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Eye On Boise

Senate backs prohibition on local plastic bag bans, 20-15, after much debate

Dome over the Idaho Senate chamber (Betsy Z. Russell)
Dome over the Idaho Senate chamber (Betsy Z. Russell)

After much debate, the Idaho Senate has passed the ban on local plastic bag bans on a 20-15 vote, forbidding any local regulation of “auxiliary containers,” from plastic grocery bags to Styrofoam restaurant carryout containers. “This in my mind is a business bill,” said Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, the bill’s Senate sponsor. “The purpose of this legislation is to ensure uniform and prudent regulation of auxiliary containers,” which Patrick said should “be done by the Legislature, not individual political subdivisions of the state.”

Patrick said it’s appropriate for the state to “pre-empt” local control in this area. “We do this in a lot of cases,” he said. “I think being business-friendly, promoting business as we do … we want to promote more business.”

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, spoke out against the bill, citing both the Idaho Constitution and existing state law that put counties in control of managing solid waste, for “cultural, economic and sanitation reasons as may be necessary from time to time.” He said, “It appears we have given these local government entities the ability to manage these things, and for good reason.” He shared a picture he snapped with his phone of a green plastic bag stuck in a tree outside the Capitol several days ago, and noted that it’s still there. “We have granted them those police powers to regulate the sanitation within those counties.”

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said that’s no different than a tumbleweed, and said the wind will blow where it blows. “It is something that is appropriately regulated at the state level,” Rice said. “And this is something that is not strange or unusual in our history. In fact it has been demonstrated to be wise and appropriate.” He compared the issue to interstate commerce, saying cities or counties could be right next to each other and have different plastic-bag regulations.

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, shared the story of how local school kids petitioned their Idaho city to ban plastic grocery bags, and the city council held a hearing, and decided not to do so. “The council in my opinion made the right decision,” Siddoway said. “Now we jump forward and we want to interject our authority over those city councils that just previously made the right decision. If this was going on, and it was happening in towns that were separated by a street or a highway, I might look at this differently. But this to me is just a non-issue.”

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said, “What we’re really dealing with is speculation. I think we can and should trust our local entities to make the right decision in this case, and they’ve already demonstrated that they have. … I think this is different than minimum wage and other issues, and I think we should leave this at the local level and trust them to make the right decision.”

Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, argued in favor of the bill. “The more predictability and stability for our businesses, particularly in our urban areas, the better. … This has a metric which will provide consistency.” He added, “I reuse all those bags.”

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, pointed to a legal issue with the bill: It’s an attempt to have the state “occupy” the area of regulation of the containers, but the state doesn’t impose any regulations. So, he said, “We choose to occupy it by vacancy. Vacancy to me is not occupancy.”

Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said, “I philosophically believe that there are few instances where local control is not better. … But I have found that there are some situations, particularly relating to commerce, where local control can be damaging to business.”

Patrick told the Senate, “I will not apologize for being business-friendly. That’s what brings in the taxes for this state to operate on.” The bill, HB 372, now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.

Here's how the vote broke down:

Voting in favor: Sens. Anthon, Bayer, Brackett, DenHartog, Guthrie, Hagedorn, Harris, Heider, Lee, Lodge, McKenzie, Mortimer, Nonini, Nuxoll, Patrick, Rice, Souza, Thayn, Vick and Winder.

Voting against: Sens. Bair, Buckner-Webb, Burgoyne, Davis, Hill, Johnson, Jordan, Keough, Lacey, Lakey, Martin, Schmidt, Siddoway, Stennett, and Ward-Engelking.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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