Georgia Senate votes to bar local bans on plastic bags

Plastic bag lovers, rejoice: The Peach State is no California.

The Georgia Senate on Thursday voted to prohibit cities and counties from banning plastic bags, saying it would be too expensive and “confusing” for local retailers to worry about.

“We talk about being business-friendly,” said the proposal’s sponsor, state Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla. “We just want to make sure we protect our businesses all across our state from a maze of regulation.”

Passage of Senate Bill 139 comes as the issue has gained ground in Georgia, with officials in Athens and Tybee Island having already discussed local bans because of environmental concerns. Sea turtles and other marine animals often eat the bags because they resemble jelly fish — a hazard because they can choke on the bags and suffocate.

Other concerns involve litter and the petrochemicals used in making the bags.

California in September became the first state to enact a ban on single-use plastic bags for similar reasons, although opponents of the ban have asked to have a statewide vote on the issue. In Hawaii, there is no statewide ban, but all the state’s counties have approved plastic bag bans. And bans are in place in cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Seattle and Austin, Texas.

Not everyone has bought in, though: Missouri, similar to Georgia, is trying to stop local officials from restricting the use of plastic bags. The “ban the ban” measures are supported by restaurant and grocery trade groups, with backing from the packaging and paper industries as well.

The 32-19 vote here enraged environmentalists, who are calling SB 139 the “plastic bags everywhere” bill.

They say the issue should be a local decision. “We should be encouraging communities to experiment with provisions that will help clean up plastic waste, not stopping them in their tracks,” Environment Georgia Director Jennette Gayer said.

With passage, SB 139 now goes to the state House for consideration. The House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee on Monday is also scheduled to take up a similar proposal, House Bill 444.

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