State lawmakers pushing bill that would stop Lawrence, other cities from adopting plastic bag bans

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka is pictured on Dec. 20, 2023.

A bill that would prohibit local governments from imposing regulations or taxes on plastic bags, bottles, packaging and an array of “similarly-coated materials” continues to be divisive at the Kansas Statehouse.

The bill comes at a time when the Lawrence City Commission is set to implement a single-use plastic bag ban on March 1.

The first attempt at passing a state bill aimed at that type of ban was vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly in 2022. But a similar bill introduced last year was passed in the Kansas House of Representatives by a 72-51 vote.

In this session, the Committee on Federal and State Affairs scheduled a hearing for testimony on the bill for Tuesday, but it was postponed at the last minute. But the delay is likely not the end of the bill. Lawmakers said a hearing on the bill could be set in another week.

Republican supporters of the bill have touted it as providing protection for consumers and businesses.

Sen. Chase Blasi, R-Wichita, told the Journal-World that bans on items such as single-use plastic bags are bad for “local businesses,” which then has a trickle-down effect on consumers.

“We’re seeing these bans as a hindrance,” said Blasi, who is a member of the Committee on Federal and State Affairs. “Why are local governments putting regulations on local businesses?”

Blasi said that one of his philosophies is to always protect the consumer.

“Why should a local Dillons or HY-Vee be forced to choose different options that might be pricier for their business, which eventually gets passed on to consumers?” Blasi said. “So this bill would ultimately try to protect business and consumers.”

In Lawrence, the idea of a plastic bag ban won narrow support. City commissioners in August approved on a 3-2 vote an ordinance that imposes a ban on single-use disposable plastic bags. The ban has been touted as one that could have environmental benefits by reducing plastic waste. As the Journal-World reported, Lawrence city leaders adopted Ordinance No. 9996, which broadly bans the kinds of plastic bags one might currently use to take their purchases home from the grocery store, and also sets a fine structure for establishments that violate the ban. The ban applies to all but a small set of exemptions, including plastic bags used for newspapers, prescription drugs or produce. The ordinance takes effect on March 1.

Democrats who have opposed the state bill have said local governments should have the right to implement such bag bans, if they believe they are the right policies for their communities.

State Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, criticized the proposed bill, saying that it’s “just another example of state government overstepping its boundaries.”

“I very much believe in local control,” Holscher told the Journal-World on Tuesday. “And this is just us overstepping and trying to tell municipalities what they can and can’t do, when we have plenty of other business we need to be paying attention to. We typically let local municipalities make those decisions because they’re closer to the people.”

Holscher, who sits on the Committee on Federal and State Affairs, said that she has further concerns based on the bill’s “vaguely” amended language that includes provisions related to straws, cups, containers, bottles and numerous other items.

“The amended language has some other larger ramifications that were kind of concerning,” she said. “Then you start looking at the indirect consequences that maybe weren’t thought about when you start amending language and making it pretty vague. It is basically extending the prohibition to any goods consumed, and that could be very far-reaching.”

Holscher said that she is not surprised to see the legislation being pushed because “all bad bills come back around.”


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