Washington — As most of the nation's politicians focus on getting elected or staying in office in this presidential election cycle year, state legislatures are speeding through agendas in an attempt to clear the decks in time for summer campaigning.
After years in which several states — most notably, California — tried and failed to enact state-wide fees or outright bans on single-use plastic bags, some legislators have started a new trend: a ban on bans.
Arizona kicked things off in April when Gov. Douglas Ducey (R) signed into law a measure baring any municipality from regulating the sale or use of single-use plastic bags as well as foam containers, boxes, cans and bottles.
And, this month, he signed it into law a second time.
The first bill came in 2015, after failed attempts in 2008 and 2009 to pass a state-wide bag ban and mandatory recycling. In addition to putting the kibosh on bag bans, the original bill would have blocked cities from requiring business owners to report energy consumption. But that was met with a lawsuit from Tempe City Councilmember Lauren Kuby, who claimed the law violates a state constitutional provision requiring each bill to have a single subject.
This session, Arizona state Rep. Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) split the bill in two, one barring cities from enacting plastic bag bans and the other saving business owners from energy-use reporting. Both measures passed, and were signed by Ducey.
A third law signed by the governor in March could spark another bag-ban related lawsuit.
It says any state legislator can ask the attorney general's office to investigate whether a local ordinance or policy is contrary to state law. It could put Bisbee, the only municipality in Arizona to have a bag ban on the books, in the crosshairs, since Bisbee officials say the new state law banning regulation of plastic bags does not apply to its ordinance.
Missouri, Idaho and Indiana
The Missouri state legislature was close behind Arizona in a similar attempt to ban bans, but additions to Rep. Dan Shaul's (R-Imperial) bag bill, including an attempt to bar cities from setting a minimum wage, ultimately drew a veto from Gov. Jay Nixon (D).
This year Idaho, a state with no bag bans or fees on the books so far, is off and running with a ban on bans of plastic bags, foam containers and other single-use items.
That bill, penned by Republicans Rep. Clark Kauffman of Filer and Sen. Jim Patrick of Twin Falls, passed 20-15 in the Senate and 52-17 in the House. Included in their district is Jerome, Idaho — home to a major plastic film and bag factory. Hilex-Poly, a division of Novolex, recently announced plans for a $6.5 million expansion that will add 45 jobs in Jerome.
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is expected to sign the bill into law. It would force any city or county that wants to ban plastic bags or other single-use products to first get permission from the state legislature.
The 2016 Indiana General Assembly also is looking to block local governments from taxing or banning plastic bags in a broad bill that would protect a wide variety of packaging from restrictions. The bill prohibits “imposing any prohibition, restriction, fee or tax with respect to auxiliary containers” and defines those containers as almost any bag, box, cup, bottle or similar container made of cloth, paper or plastic designed for one-time use or for carrying items from stores or restaurants.
The state House approved the bill in February with a 61-32 vote and the state Senate followed with a 38-12 vote in favor of the measure, which was authored by Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Evansville).
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) has not said if he will sign the bill.
Wisconsin and Utah
The Wisconsin State Assembly voted 63-35 to approve a bill that would stop communities from passing bag bans. It is now in the hands of the Senate. It is unclear if the chamber will vote on the issue before it is scheduled to adjourn on April 7.
In Utah, the state legislature has already wrapped up its 2016 session without voting on a bill that would have created a statewide 10-cent charge for paper and plastic bags. Sen. Jani Iwamoto (D-Holladay) dropped her bill after it passed through committee with a 3-2 vote. Aides expect to see another version return next year.