Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho lawmakers forbid local regulations on plastic bags, other containers

Light shines through the domed ceiling of the Idaho Senate chamber. (Betsy Z. Russell)

BOISE – Cities and counties in Idaho would be forbidden from regulating or taxing plastic grocery bags or other “auxiliary containers,” under legislation that’s passed both houses of the Idaho Legislature.

“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.”

The legislation passed the Idaho Senate late Monday on a 20-15 vote after much debate and with bipartisan opposition. It specifies that local governments, and local voters, can have no say over containers, including plastic water bottles and bags and restaurant carry-out containers – though the state doesn’t regulate those, either.

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. “We want to promote more business.”

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, spoke out against the bill, citing 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.”

“It appears we have given these local government entities the ability to manage these things, and for good reason,” Johnson said.

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, shared the story of how local school kids petitioned their southern Idaho city to ban plastic grocery bags to reduce litter; 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 nonissue.”

Idaho lawmakers also passed legislation this year to forbid local voters or local governments from making any move to raise the minimum wage.

Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said he usually believes in local control.

“But I have found that there are some situations, particularly relating to commerce, where local control can be damaging to business,” Anthon said.

The bill, which passed the house 52-17, is headed to Gov. Butch Otter for a final decision.