City leaders seek clarity on which establishments would be subject to plastic bag ban, other changes ahead of final consideration

photo by: City of Lawrence screengrab

The Lawrence City Commission discusses a draft ordinance regarding plastic bags as part of its meeting June 6, 2023. Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn and Commissioner Amber Sellers participated virtually and Mayor Lisa Larsen was absent.

Lawrence city leaders worked to refine a draft ordinance that would ban single-use plastic bags, and an updated ordinance will come forward for consideration later this month.

The Lawrence City Commission provided feedback on the draft ordinance as part of its meeting Tuesday. That draft ordinance covers what types of bags would be prohibited, what businesses would be subject to the ban and how the ordinance will be enforced.

In their discussion, commissioners — Mayor Lisa Larsen was absent — agreed that there needed to be more clarifty regarding what types of businesses, establishments or activities would be subject to the ordinance; that a period between the initial warning and re-inspection needed to be set; and that the fine for a first violation should be up to $100 instead of $100, in order to give municipal court judges the discretion to apply a lesser fine. The Sustainability Advisory Board, which helped draft the ordinance, also recommended that the thicker, reusable plastic bags that the ordinance would allow should be 40% post-consumer recycled content. Commissioners also said that aspect would need to be included in the ordinance.

Commissioner Amber Sellers said that she also wanted to see the message about the ordinance go beyond just the idea of a ban, as really it would only prohibit specific types of plastic bags in favor of more environmentally sustainable options.

As written, the ordinance would prohibit single-use disposable plastic bags, defined as any bag less than 4 mils thick — about the thickness of a piece of paper — provided to a consumer by an establishment for the purpose of transporting food, beverages, goods or other merchandise. The ordinance would cover grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses or establishments that provide single-use bags at checkout. It would not include single-use plastic bags used for produce or reusable bags made of plastic that are designed for repeated use.

The draft ordinance states that if a city code enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that an establishment is violating the ban, then an initial warning will be issued. The warning will advise the establishment about the violation and that any future violation may result in the prosecution of any person who owns, manages, operates or otherwise controls the establishment. Future violations would be subject to an ascending level of fines as follows: $100 for a first conviction; $200 for a second conviction; and $500 for a third or any subsequent conviction occurring within one calendar year of the first conviction.

The code enforcement division estimates it will cost about $31,000 annually to enforce the ban. The division is requesting an additional full-time code compliance officer as part of the upcoming 2024 budget, which would cost the city $94,000 total, accounting for that person’s salary, benefits and use of a city vehicle. Code Official Brian Jimenez said about one-third of the code officer’s time would initially be spent enforcing the plastic-bag ban, or the equivalent of about $31,333. He anticipated the time the code officer needed to spend enforcing the plastic bag ban would decrease as time went on and more time could then be spent on other code enforcement.

Commissioner Courtney Shipley clarified that passing the ordinance would not dedicate the funding for the additional staff member, and that discussion would occur as part of the city’s upcoming budget process.

City staff estimated that the revised ordinance will be ready for consideration at the City Commission’s meeting June 20.


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