Georgia House rejects move to bar bans on plastic bags

In the end, the pickles and ice cream story didn’t work. And legislation critics have dubbed the “plastic bags everywhere bill” failed to advance Friday in Georgia’s GOP-controlled Legislature.

By a vote of 85-67, the House rejected Senate Bill 139 with the support of numerous Republicans, some of whom objected to eliminating local control.

SB 139 would block cities and counties from banning plastic shopping bags or other “auxiliary containers” at grocery stores, restaurants and other places. Supporters of SB 139 said such bans would drive up business costs and confuse customers.

The Senate passed the measure last month after officials in Athens and Tybee Island discussed local bans because of environmental concerns. Critics say the bags become litter and endanger wildlife, including turtles who confuse them with jellyfish.

Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, sought to build support for the bill with a story about a mishap. As he told it, Ehrhart was getting out of his truck one day, carrying a paper bag full of ice cream and a big glass jar of pickles. The bag became saturated with melting ice cream and burst. And the glass pickle jar fell out, shattering.

“And I had pickles and ice cream and I had glass all over the place,” he said. “Now I submit to you that glass all over the coast down there where we are worried about plastic bags is much more of a danger to our children than plastic.”

He then pulled a gray plastic Wal-Mart shopping bag out of his pocket and railed against what he called “PBP,” or plastic bag phobia.

“I’m going to pull something out and I don’t want you to be afraid,” he said, eliciting laughter. “I’m holding this. I’m touching it. … And it’s not doing anything to me yet. I’m not having any medical conditions. I’m not having any serious psychological problems yet.”

Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, joined other Republicans in voting against the bill Friday.

“I would not want the city of Holly Springs to pass a ban on plastic bags,” he said. “But I don’t have the same issues as Tybee Island. I don’t have the same issues as Athens. My city has its own unique set of issues. If we pass this bill, we are taking a tool out of the toolbox for those local governments to deal with their own problems.”