Ohio House votes to block local bans and fees on plastic grocery bags

The Ohio House voted 57-35 on Wednesday in favor of a controversial bill that would block local governments from passing fees or banning the use of plastic grocery bags and other carryout containers.

The bill is backed by grocers and business groups but opposed by local government and environmental groups. Similar legislation is pending in the Ohio Senate.

Senate Bill 222 and House Bill 242 each would pre-empt local regulations such as fees or bans on the containers. State Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, said the measure would “protect against over regulation” and “uphold consumer freedom.” He noted that plastic bags cost 3.5-cents while paper bags cost 29-cents.

Local regulations on plastic grocery bags could eventually lead to bans on other single-use items, such as plastic cups, Jones said. “We have to be aware this could be just the tip of the iceberg.”

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said working Ohioans shouldn’t face a local tax on plastic grocery bags.

State Rep. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, said 22-million pounds of plastic are floating in the Great Lakes ecosystem, including 5.5-million pounds in Lake Erie. Local leaders should be allowed to make decisions on the matter, he said.

State Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, said the bill is dangerous for the environment and usurps local government control.

Related: DeWine orders 1,500 public drinking water systems tested for 'forever' chemicals

Related: DeWine wants lawmakers to drop bills that block plastic bag fees

The city of Bexley and Cuyahoga County each have endorsed plans to ban single-use plastic bags.

Eight states have statewide bans on single-use plastic bags and several large cities such as Boston, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. have imposed bans or fees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said he doesn’t see a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags as “workable for Ohio.”

“Every citizen has a responsibility to pick up their trash. Don’t throw it on the ground. Put it in your pocket. We have got heavy fines for people who litter. That’s how we’re trying to address (the plastic pollution problem,)” Householder said.

The Ohio Department of Transportation spend $4.1 million a year cleaning up trash along the interstates, outside of municipal limits.

Related: 396,000 bags of roadside litter collected

Meanwhile 14 states have enacted pre-emption laws, similar to what Ohio is considering, NCSL reported earlier this month.

The American Legislative Exchange Council proposed a model plastic bag ban pre-emption policy in 2015. ALEC is an organization of conservative state legislators and corporate interests.

Cincinnati-based Kroger announced in 2018 its plans to phase out single-use plastic bags in its stores by 2025.

Local lawmakers voting against HB24 were Republican Tom Brinkman of Cincinnati and Democrat Fred Strahorn of Dayton.

Local lawmakers voting in favor — all Republicans — were: Niraj Antani, John Becker, Jim Butler, Sara Carruthers, Bill Dean, Candice Keller, Kyle Koehler, Scott Lipps, Susan Manchester, Rick Perales, Phil Plummer, Jena Powell, J. Todd Smith and Paul Zeltwanger.

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