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FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE PLASTIC BAGS

Patrick Gleason, Americans for Tax Reform

August 2, 2010

[Publisher's Note: As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, I am pleased to present this column from Patrick Gleason of Americans for Tax Reform - Flash]

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The California Senate Appropriations Committee is set to hold a hearing today on Assembly Bill 1998, legislation that would ban all plastic and paper shopping bags statewide. Never mind the 880 pound gorilla in the room that is the state’s $20 billion dollar overspending problem – lawmakers in Sacramento prefer to spend time ramming through an ill-advised bag prohibition. 

If passed, plastic and paper bags would be prohibited at all grocery stores, convenience stores, and other retailers statewide. AB 1998 effectively levies a new tax that Golden State residents must pay on every trip to their neighborhood grocer. Californians who are not able to or forget to bring their own bags to the store would be required to purchase either a reusable bag at checkout or pay no less than a nickel for a recycled paper bag.

AB 1998 is touted under the auspices of environmental improvement/protection. However, as I pointed out in a previous Big Government article on the topic, bag bans have already proven to be an environmental loser in California:

In 2007 San Francisco became the first city in the country to ban plastic bags at supermarkets and pharmacies. Litter audits conducted before and after the ban found that not only did the ban provide no positive environmental impact, plastic bags actually comprised a higher percentage of total litter after the ban.

The fact is that many calling for this heavy-handed action don’t appear to even care whether it is effective or achieves intended outcomes. This is evidenced by the fact that, prior to passage in the state’s lower chamber, the bill was amended so as to strip out the requirement, if AB 1998 is passed, for a retrospective report by 2015 on the efficacy of the statewide bag ban. What’s more important for AB 1998 proponents and others who seek to grow the nanny-state is increased control and decreased accountability.

Worse than the fact that AB 1998 will provide no benefit to the environment are the unintended consequences. California’s unemployment rate remains above 12%, nearly 30% higher than the national average. Yet, proponents of AB 1998 are dead set on imposing a statewide ban that they know will shut down several manufacturing plants, directly resulting in the elimination of hundreds of in-state jobs and thousands of job losses indirectly.

AB 1998 is just as detrimental to public health as it is to the economy. Recent studies have found that reusable bags are often a petri dish for bacteria and increase the risk of food-borne illnesses due to cross-contamination. The most recent study on this matter, portions of which were conducted in California, found that reusable bags are often used for multiple purposes and “seldom if ever washed.” Researchers discovered “Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half. Escherichia coli were identified in 12% of the bags and a wide range of enteric bacteria, including several opportunistic pathogens.” AB 1998 might as well be title the “Have You Hugged Your Toilet Bowl Lately Act.”

Governor Schwarzenegger has indicated he will sign this legislation if passed by the Senate so this is the last chance to stop this job-killing, taxing, nonsensical bag prohibition. There will be no shortage of paid demonstrators, B-list actors, and naïve college students cheerleading for a statewide bag prohibition at today’s hearing. I encourage all who wish to halt the state’s economic decline and hemorrhaging of jobs to attend today’s hearing if able, or at least contact your senator in Sacramento and urge them to vote “NO.”
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Gleason is Director of State Affairs at Americans for Tax Reform. He can be contacted via email at pgleason@atr.org and via Twitter at @patrickmgleason.

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