City passes bag ban
The City Council’s final vote on the plastic bag ban came down to 10 council members voting yes, one voting no and three abstaining. One council member was absent.
The bill sparked the most passionate discussion on the chamber floor.
“This process has definitely cheated the public of the opportunity to vet the issue. We are not allowed to switch and bate,” said Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who is against the ban.
“You’ve got to get rid of these plastic bags that live eternally, apparently,” said bill supporter Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake has said she would veto the plastic bag ban, saying it was changed drastically last week. The bill started as a 5 cent charge for plastic bags in the city, but council members said they amended it to a ban because of what they called an anti tax sentiment shown by voters in the general election.
“We took testimony on the bill. We heard people in favor of the bill. We heard people for a 5 cent tax, a 10 cent tax, a 25 cent tax, a plastic bag ban. We’ve heard it all, and based up on that we made a decision,” said Councilman Jim Kraft.
“I don’t care what they talked about during the hearing. They did not propose the changes during that process. They did not allow a public process after the change was proposed,” the mayor said. “They could have talked about Timbuktu, for all I care. Until you make that proposal, put it before the counsel and give people an opportunity to talk about it, it’s not transparent, it’s not open and it’s not right.”
Rawlings Blake said she’s afraid the ban will drive businesses away from areas that already have too many food deserts.
Industry says ban would cut jobs, increase grocery costs
The City Council said the issue is about litter. Grocers said it’s going to cost consumers more, and bag manufacturers worry about jobs.
Advance Polybag, in Elkridge, employs 180 people, including production supervisor Marcelo Vonifaz, who has worked with the company for eight years.
“It’s a very good company. They take care of their employees; we have good paying jobs,” Vonifaz said.
There’s concern those jobs could be in jeopardy if a plastic bag ban takes effect in Baltimore City.
“What’s going to happen is some jobs are going to be lost,” Vonifaz said.
Mark Daniels, the chairman of the American Bag Alliance, said there are 30,800 jobs in the United States that manufacture and recycle plastic bags. Not only does a ban threaten those jobs, but he said a ban penalizes the consumer because it costs grocers more to supply paper bags, and the cost gets pushed on to consumers.
“It costs a large grocery store about $60,000 to $90,000 a store. All of that cost is going to be transferred to the consumer,” Daniels said.
He said smaller convenience type stores will see about a $5,000 cost increase.
“For a family of five, that could go up anywhere from $50 to $60 a year in higher grocery costs,” Daniels said.
Bill Ebeck, director of sales for Advance Polybag, said there’s a better way.
“If lawmakers are going to address this issue, they should focus on litter prevention and recycling education efforts,” Ebeck said.
Council bill mandating police body cameras passes
The council also passed a police officer body camera bill at its meeting Monday night, 13 1. Spector was the sole no vote.
The body camera bill would require police officers to wear audio and video recording devices while on duty. It was proposed after police involved shootings sparked a lot of discussion about the issue.
But Rawlings Blake said she would veto the bill. The city’s Legal Department has said that the legislation is illegal, and the mayor has raised concerns. She said while she supports the measure in principle, the current bill does not address privacy rights and data retention, and she has a lot of concerns about the way it’s written.
“I don’t want to have to send things back to them for them to get their job right, but when they don’t get it right, I have to be the chief executor for our city, and I can’t sign legislation that I think is sending the wrong message to our citizens,” Rawlings Blake said.