The plastic bag wars continue to rage in 2015. As of March 31, there are over 50 plastic bag bills pending in 15 states. Click here to see a map of pending state-level shopping bag restrictions.
As we know by now, though, state-level activity barely scratches the surface when it comes to plastic bags. Nearly 200 localities have enacted shopping bag regulations of some type – whether a ban, tax, or some combination thereof. FMI’s weekly Local Monitoring Report tracks local plastic bag legislation; click here to see a chart of proposed local measures.
However, four states are trying a somewhat novel tactic to get a handle on this proliferation of local ordinances. Legislation in Arizona, Georgia, Missouri and Texas would preempt local regulation of plastic bags, but without an accompanying statewide ban or fee – as in California.
Missouri’s H.B. 722, “The Paper and Plastic Bags Choice Act,” requires that merchants doing business in the state have the option to “provide customers either a paper or a plastic bag for the packaging of any item or good purchased.” The bill then specifies that “no political subdivision shall impose any ban, fee, or tax upon the use of either paper or plastic bags.” Sponsored by the Missouri Grocers Association’s own Dan Shaul, H.B. 722 passed the Missouri House on March 19 (114-38) and now awaits action in the State Senate where it has received its first reading.
"I feel that when this becomes law in Missouri, it will ensure that consumers and retailers maintain their choice of ‘paper or plastic’ for years to come," said Representative Shaul.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s S.B. 1241 just passed the State House on March 31 (37-23). The bill prohibits a city, town or county from “regulating the sale, use or disposition of auxiliary containers by a business.” Although S.B. 1241 had sailed through the State Senate in February (25-4), the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance (AFMA) reports that it must now go back to the Senate for procedural reasons. Still, AFMA is optimistic that the bill will keep moving forward.
“This is a big step toward preemption of both benchmarking energy usage and regulation of containers like plastic bags,” said AFMA President Tim McCabe. “These need to be done at a state level to insure consistency and less confusion for consumers and tourists.”
Moving on to Texas, the companion bills S.B. 1550 and H.B. 1939 currently sit in the House Urban Affairs and Senate Business & Commerce Committees respectively. These bill declare that any “ordinance or regulation adopted by a municipality purporting to restrict or prohibit a business from, require a business to charge a customer for, or tax or impose penalties on a business for providing to a customer at the point of sale a bag or other container made from any material is invalid and has no effect.” Sources tell FMI that these bills are unlikely to pass during this session.
Finally, Georgia’s S.B. 139 provides that “any regulation regarding the use, disposition, or sale or any imposition of any prohibition, restriction, fee imposition, or taxation of auxiliary containers shall be done only by general law.” However, after passing the Georgia Senate in late February, S.B. 139 failed to pass the House 67-85. According to Georgia Food Industry Association President Kathy Kuzava, “This was a disappointing loss for our retailers. Unfortunately, we could not overcome the grassroots efforts of the conservation groups and the Republicans who opposed the bill due to their support of local control.”
As evidenced by the mixed prospects of this type of legislation in just the four states mentioned above, local preemption on plastic bags can be a tough legislative fight. The issue can force lawmakers to balance their pro-business instincts with their desire for local self-determination. And in this balancing act, what makes sense for business may not always come out on top.
FMI’s issue paper on Shopping Bag restrictions may be viewed here.
Microbeads are small bits of plastic made of polyethylene microspherescan and can be found in some toothpaste and are used as exfoliants in personal care and skin products. There is environmental and health concern at both the state and federal level on microbeads, which are not biodegradable, as they can make their way through water treatment systems, after they are washed down drains, and possibly appear in local waterways.
Many manufacturers are currently working to remove microbeads from their products. For example, Unilever, The Body Shop, and Johnson & Johnson have committed to phasing out microbeads by the end of 2015, and Proctor & Gamble and L'Oréal said they will discontinue them by 2017.
In 2014, Rep. Pallone (D-NJ) introduced federal legislation to ban microbeads but it failed to gain traction. Rep. Pallone, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and others sent a letter to the FDA asking them to assess the safety of microbeads, opting for a regulatory fix instead. Read the letter here.
Last week, Rep. Pallone reintroduced the legislation, “The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015,” which would prohibit the sale or distribution of personal-care products that contain synthetic plastic microbeads.
On the state front, legislation passed last year in Illinois. The bill bans the manufacture of personal care products containing plastic synthetic microbeads by the end of 2017, the sale of such personal care products and the manufacture of over-the-counter drugs containing the beads by the end of 2018, and the sale of over-the-counter drugs with microbeads by the end of 2019. Read it here. The Illinois bill was voted into the Council of State Government’s 2014 Suggested State Legislation.
A number of other states, for example, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming, are considering similar bans. New Jersey is likely the next state to enact legislation. Read the bill here. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called for state legislation in New York.
As legislation is introduced at the state and federal level, attention should be given to any required phase-out date, to ensure that a reasonable time of compliance is given for the sale and manufacture of personal-care products and over-the-counter products.
Wisconsin officially joined the ranks of the “right to work” states last Monday, March 9, when Governor Scott Walker signed S.B. 44 into law. The Act prohibits any requirement that employees join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. S.B. 44 passed the state Senate in a narrow 17-15 vote in late February, and won approval from the Wisconsin Assembly along a straight party line (62-35) vote on March 6. With Governor Walker’s signature, the law will be effective starting March 11.
“This legislation puts power back in the hands of Wisconsin workers, by allowing the freedom to choose whether they want to join a union and pay union dues,” Governor Walker said in a press release.
The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) originally permitted collective bargaining agreements to provide for the termination of any employee who failed to join or at least pay dues to a union. But later amendments to the Act gave states the ability to enact laws eliminating these so-called “union security clauses.”
Such laws, like Wisconsin’s, give workers the “right to work” without becoming a union member or paying dues. Notably, Wisconsin’s new law only applies to the “renewal, modification, or extension” of a collective bargaining agreement occurring after the law’s effective date. Thus, it does not nullify union security clauses currently in effect or otherwise make them illegal.
Once largely confined to the South, “right to work” laws have now passed in 25 states across the country. New Mexico may be the next to follow suite, with Rep. Dennis Roch’s (R) “Employee Preference Act” (H.B. 75) gaining steam. The bill has already passed the New Mexico House, 37-30, and now awaits action in the Senate Public Affairs Committee.
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