How the Laredo bag ban decision could threaten New Braunfels’ disposable containers ban

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With summer in full swing, residents and visitors of New Braunfels rivers are subject to a disposable container ban—at least for now.

Earlier today, the Texas Supreme Court announced its ruling in favor of the Laredo Merchant’s Association, overturning Laredo’s ordinance banning single-use plastic bags and bringing similar ordinances into question in Austin and other Texas cities.

Jim Ewbank, attorney for the Tourist Associated Businesses of Comal County, or TABCC, that is fighting New Braunfels’ disposable container ordinance, said the ruling in the Laredo case comes at an ideal time for his clients.

“The supreme court has held that the (Laredo) city ordinance that attempts to regulate and mandate solid waste is preempted by the state law, which is exactly identical to one of our four arguments,” Ewbank said.

The controversial disposable containers ban—which dates back to 2011—was in effect for two summers in 2012 and 2013 until Don Burgess, a visiting judge, halted its enforcement. The city appealed the decision, and the ordinance was put back into effect late last year after a ruling from the Texas third court of appeals.

Like the Laredo bag ban lawsuit, the disposable container case has gained the attention of the Texas Supreme Court, which asked the city of New Braunfels and the TABCC to submit merit briefs outlining their arguments earlier this month.

The TABCC has until July 23 to submit its brief, and the city must present its response by Aug. 13. From there, the TABCC can submit a final reply brief that is due Aug. 28.

During the briefing period, New Braunfels City Attorney Val Acavedo said agencies can also file amicus briefs in favor of one of the parties.

When the briefing period is over, the Texas Supreme Court will determine if it will move forward with hearing oral arguments. There is no guarantee it will do so, and if it doesn’t, the ban will remain in effect.

“The supreme court only requests briefing on the merits on a small number of cases,” Ewbank said, noting that he feels there is a strong likelihood the state’s highest court will hear the case and make a final ruling. “It’s obviously of great interest to not just the citizens of New Braunfels but all those who come to the river, and quite frankly [anyone who wants]to use the rivers in the state of Texas.”

Acavedo said that historically the city has worked with outside counsel to handle the disposable container case, and City Council will discuss and consider the approval of a contract with the law firm of Terrill & Waldrop for legal services to represent the city moving forward at its regular meeting Monday.

Ewbank said that if the case moves forward with the Texas Supreme Court, it is hard to predict a timeline for when a decision would be finalized. However, based on other cases he has followed, Ewbank said he thinks it is feasible the court could hear and rule on the case by the end of summer.

While an overturning of the ban would appease its avid opponents, Israel Trevino, owner of Las Fontanas Mexican Kitchen in New Braunfels, is among supporters who hope to see it remain in place.

“I’m a big advocate for the environment,” Trevino said. “Whatever it takes to keep our environment clean, we do our part as well. We recycle our grease, we have LED lighting. [Those are] just a couple things we do to make our restaurant cleaner, and we should do the same for our rivers.”

Trevino also advocates for the decreased alcohol consumption that comes as a side effect of the ordinance because it eliminates aluminum cans.

“It kind of curbs the alcohol,” he said. “It’s not just about going out there and drinking, it’s about enjoying the river.”

While the issue remains divided, many hope an end is near regardless of personal stance.

“We’re so close to the end, it’s just a matter of getting some direction from the court and hoping this would put this issue to bed and we can move on,” Acavedo said.

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Rachel Nelson
Rachel Nelson is editor of the New Braunfels edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She covers local business, new development, city and county government, health care, education and transportation. Rachel relocated to Central Texas from Amarillo in 2009 and is a graduate of Texas State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
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