Activists gather to push for plastic bag ban

The massive inflatable turtle shifted in the breeze that whipped across the Huntington Beach Pier on Monday afternoon, looking large and restless enough to crawl across the walkway for a hearty meal at Ruby's Diner.

The environmental activists who set up their booth on the pier hadn't anticipated the wind. But the turtle's twitchy movements ended up fitting their message perfectly: that the ocean is full of living things, and that plastic bags are best kept out of it.

With the state's two-year legislative session set to end at midnight Friday, members of the Surfrider Foundation, Earth Resource Foundation and Environment California set up a table and solicited signatures for a petition asking lawmakers to support Assembly Bill 298, which seeks to ban single-use plastic bags in many businesses across California.

Among the reasons the petitioners gave for banning plastic bags was the fact that they often make their way into the ocean — where sea turtles, mistaking them for jellyfish, fatally devour them.

"I'll get straight to what it's all about," Erik Helgesen of Environmental California told a TV camera. "Trash is killing ocean life."

Councilwoman Connie Boardman, who attended the demonstration, noted that the council plans to vote this fall on an anti-plastic-bag ordinance.

The bill is in the hands of the state Senate's Appropriations Committee and has until Friday night to be approved for a Senate and Assembly vote, according to Dan Jacobson, the legislative director for Environment California.

A spokeswoman for Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Oak Park), the bill's author, said the Assembly approved an earlier version of the bill, but since it has been amended in the Senate, the former group would have to pass the new version as well.

The petition at the pier Monday afternoon called for State Sens. Tom Harman and Lou Correa to support the bill. Although neither man is on the Appropriations Committee, having enough vocal support from senators will improve the bill's chances of making it out of the committee, Earth Resource Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Barger said.

"They love our coast," she said of Harman and Correa. "They've helped our coast. And this is one more step they can take to preserve our wildlife."

However, Eileen Ricker, a spokeswoman for Harman, said Tuesday that the senator had voiced opposition to the bill on the grounds that it infringed on businesses' and customers' freedom.

"Sen. Harman is opposed to that bill," she said. "He thinks it restricts consumer choice. It strips the local governments of control over that issue."

A spokesman for Correa's office said he was unsure about the senator's stance on the bill.

Jacobson, regardless, said he would keep his hopes up until the deadline Friday.

"We're still optimistic that the two of them will vote in favor of the bill," he said. "But there are so many people communicating with them now that we sort of get mixed messages."

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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