Gov. DeSantis vetoes leaf blower study in win that comes too late for Winter Park

The city is scheduled to let voters decide next year if it should keep its ban on gas-powered leaf blowers

June 27, 2024

By Beth Kassab

Gov. Ron DeSantis used his veto pen to cut broad swaths of the state’s budget this month, including a tiny $100,000 line item pushed by Sen. Jason Brodeur in response to Winter Park’s ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.

Whether the governor intended it or not, the cut is something of a moral victory for Winter Park, which argued the state should not prohibit cities and counties from designing their own unique policies to control noise and harmful emissions from the devices.

The language that accompanies Brodeur’s study did just that — meaning no new cities could adopt leaf blower bans until after the study was complete. With the veto, however, cities and counties are free to join Naples, Key Biscayne, Palm Beach and others that have regulated blowers.

Winter Park’s ban, which proved as controversial as brick streets and new development in this wealthy town of 30,000 just north of Orlando, was set to take effect this summer after a more than two-year delay to allow landscape companies and residents time to convert to electric blowers.

But the policy adopted in 2022 by the City Commission to limit noise and harmful emissions came to a halt earlier this year after landscapers asked for more time and some characterized the ban as a “woke” government overreach.

That piqued the interest of Brodeur, who told city officials he would push a statewide preemption on local leaf blower policies if Winter Park did not allow voters to decide the issue on its next ballot.

Winter Park took steps to do just that, but Brodeur went ahead with inserting language into the state budget anyway.

Seeking Rents, a statewide newsletter that covers how business influences state policy, explained it this way:

“Florida lawmakers aren’t supposed to put policy legislation into the budget,” the site reported. “But to get around that, they will sometimes shoehorn some kind of fig leaf line item into the spending plan — and then add all the new policy they want in a separate piece of legislation known as the ‘budget implementing bill.’ … The $100,000 study was the fig leaf.”

Winter Park commissioners voted in April to put the leaf blower referendum on the March 2025 ballot along with elections for two city commission seats.

Unless the commission takes action to remove the referendum from the ballot, the vote will go forward. If voters want to keep the ban it will take effect next summer.

DeSantis also struck two additional line items specific to Winter Park from the budget. He cut $500,000 in state dollars for improvements at the intersection of Fairbanks Avenue and Denning Drive as well as $250,000 for a study into the nutrients and pollutants in the Winter Park Chain of Lakes.

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