The Ohio House on Wednesday passed legislation prohibiting cities from charging fees for plastic bags or other packaging as a way to reduce trash.
House Bill 625, which still needs to be approved by the Ohio Senate and Gov. John Kasich, was touted by its legislative supporters as a pro-business measure, though Democratic critics said it would intrude on cities’ ability to regulate and clean up discarded grocery bags and other disposable packaging.
To date, no Ohio municipalities have imposed a ban or tax on plastic bags, though the idea of a fee has been proposed in Cuyahoga County Council (10 cents per bag) and by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (5-10 cents per bag). California and Hawaii have effectively banned the use of plastic bags at large retail stores, while cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle charge taxes on their use.
Proponents of HB 625, which passed 54-29, said on the House floor that local taxes or bans on bags and packaging – collectively referred to in the bill as “auxiliary containers” — would harm Ohio businesses.
State Rep. Scott Lipps, a southwest Ohio Republican and mattress store owner who co-sponsored the bill, said that he entered politics to stop precisely this sort of local government intrusion.
“This legislation allows us to focus on already-existing state programs, private-sector initiatives, and local government programs that address the state’s existing goals for recycling and reuse,” he said.
The bill’s other co-sponsor, state Rep. Geoge Lang of Butler County, echoed that sentiment.
“The market can regulate itself – it doesn’t need the government to get involved in every aspect of what they do,” he said.
State Rep. John Barnes, a Cleveland Democrat, also spoke in favor of the bill, saying a tax on plastic bags would “place an additional burden on the back of poor people.”
Several business groups have supported the bill, including the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, the Ohio Grocers Association, and the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association.
Several House Democrats spoke against the bill, saying it would impede communities’ efforts to restrict – and pay to clean up – a major source of garbage, especially around Lake Erie.
State Rep. Kent Smith, a Euclid Democrat, cited a Rochester Institute of Technology study showing that 5.5 million pounds of plastics enter Lake Erie every year.
“This is about lakeside communities trying to clean up Lake Erie and their shoreline,” Smith said. “You can come and visit, but we’re the ones who have to clean it up.”
State Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat, said businesses also have a responsibility to work to better the communities they’re located in. She also suggested that House Republicans were hypocritical when it comes to how much power local governments should have.
“It’s amazing how this body selectively makes decisions on when we want to have local control versus when we don’t,” she said.
Sunny Simon, the Cuyahoga County Council member said without the legislature’s intervention, the chances are “really good” that the council would pass her proposed countywide 10-cent plastic bag tax.
“We’re just discussing whether there should be a ban on plastics or whether there it should become a fee,” she said.
“It’s unfortunate that state Republicans feel that passing anti-environmental legislation is a priority,” Simons continued. “It’s unfortunate that they want to pre-empt home rule.”
Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof told reporters late Wednesday afternoon that he didn’t know whether the Senate will vote on the bill before session ends next month.