator, reported in a July 7 email that she had learned, after speaking with staff of the Office of the County Attorney, that no correspondence, memos or emails had been provided to the county commissioners on the topic since Gov. DeSantis signed the bill.