State House rep files bill that proposes to revive plastic bag bans

The city of Austin passed a ban on single-use plastic bags that took effect in 2013; it later suspended its ban because of a Texas Supreme Court ruling overturning a similar ban in Laredo.

The city of Austin passed a ban on single-use plastic bags that took effect in 2013; it later suspended its ban because of a Texas Supreme Court ruling overturning a similar ban in Laredo.

After the Texas Supreme Court overturned a single-use plastic bag ban in Laredo and the city of Austin suspended its own ban, a local Texas House representative has filed a bill that proposes to restore the right of local governments to restrict single-use plastic bags.

The state court ruled in June that Laredo’s ban violated a state law regulating solid waste disposal, which stipulates that local governments may not prohibit or restrict the sale or use of a container or package. 

Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, proposes in her bill to revise this law to provide that single-use plastic bags are not considered a "container or package." 

Although the Texas Supreme Court voted to strike down Laredo’s bag ban, two of the justices—Eva Guzman and Debra Lehrmann—issued a concurring opinion that urged the Legislature to clarify the state law on which their decision was based.

“I urge the Legislature to take direct ameliorative action or… create a specific exception to the preemption of local control,” Guzman wrote. “Standing idle in the face of an ongoing assault on our delicate ecosystem will not forestall a day of environmental reckoning–it will invite one.”

Hinojosa filed a similar bill in the 2017 session, which was passed out of committee and out of the House Calendar Committee on bipartisan votes but never received a House vote.

The city of Austin implemented its single-use plastic bag ban in March 2013 as part of its effort to improve the environment and decrease waste.

According to a 2015 report published by the Austin Resource Recovery Center, in the period since the ordinance was implemented the number of plastic bags used locally had been reduced 75 percent, and the city’s yearly consumption was reduced by nearly 200 million plastic bags.

“Bag pollution is bad for Texas, and if the state government isn’t going to take action to eliminate it, then they need to stand out of the way of local governments ready to lead on the issue,” Andrew Dobbs, legislative director for Texas Campaign for the Environment, said in a Dec. 12 news release.

Not everyone agrees, however, that cities ought to regulate these matters themselves. Robert Henneke, director of the litigation wing at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin, applauded the court's decision.

“This case had little to do with the merits of plastic bags bans, and everything to do with reining in lawless city governments,” Henneke told Community Impact Newspaper in July.  

Hinojosa filed her bill in anticipation of the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 8.


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