California Assembly passes plastic bag ban

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Sen. Alex Padilla California State Sen. Alex Padilla

In its second attempt of the week, the California Assembly approved a bill that would ban single-use plastic bags statewide, the first such ban in the United States.

The 44-29 vote in favor of the ban on Aug. 28 came three days after an initial 37-33 vote fell four short of the supermajority needed to make SB 270, penned by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacioma) law.

The bill now goes to the Senate for a floor vote that must be completed before Aug. 31, when the legislature closes out its year. Last year’s version of the bill fell three votes short of the 21 needed for passage in the state Senate.

If it passes and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), single-use plastic bags will be barred from California retailers, including grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores, as of July 1, 2015.

The initial Assembly vote faltered when a key labor group representing grocery store workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), pulled its support and cried foul on the minimum 10-cent fee retailers would be able to charge for paper or reusable bags, which was added by amendment late in the legislative process.

Both Republicans and Democrats said the fee would burden consumers in the hour-long debate before the Monday vote, but the seven Democrats who voted no or abstained earlier in the week swung back to the “aye” column after the UFCW reinstated its support for the bill late Wednesday, but the labor union could not immediately comment on the change Thursday afternoon.

One change to the bill in the three days between votes, according to a Padilla staffer, included taking what was initially a $2 million grant pool within California’s recycling funds for plastic bag makers would be able to apply for grants to retrain workers or reorganize operations to make bags that would meet the new state-wide requirements in the bill and turning it instead into a loan program.

The original program was included as a way to woo legislators who opposed version of the bill from previous year on the grounds that the bill and its tax would be a job killer.  Plastic and paper bag manufacturers still opposed the legislation, with the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) launching a major advertising and lobbying blitz against the bill in the weeks before the vote.

"It's disappointing that members of the Assembly voted to advance a bill that threatens 2,000 California manufacturing jobs, hurts consumers and puts billions of dollars into the pockets of grocers -- without providing any benefit to the environment," said Lee Califf, executive director of APBA, in a statement.

There are 123 municipal and county bag bans are already in effect across California, impacting some 10 million consumers there., according to Californians Against Waste (CAW), one of the bill’s biggest supporters,

“The State Assembly spent a great deal of time debating the merits of this issue over the last several months, and especially this week,” said Mark Murray, CAW executive director. “In the end, it was the reports of overwhelming success of this policy at the local level that overcame the political attacks and misinformation from out-of-state plastic bag makers.”

Similar state-wide bans were considered in Washington state and Massachusetts earlier this year but also did not pass.

(Updated to include the statement from the American Progressive Bag Alliance.)