Cleveland City Council introduced an amendment Monday morning to legislation that would have allowed the city to "opt out" of a county plastic bag ban, set to take effect January 1.
The amendment, sponsored by councilmen Kerry McCormack and Mike Polensek, would allow the city to opt out for six months, in alignment with a planned county grace period during which no fines will be imposed. After six months, the city can either default to the county ban or enact legislation of its own.
Council President Kevin Kelley had proposed legislation earlier this month that would have delayed the ban in the city of Cleveland for two years. He claimed to want to set up a working group which would be given a year to study the issue and make recommendations to council. Based on those recommendations, council would then have an additional year to create regulations related to plastic bags.
“I certainly understand the environmental hazards of plastic products,” said Kelley, in a statement provided to the media last week. “But implementing a policy of this nature requires detailed community education, stakeholder buy-in and thoughtful implementation.”
For councilman Kerry McCormack and others on council, the two-year time frame was "way too long." McCormack told Scene that the county's six-month grace period should be sufficient for the city to conduct research and get additional feedback from the community.
The two-year time frame was interpreted by some supporters of the ban as Kelley's attempt to give statehouse Republicans ample time to enact their statewide preemption, a law underwritten by the retail lobby
. Kelley's unilateral 11th-hour proposal becomes less confusing when understood as an intervention on behalf of the Greater Cleveland Partnership and local grocers.
McCormack said he didn't know Kelley's motivation, but said that it was true communication had been a problem between the city and the county. Regardless, he said, there's just not time to kick the can down the road.
"Unfortunately, the federal government is going backwards on this issue," he said, "which is why it's important for local communities to take bold action. This is a
piece of environmental legislation — obviously there are a lot more — but we have to take bold steps to start to fight back against pollution and climate change."
McCormack added that while he personally supported a plastic bag ban, he felt that there were important related questions — about single-use paper products, for example — which a working group could conceivably address in the next few months.
"I want to be very clear," McCormack said. "The amendment was not to delay the ban for six months and then opt out. This is really to work with the community and the grocers and then to implement the ban, but to help us have conversations about issues that we may not be seeing."
The amendment enjoyed unanimous support at a council finance committee meeting Monday and is expected to pass this evening. McCormack said that he suspected but for the amendment, Kelley's opt-out wouldn't have garnered enough support for passage.
Reached by phone for comment, county councilwoman Sunny Simon said she appreciated the city's amendment and council's willingness to work with the county in moving the region forward and in protecting Lake Erie from the 300 million plastic bags that pollute its waters each year.
"We need to have courage," Simon said, referencing the ban's opponents at the statehouse and in the local business community. "We need to have backbone to make this work. But we have to, and we have to do it now."
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.