Baltimore's latest attempt at changing the laws for single-use plastic bags has been thwarted yet again, this time at the last minute, by a veto from the mayor.
Earlier this year, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) said if the council could pass it, she would sign a bill imposing a citywide 10-cent-per-bag fee. While the council didn't have the votes for a 10-cent fee, a bill (Bill14-0372) that would have charged customers 5 cents per bag was voted out of committee in November.
But in the days between the committee vote and the full council taking up the bill, council members began sounding off that what Baltimore really needs is a bag ban, not a fee. Over four days, 11 of the 15 council members said they would rather see a ban than a fee, said Councilman James B. Kraft (D-1st District), the bill's author, who has been working on bag legislation for the city for more than a decade. The measure was changed by the full committee and then passed.
Rawlings-Blake vetoed it, saying the last-minute changes were not fair to the citizens of Baltimore.
“I believe that the public should have had the opportunity to be heard on such a drastic change to legislation,” said the mayor in a statement.
Kraft says the mayor's decision was more about politics than the legislative process.
“At the Nov. 5 hearing, people testified,” he said. “The same people who have been testifying for the last 10 years. This isn't a new issue. All the businesses in the Inner Harbor are in favor of it and have been for a long time.
“I know why she says she vetoed it but I don't believe that's the reason,” Kraft said.
Rawlings-Blake has been in favor of a fee all along, Kraft noted, even at the 10-cent level, which the council did not have the votes to pass. But the mayor has not publicly committed to a full ban on single-use plastic bags and softened her stance on a fee following the November election, in which Maryland voters sent anti-tax candidate Larry Hogan (R) to the governor's mansion.
Baltimore already has a law on the books that, among other bag-reduction efforts, requires all businesses to refrain from providing single-use plastic bags unless the customer specifically requests them or face a fine. Kraft says that part of the law is practically never enforced.
The new law would have allowed retailers to keep a penny and a half of the 5-cent fee for each bag. The rest — estimated at $1.5 million the first year — would go to the city, most likely to help continue clean up in the harbor and Chesapeake Bay as well as municipal parks, though Kraft said that has always been a side benefit of a bag fee.
“We're not in it for the money, we just want to get rid of the bags,” he said.
The council could not muster the 12 votes — more than 75 percent — required to override the mayor's veto at a Dec. 4 meeting. But Kraft says he is not done fighting.
“This bill is dead. We'll have to start all over again,” he said. “This is the eighth bill [on bags] we have heard since 2007 and we will hear a ninth.”