Over the weekend, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) and other supporters of the bill to ban plastic grocery bags (AB 1998) attempted to make the legislation more palatable to state senators, who will decide the bill’s fate soon. The amendments they made to win over reluctant senators actually prove that Brownley’s bill would hurt working families, put people out of good jobs and create an expensive new bureaucracy when California has far more pressing problems to solve.
The amendments added behind closed doors shine a spotlight on the major weaknesses of the legislation. The revision requiring stores to offer free bags to customers using food stamps acknowledges the bill’s adverse impact on working families. What about those barely treading water but who aren’t on assistance?
Furthermore, including a worker retraining program proves that this bill would put people out of work. There are about 1,000 workers out there right now who stand to lose stable, well-paying jobs. A training program to make reusable bags doesn’t make sense when those bags already are being imported inexpensively from overseas.
Finally, the amendments double the price of the bill. It was a bad bill when it cost the state $2 million a year, per the Senate’s estimate. Now it will cost Californians $4 million a year. Adding any amount to California’s $19-billion budget deficit doesn’t make sense.
Recently, we at the American Chemistry Council have come under fire — on The Times’ editorial page and elsewhere — for trying to make sure Californians have the facts about this legislation. Our efforts, which include the website stopthebagpolice.com, print ads and TV commercials, have been called a media blitz.
But the real blitz has come from those who would stifle choice and presume to tell shoppers how to take their groceries home from the store. It’s come from special-interest California grocers who, incentivized by the prospect of no longer having to provide free bags to customers, are seeking cover behind what amounts to state-sanctioned price fixing. And it’s come from a few opportunistic reusable bag companies, many of whom import their products, who without an environmental impact study promise to ramp up U.S. production and make reusable bags to replace the plastic ones the state wants to ban.
Meanwhile, what’s underreported are the stories of those who would be impacted by this legislation, the stories of the nearly 500 small businesses and consumer groups opposed to AB 1998. Members of this coalition have real reasons for wanting this legislation stopped, and it has to do with the fear of job losses, the fear of rising business costs, the fear of inflated grocery bills and the fear of California’s expanding deficit.
Instead of passing AB 1998, we should be working together to find litter and recycling solutions that don’t cost consumers more money and don’t put people out of work.
Keith Christman is managing director for plastics markets at the American Chemistry Council.