Preemption occurs when law at a higher level of government is used to overrule authority at a lower level of government. A recent sequence of events in Florida provides an example of the conflict that can emerge between state and local governments over the idea of preemption.
In August 2019, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal ruled that sections of Florida law that prohibit local governments from regulating plastic bags and other packaging were constitutional. That decision reversed a ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court that upheld the city of Coral Gables’ ban on the retail use of polystyrene, or Styrofoam, which had been approved in February 2016. The case was originally brought by the Florida Retail Federation.
On August 27, 2019, the Coral Gables City Commission voted to appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.
Other local governments across Florida repealed or delayed their bans after Coral Gables lost its case, including Gainesville, Miami Beach, Palm Beach, Surfside, and Alachua County.
Advocates of plastic bag regulations say that reusable bags save retailers money and reduce the number of bags without recyclable materials that enter municipal recycling programs. Opponents say that comprehensive solid-waste disposal laws already cover the issues addressed by local bans in some states, plastic bags can be reused around the home rather than thrown away, and bans add an unnecessary financial burden for low-income families that would be required to buy reusable bags.
In 2019, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee passed legislation preempting local plastic bag bans.