Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Will California ban plastic grocery bags?

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

When Capitol insiders talk about a “bag bill,” it refers to something for which an interest group is willing to spend big money – legally, it’s presumed – to see done.

Senate Bill 270, one might say, is a double bag bill.

It would phase out, beginning in 2015, the single-use plastic bags that grocery stores commonly use to send purchases home. It also involves big money and big interest groups.

Banning plastic bags is a burning cause for some environmentalists, contending that they squander energy, add to solid-waste-disposal problems, and often pollute waterways and the ocean, where they pose dangers to wildlife.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, the author of SB 270, says the billions of bags used annually in California “cost state and local governments at least $25 million,” and dozens of the state’s more liberal cities have already banned them.

Previous efforts to enact a statewide ban failed, but this year the powerful grocery industry signed on, saying that a statewide policy makes more sense than a patchwork and enticed by new authority for grocers to charge 10 cents (or more) for every bag – paper or reusable plastic – they provide.

Meanwhile, opposition from some Los Angeles legislators, such as Senate President Pro Tem-elect Kevin de León, melted away with the inclusion of $2 million – from an unspecified source – for converting plastic bag plants in their districts to making reusable plastic bags.

The much-revised bill has never had a floor vote in either legislative house. It was inserted into SB 270 via a much used – and abused – process known as gut-and-amend and faces what could be a very close vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Chairman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, and several other Democrats on his committee gave the bill and Padilla a rather rough grilling during a June hearing.

Gatto and de León, now an SB 270 co-author, have been feuding a bit lately over Gatto’s measure to give the movie industry a new tax break, which is pending in the Senate Appropriations Committee that de León chairs.

Meanwhile, makers of disposable plastic bags and paper bags have mounted heavy lobbying campaigns to block the measure, citing the potential for manufacturing job losses if it passes.

“This is a grab against consumers,” paper bag lobbyist Kathy Lynch told the committee. “They want to put our industry out of business.”

Lynch and other opponents say the 10-cent bag charge would be a multimillion-dollar windfall for grocers because paper bags cost a fraction of a dime – a contention borne out by a spot check of paper bag prices from suppliers in the Sacramento area.

All legislation has unintended consequences. And if a plastic bag ban is enacted, one may wonder, how would Californians dispose of waste that dogs and cats produce in such abundance?

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