Jason Brodeur preempts cities on gas leaf blowers and wants study done

The state senator acted in the final days of the legislative session after the Winter Park City Commission caved to his request to put its ban on gas-powered blowers up to voters

March 8, 2024

By Beth Kassab

City Commissioners this week will be asked for final approval to place a question on next year’s ballot asking voters if they want to keep a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers — a policy intended to lower harmful emissions and the nearly universally detested noise from the devices.

Since the first of two needed approvals by the board two weeks ago, the political climate surrounding the debate has intensified with one state senator attempting to make the piece of lawn equipment the latest symbol of the anti-woke crowd.

When commissioners first voted 3-2 on Feb. 28 to put the policy on next year’s ballot (Todd Weaver and Marty Sullivan voted against it), they did so after City Manager Randy Knight told them Sen. Jason Brodeur agreed to stop his effort to preempt cities from banning gas blowers if the city put the question to voters.

But Brodeur moved forward anyway the very next morning.

He added language to the state budget to prohibit cities from amending or enacting such bans until July 2025 and added $100,000 to the state budget from the Air Pollution Control Trust Fund for the state Department of Environmental Protection to study the life cycle of gas-powered blowers versus battery-powered blowers.

City officials have said the language doesn’t apply to Winter Park because its ordinance is already in place (it was passed in 2022, though it hasn’t yet been enacted because commissioners agreed to a delay to allow time for residents and landscape companies to transition to new blowers).

But Brodeur told the Voice in an email exchange that he did intend for his preemption to apply to Winter Park.

“Yes it applies,” Brodeur wrote. “Although they had a suspended ordinance it would require another vote to enact a ban, which will be preempted under the new law, should it be signed.”

He didn’t specify exactly what kind of vote he believed was required.

As it stands today, if the voter referendum does not go forward, the city’s ban is set to take effect in July — just five months from now — with fines delayed until January.

Brodeur said he felt forced to act immediately to prevent that from happening.

“I had hours (in the week before their meeting) to decide if I would ensure it would all be delayed. So I did,” he said in an email to the Voice. “I don’t have the luxury of monthly meetings and hours of discussion. If I didn’t act when I did, I wouldn’t have been able to and the net effect after their 42 months (30 prior months and the remaining 12 before the referendum) will be an extra 2-3 months of delay. Small price to pay for protection of consumers and businesses. Belts and suspenders. July 1, 2025 will be the next time they can enact anything if the voters choose to.”

Mayor Phil Anderson, when told of Brodeur’s interpretation of the state budget language, said he did not want to comment until he had the opportunity to more fully understand it.

Commissioner Todd Weaver said he doesn’t think the new state language impacts Winter Park or other Florida cities that have already enacted a ban on gas leaf blowers, but called the move by Brodeur “disingenuous.”

“For me, it’s a battle in a bigger war, and the war is pushing back against the Legislature from taking away our home rule,” he said. “I feel that Sen. Brodeur misled us because — it won’t affect us — but he’s trying to crowd out other cities that want to do it.”

Brodeur also heard some pushback on the Senate floor last week in the final hours of the state budget debate.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from Hollywood, asked if Brodeur wasn’t exploiting the budget process by pushing new policy  — without any notice or debate — by tying a costly study to the idea.

“How is that not cheating by just throwing some appropriations on it?” Pizzo asked, later emphasizing, “Why do a preemption, which is policy, on a subject not discussed or passed in committee?”

Brodeur said the study was crucial to understand the environmental hazards of lithium ion batteries — the batteries often used in portable electronic devices — in landfills and specifically mentioned fires at landfills caused by batteries. He also said the “effect of not doing this is a tax increase,” because transitioning to electric leaf blowers will cause consumers and landscape companies to spend money.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published in 2021 an analysis of lithium ion battery fires in waste management and recycling.

The report found 245 fires in 64 waste management facilities likely related to lithium metal or lithium ion batteries.

But that problem is from old batteries discarded from a wide range of products such as phones, laptops, wireless headphones, gaming devices and more. Lawn equipment wasn’t even mentioned in the study.

Questions surrounding the proper regulation of and consumer education about battery disposal from the products many people now find essential to daily life are already being asked and debated.

That problem would exist with or without electric leaf blowers.

And data from the EPA also shows that Florida leads the nation when it comes to pollutants in the form of fine particulates from gas lawn equipment like blowers and mowers. Those microscopic droplets are inhaled and can cause serious health problems, according to the agency.

That’s one of the reasons, in addition to the nuisance caused by the noise from blowers, that Winter Park commissioners said they acted in the first place now more than two years ago.

Brodeur required the state study to be done by January because he wants voters to have the information before the March 2025 referendum, if that goes forward.

“Instead of virtue signaling or political preferences dictating policies that should largely be left to a homeowners’ association, I would like to give consumers and business owners the scientific knowledge to know whether enacting a de facto tax increase on anyone who owns a gas powered leaf blower is worth the cost,” Brodeur said. “Because if we don’t have a safety or environmental reason for these ordinances, all liberty is at risk.”


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    By: Beth Kassab

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