Even with California on the brink of becoming the first in the United States to enact a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags, arguing over the bill continues.
The measure, SB 207, is sitting on the governor's desk in Sacramento, awaiting only a signature after nearly a decade of attempts to get the ban passed in the state house — including two tries in the final weeks of the 2014 legislative session.
Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who is running for reelection, has until the end of September to sign the bill.
“I probably will sign it, yes,” Brown said Sept. 4 in a televised debate with Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, according to the Los Angeles Times. “This is a compromise. It's taking into account the needs of the environment, and the needs of the economy and the needs of the grocers.”
Kashkari reportedly said there was “no chance” he would sign the bag ban.
“The advancement of SB 270 is a perfect example of why California citizens are disgusted by their state legislature,” he said.
American Progressive Bag Alliance Executive Director Lee Califf said his organization, which has led the charge against the bag ban, is urging Brown to veto the bill and warns of its “terrible consequences.”
“This bill has never been about the environment; it's a dirty deal between California grocers and union bosses to scam consumers out of billions of dollars in bag fees,” Califf said in a statement. “SB 270 threatens thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurts the environment by mandating the distribution of thicker plastic bag, and directs all fees collected into the pockets of grocers and their union partners. Not a penny goes to a public purpose.”
If signed by Brown, Californians will pay at least 10 cents at grocery stores for each reusable plastic or recycled paper bag from grocery stores starting July 1. Single-use plastic bags would be prohibited. “Reusable” bags would be defined as those rated for 125 uses and made of at least 20 percent recycled plastic at first, ultimately going up to 40 percent recycled content. In 2016, the prohibition will extend to pharmacies and liquor stores.
Estimates vary wildly on the amount of revenue that the 10-cent minimum fee will generate — from as low as $700,000 to as much as $1 billion.
The 44-29 Assembly 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. The measure was approved by the state Senate, 22-15 late in the evening on Aug. 29, the last day of the legislative session.
“This is a huge step forward. Single-use plastic bags not only litter our beaches, but also our mountains, our deserts, and our rivers, streams and lakes. SB 270 strikes the right balance. It will protect the environment and it will protect California jobs as the state transitions to reusable bags,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacioma), the bill's author, in a statement after the second Assembly vote. “A throw-away society is not sustainable.”
The initial Assembly vote failed when a key labor group representing grocery store workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, pulled its support and cried foul on the minimum 10-cent fee that retailers would be able to charge for paper or reusable bags, which was added by amendment late in the legislative process. Repeated calls to UFCW regarding the 11th-hour flip-flopping were not returned, though earlier statements by the union indicate that it was pushing to use the revenue, at least in part, for worker training and food-safety initiatives.
One change to the bill in the three days between votes, according to a Padilla staffer, was related to a plan to set up a $2 million pool that plastic bag makers could tap to retrain workers or retool their operations. The final version of the bill changed the grant proposal to a loan program.
The grants had been included to woo legislators who opposed the bill in 2013 on the grounds that it would be a job killer. Plastic and paper bag manufacturers still opposed the legislation, with the American Progressive Bag Alliance launching a major advertising and lobbying blitz against the bill in the weeks before the vote.
APBA's Califf said the bill “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.”
A patchwork of 123 municipal and county bag bans are already in effect across California, impacting some 10 million consumers. Supporters of the bill argued a state-wide law would smooth out the differences between those ordinances, making things easier for both consumers and retailers.
But one of the continued arguments against the law is that it will be a job killer in a state that already has a 7.4 percent unemployment rate. The California Employment Development Department estimates that about 6,000 people work at paper or plastic bag manufacturers in the state.
Sen. Kevin de León, (D-Los Angeles) opposed previous versions of the bill out of concern in would harm Vernon, Calif.-based Command Packaging, which is in his district. But in 2014, de León was a co-sponsor of the bill, and it was introduced at Command's factory. The company used the event to highlight how it had retooled some of its operations to manufacture reusable plastic bags out of recycled agricultural film.