Legislation to impose a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags cleared its first hurdle Monday, a recycled proposal that's ultimately failed several years running at the State Capitol.
"This has been a long conversation throughout California and I think the time has come to ban plastic bags at stores," said Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, just moments after his AB 158 cleared its first policy committee.
The bill would make single-use bags illegal at all but small California stores as of January 1, 2015. While that largely means plastic bags, the bill seems focused more on the purpose of shopping bags ("single use") than their composition.
Fines for businesses that don't comply would begin at $500 per instance under the bill's current language.
Efforts to either ban or charge a fee for single-use plastic bags have arrived and fizzled in the Legislature since 2007. Levine's AB 158 is most closely aligned with a 2011 Assembly bill that died in a Senate committee. It also matches up with SB 405 in the current session, written by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima.
The efforts in Sacramento to ban plastic bags have been eclipsed by local communities; some six dozen now have some sort of ordinance on the books. Several questions at Monday's hearing of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources focused on whether those laws -- some more strict than the proposed state legislation -- would be preempted by legislative action.
Supporters focused less on the climate impact of producing plastic bags and more on the impact to marine life of those that float in garbage masses or wash up on beaches.
"The time has come to bite the bullet," said Justin Malan, a lobbyist representing Santa Monica's Heal the Bay. "They don't decompose, they're an absolute pest when they get in the waterways."
The question, though, for some is whether the bags are really acting as "single use" items. Both plastics industry advocates, and Republican legislators, pointed out the many ways plastic bags are broadly used.
"It comes home from the grocery store, my husband takes one for lunch, I bring my dirty clothes back and forth from Sacramento," said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield. "You know, I use it multiple times."
Both sides in this debate are also likely to push the economic rightness of their position, with critics bemoaning the potential loss of jobs at some California bag-making plants, and supporters arguing those manufacturing machines can be re-tooled plus more re-usable bags will largely be made in California, and not elsewhere.