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.”
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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.”