Capitol Alert

California plastic bag ban stalls in Assembly

A proposed statewide ban on single-use plastic bags stalled in the California Assembly on Monday, a crucial stumble for one of the of most heavily lobbied fights of the current legislative session.

The measure faltered on a 37-33 vote, falling four votes short of the required 41. A key organized labor group removed its support and went neutral, which helped plastic and paper industries opposed to the bill. In a key late change, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union – grocery store workers – aligned with skeptics denouncing a minimum 10-cent fee stores could charge at checkout counters for paper or reusable bags.

The bill could still be revived this week as the session races to a conclusion on Sunday. “Absolutely, we keep pushing,” Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Alex Padilla said. “I think we got a lot closer on the first effort than many people would have predicted. We have another bite of the apple before the end of the week.”

“This legislation creates a heavy financial burden on consumers and forces consumers to essentially decide how they would like to be taxed,” said Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville. “They can either purchase a reusable bag to take to the store with them or they can spend 10 cents for every recycled bag they get at the store.”

Republicans were not alone in voicing those reservations. Multiple Democrats rose to say the fee would burden consumers, and several voted no or abstained.

“To charge for a bag that’s been given free as a part of doing business, I don’t think is the way to go,” said Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino.

A formidable coalition unified behind Senate Bill 270, touting it as a way to eliminate a leading source of non-biodegradable waste. Formerly opposed Democratic senators came on board after securing money to convert bag-producing plants in their districts.

“We have an opportunity to make a strong statement for the entire country, in fact the entire world, that environmental degradation does have costs,” said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance. “That convenience has costs.”

The statewide grocers association favored a universal standard that could supersede a quilt of local bans and restrictions. Proponents pointed to the dozens of local governments that have acted as a sign the issue’s time had come.

“This has been an item we have debated year after year,” said Assemblyman John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles. “It is one that the momentum at the local level is great.”

But the plastic bag industry mounted a fierce opposition campaign. They hired lobbyists and bankrolled a barrage of advertisements while lambasting what they called a heavy-handed regulation that would suppress jobs and do little to reduce waste.

Joining the plastic industry in fighting the bill were paper-bag makers. SB 270 would allow stores to offer reusable or paper bags for a minimum 10-cent fee. Paper-bag producers said that would undercut their business, and critics depicted the charge as a wealth transfer to grocery stores.

“You have to follow the money,” said Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita. “What I see this becoming is another funding source for the grocery store industry.”

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