Bag Ban Bill Passes First Committee With Amendments

A bill prohibiting retailers in Maryland from handing out plastic carryout bags to customers at the register has passed through the House Environment and Transportation Committee with significant changes. Amendments to the bill would preserve the ability of local jurisdictions with already established bag fees to continue their programs.

The original text of the bill, HB 209/SB 313 also known as The Plastic and Packaging Reduction Act would have prohibited retailers from providing plastic carryout bags less than 4 mils thick to customers and required that retailers collect ten cents for each paper bag they distribute. The rationale for establishing a “price floor” for more durable bags not subject to the outright ban is to serve as a deterrent intended to move customer preference away from all types of single-use bags. This would have eliminated through implied preemption several programs administered by local jurisdictions, including Montgomery County where they charge a 5 cent fee on bags that generates $2.5 million annually for water quality improvement and other environmentally beneficial pursuits. As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo proposed amendments to the bill in an effort to preserve county programs and prevent unnecessary preemption.

Amendments added to the bill remove the initially proposed requirement that retailers collect ten cents per bag. They also expressly preempt local laws, but would allow jurisdictions to charge fees on paper bags if they have programs established prior to February 1, 2020. Jurisdictions that wish to implement a fee on bags but do not already have a local law in place would have to receive approval from the General Assembly after January 1, 2021. Enforcement of the plastic bag ban still falls to the “appropriate unit of county government,” and the Department of Labor is tasked with developing regulations.

Additional concerns were raised during the bill hearings in the House and Senate over food safety and sanitation issues with prohibiting plastic bags. Included in the amendments are exemptions for food service facilities that need plastic bags to meet food safety standards. Further amendments remove the proposed establishment a Single-Use Products Workgroup that would have been responsible for studying and making recommendations to reduce single-use packaging products in the State.

HB 209 now heads to the Economic Matters Committee for approval before it can reach the House floor. If passed by the General Assembly the effective date would be July 1, 2021.

MACo testimony on HB 209/SB 313

Link to Montgomery County’s bag fee program.