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Baltimore Considering Plastic Bag Ban

Baltimore may soon become one of the first East Coast cities to adopt the West Coast trend of banning plastic shopping bags.

The City Council voted to approve the ban Monday night, the Baltimore Sun reports, at a hearing during which it was supposed to be considering a 5-cent fee, which has become relatively common in East Coast cities. (RELATED: Denver Poised to Implement Grocery Bag Fees)

Council President Jack Young said that, given the environmental harm caused by plastic bags, “the best course of action was an outright ban,” noting that a fee “would impose a burden on city families.”

However, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake promised to veto the measure, warning that it “has the potential to be a backhanded tax on residents,” because merchants will likely pass the higher cost of paper bags on to consumers.

She also criticized Council members for “dramatically and essentially [changing] legislation with anticipation of passing it without public participation,” saying that such maneuvers do not constitute good government. (RELATED: Plastic Bag Banners Rebuked in New Study)

Yet even if Rawlings-Blake follows through on her pledge, it seems likely that her veto will be overridden. City Council passed the ban by an 11-1 vote, with one abstention, and needs 10 votes to overturn a mayoral veto.

Plastic bag bans have become a surprisingly contentious issue. California passed one statewide earlier this year. The Wall Street Journal editorialized against cities passing such bans in 2012.

In an editorial, the Baltimore Sun argued that the most recent ban was passed in defiance of “the anti-tax, anti-regulatory fervor that possesses the majority of the state,” as evidenced by Maryland’s election of a Republican governor in the recent elections.

The bill’s sponsor, Councilman James Kraft, claimed that those election results were actually the inspiration to switch from a fee to a ban. He said the elections “showed us two things: People care about progressive issues; and they do not want to pay any more taxes or fees,” adding, “We got the message.”

The Sun’s editors say that Kraft “seems to have missed [Governor-elect Larry] Hogan’s point entirely,” noting that the bag ban would still impose costs on consumers, just like a fee, but would also add to the regulatory burden on businesses. (RELATED: Activists Present Case Against California Bag Ban)

Jeff Zellmer, senior vice president of the Maryland Retailers Association, echoed that sentiment, warning that grocery stores in particular would find it difficult to cope with the increased costs a ban would impose.

“The grocery store business is a 1- to 2-percent margin, and they keep whittling away at that,” he told the Sun, adding, “We’ll make sure no grocery store gives a nickel to council [members’ political campaigns].”

Even environmental groups are less than enthusiastic about the ban, though they still support it, claiming it will merely encourage shoppers to use paper bags, which are more resource-intensive.

Rather than simply banning plastic bags, they say, “the city needs to do more to persuade Baltimoreans to take reusable bags with them when they shop.”

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