Retrograde Ohio House Passes Dumb Pro-Plastic Bag Bill, Another Solution in Search of Problem

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While much of the nation, including major cities and America's largest supermarket chain, has moved toward plastic bag bans, Ohio continues its tradition of marching bodly, with sigils flying, in the opposite direction.

In defiance not only of environmental sustainability but of home rule, (the constitutional idea that municipalities should be allowed to govern themselves), the state's House of Representatives saw fit to pass HB625 yesterday, a vindictive piece of legislation that prohibits municipalities from regulating or taxing auxiliary containers like plastic bags. It's the same sort of preemptive legislation as the one that prohibits municipalities from regulating Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft.

HB625 is yet another solution in search of a problem, sharing sacred territory with such luminous doozies as the "Pastor Protection" law. That bill, passed earlier this year, was deemed a "farcical piece of public pouting" by opponents, one that amplified the narrative, beloved by the radical right, of besieged Christianity.

Just as no pastor has been forced to perform a marriage that contradicts or contravenes their sincerely held religious beliefs, no city in Ohio has assessed fees on auxiliary containers like plastic bags. That wouldn't have been the case for long, though. If the bill passes the Ohio Senate and is signed into law, as Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau Chief Karen Kasler said Friday she suspected it would, it will kill proposed fees under consideration in both Cleveland and Cincinnati.

"What's next?"Asked editor Chris Quinn on Friday's Reporters Roundtable. "Lead paint? Raw sewage in the lake? There's no way you can justify standing by it."

Quinn made a critical point: that while the bill's proponents (rural Republicans, mostly) have argued that this is a pro-business measure because it will remove the possibility of burdensome regulations for grocery stores and other businesses, the effects are more likely to be anti-business. Backwards laws like this one, at any rate, pursued at the behest of lobbyists — the bill's co-sponsor, George Lang (R - West Chester Township), has a plastic bag manufacturer in his district — make the state much less attractive, argued Quinn, for both residents and businesses. 

County Councilwoman Sunny Simon agreed. She had been pursuing a $0.10 fee on plastic bags in Cuyahoga County and had recently expressed confidence that if the state had not passed preemptive legislation, the county legislature would likely have gone along with a version of her proposal. Unlike an outright ban, the fee on plastic bags would have provided funding to grocery stores (those over 7,000 square feet, where the fee would be enforced) for administration and implementation while also providing funds for crucial environmental cleanups. Currently, 5.5 million pounds of plastic pollution contaminate Lake Erie each year. 

Simon told Scene that she'd known the bill was coming, and remains convinced that the Ohio legislature pays no attention to their own hypocrisy. (They love home rule and 'small government,' for example, until it's inconvenient for them and their donors.)

"They do whatever they want," she said. "And it's precisely this kind of backwards and self-serving thinking that is losing the state population, jobs and especially young people in our modern economy. We're a regressive state, and our population numbers prove it. Young people do not want to be here." 

Simon said that if Ohio bag manufacturers were willing to change and diversify in accordance with a changing economy, they'd recognize the economic benefits. Why not capitalize on the opportunity to manufacture reusable bags, she wondered.

"Instead of joining the rest of the world," Simon said, "[the legislature] has made it a priority to pollute our environment while enriching special interests. The pollution is egregious, and it's a horrible legacy to leave for our next generation. [This bill] is unconscionable." 

About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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