Michigan has become the latest state to pass legislation preventing its cities and counties from taxing or restricting plastic bags.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed a law Dec. 28 that in effect bans local governments from imposing fees or bans on a wide range of packaging.
The state legislation came in response to plans by Washtenaw County, which includes Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, to put a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper bags in grocery stores.
The Michigan Restaurant Association, which led the push for the state law, called it a “key victory” against “frivolous regulation at the local level.”
But a member of the State House and former Washtenaw County official who favored the 10-cent fee called it an intrusion in the ability of local governments to manage bag waste, including over $200,000 in costs to government recycling facilities.
The restaurant association said in a statement that a uniform state policy was better for business than a mishmash of different local laws.
“With many of our members owning and operating locations across the state, preventing a patchwork approach of additional regulations is imperative to avoid added complexities as it related to day-to-day business operations” said Robert O'Meara, vice president of government affairs for the Lansing, Mich.-based group.
The new state law is not limited to plastic and paper bags. It also prevents local fees and bans on a broad range of packaging for merchandise, food and beverages, including cardboard boxes and plastic, glass and aluminum containers.
Newly-elected State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat who has also been a member of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners since 2011, said that the Washtenaw bag fee was designed to protect the environment from litter and reduce the $250,000 a year that plastic bags cost the county's recycling facilities.
He said plastic bags get caught in the county's recycling equipment, requiring more cleaning and stopping of sorting lines. The bags also contaminate other recyclables, lowering their value and costing governments money, he said.
Washtenaw County passed its fee legislation in June. Rabhi called the state ban on local action “ironic coming from folks who talk about government overreach. They are using big government to tell small government what to do.”
Rabhi, who won election in November to represent Ann Arbor in the state Legislature, said the Washtenaw ordinance was limited to bags at grocery store checkouts and did not include restaurants.
But MRA, which said the restaurant industry is Michigan's second-largest private employer, suggested it got involved because other local governments in Michigan were starting to discuss packaging restrictions on products including expanded polystyrene cups and cardboard boxes.
Michigan joins several other states that have passed laws to prevent local governments from adopting their own bag fees and bans, including Arizona, Idaho and Missouri.