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Lawmakers try to restrict cities from taxing, regulating plastic shopping bags

Sep 13, 2016

State lawmakers want to make sure your city won’t tax or ban plastic grocery and retail bags.

A State House committee heard testimony Tuesday about a bill that would prevent cities from banning or taxing plastic bags. The bill has already been passed by the State Senate and is waiting for a decision from the House.

No city in Michigan actively bans or taxes the use of plastic bags right now. A Washtenaw County 10-cent fee on plastic bags at retailers is scheduled to begin on Earth Day in 2017.

But lawmakers say laws like Washtenaw’s are the start of what could become an array of different legislation from city to city. That, they say, could be bad for business big and small.

Opponents of the bill say it subverts local government control. They also argue that bag taxes are helpful for the environment because they prevent littering and overuse of plastic.

Charlotte Jameson is the government affairs director for Michigan League of Conservation Voters. She says encouraging recycling of plastic bags and containers is not enough.

“This bill would remove very real policy solutions that local governments have in order to dis-incentivize plastic bag use so that we’re driving down the number of plastic bags that are out there,” she said.

Walker, Michigan recently tackled the topic of a bag tax and decided against it. Mayor Mark Huizenga said this was in part because they didn’t want to hurt businesses in the larger cities around them. He said that while he is a recycler and for sustainability, “I don’t want to see some sort of local patchwork of legislation that makes it difficult for retailers.”  

Huizenga also said that having local governments decide bag taxes would subvert a free market economy and, “It’s important to have a level playing field for all of our retailers across the state.”