Forget rezonings and criminal-justice reform: The closest vote by the New York City Council vote this year could be on a bill on plastic bags.
The measure appeared to have just enough support to pass April 20, in time for Earth Day on April 22, but with three co-sponsors out of town, the bill's champion, Brooklyn Democrat Brad Lander, decided to wait another month.
The "Carryout Bag Reduction" bill would require supermarkets and most shops to charge shoppers 5 cents for disposable bags. Bag fees, which have been implemented in other cities including Los Angeles and Washington D.C., are the fairest and most effective way to get customers to bring reusable bags and cut down on the use of plastic, Lander said.
Opponents of the bill include Councilman David Greenfield, D-Brooklyn, who says the fee amounts to a tax, and Councilman James Vacca, D-Bronx, who argues that it disproportionately punishes the poor. But the pockets of resistance to the measure have mostly come from representatives of white, middle-class districts. Lander was able to solidify support for the bill from minority colleagues by cutting the proposed 10-cent fee in half and by adding a provision to have the city distribute some free, reusable bags.
Purchases made with food stamps or Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which serve low-income households, will not be subject to the charge. Bags for restaurant food and pharmacy prescriptions will also continue to be free. Because retailers would keep the 5-cent fees and not have to keep track of them, industry groups including the Food Industry Alliance of New York and the New York Metro Retail Alliance are not fighting the bill.
However, it is opposed by the plastics industry, which represents manufacturers of plastic bags. Foes have hired Bertha Lewis of the Black Institute to fight the legislation.
The city spends more than $12 million a year to bring plastic bags to landfills, Lander said. Similar laws to curb the use of disposable shopping bags has passed in other cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
"We could squeeze it through, but it's going to be close, probably the closest vote of this term, as ridiculous as that is, so we're going to wait until the next stated [meeting] to bring it to the floor," Lander said. "And hopefully by then, maybe the mayor and the speaker will be ready to give a little more volume to their support of it."
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have not explicitly endorsed the bill, but have expressed support for the concept of it.
The bill will likely get a vote at the May 5 council meeting, Lander said. The co-sponsors out of town April 19 were Fernando Cabrera, Jimmy Van Bramer and Peter Koo.