The plastics industry's campaign to limit local plastic bag bans scored a win Nov. 28, when Ohio legislators voted to block cities and counties from enacting their own bag taxes and fees.
The 59-30 vote by the state's House of Representatives, after a spirited debate, comes on the heels of efforts by governments in Cuyahoga County and elsewhere for fees on bags to, they said, reduce litter and water pollution.
A similar bill is being considered by the state Senate.
Supporters of the state legislation, however, said limiting the power of local governments would make Ohio more business friendly by preventing a patchwork of different local laws for packaging.
"Keeping the cost of doing business in our state low is of the highest priority," said George Lang (R-West Chester), one of the bill's two main authors. "This bill and this type of bill attracts businesses to locate or expand in our state."
But several legislators acknowledged it's a complex debate, and even Lang raised concerns about environmental pollution from plastic bags. In comments on the House floor, he praised the largest grocery chain in the United States, Kroger Co., for saying it would eliminate plastic bags from checkout lanes by 2025.
"I'm really proud of organizations like Kroger," Lang said. "They see the potential long-term damage that plastic bags pose to our environment and they have made the commitment to be plastic bag free."
Nonetheless, Lang said bag regulations are not a government responsibility: "The market can regulate itself. It doesn't need the government to get involved in every aspect of what they do."
The Ohio debate is the latest stop in a nationwide push by the plastics industry for state laws limiting the authority of local governments to regulate bags and other packaging. About 10 states have enacted such legislation.
While much of the debate in the Ohio House centered around bags, the law would actually apply to many types of paper and plastic containers, including bags, bottles, cans, cups and food service containers.
Legislators who opposed the bill, many of whom talked about representing waterfront communities, took issue with Lang's assessment that government should stay out.