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Dallas passes bag fee, but Texas may halt process before it begins

By: Gayle S. Putrich

March 28, 2014

The city of Dallas is the latest to join the growing list of municipalities enacting a fee or tax on plastic bags.

With an 8-6 vote on March 26, the City Council approved a partial ban on plastic bags, requiring grocery and convenience stores to charge customers 5 cents per bag if they pick either plastic or paper instead of bringing their own reusable bags.

Retailers will also have to keep track of how many bags go out their doors and single-use bags will be banned from all official City of Dallas facilities, events and properties. Bags for dry cleaning, pet waste, prescriptions and take-out food are exempt from the new ordinance.

The city plans dedicate five employees and spend $250,000 this year to educate the public and the city’s 20,000 retailers on the new rules.

Though current council member and former Mayor Dwaine Caraway called the measure that ultimately passed “a compromise reached after a year-long fair process,” the so-called environmental fee ordinance might not even get a chance to go into effect on Jan. 1.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was looking into whether Texas cities such as Dallas and Austin even have the ability to enact bag ban or tax ordinances. In a letter dated Feb. 27, State Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton) asked Abbot to interpret Section 361.0961 of the Texas Health and Safety Code that seems to bar municipalities from passing restrictions or fees relating to the consumption of a “container or package” for waste management purposes.

“At least nine cities in Texas have enacted bans on plastic bags and adopted fees on replacement bags in recent years.” Flynn wrote. “This appears to be in contravention of state law. “

According to local reports, Flynn sent the letter at least partially as the request of the Texas Retailers Association, which filed suit against the city of Austin in 2013, claiming the bag ban there was in violation of the health code. The association could not be reached for comment.

The attorney general’s office has 180 days to respond.