On October 2, 2015 the American Progressive Bag Alliance, representing plastic bag manufacturers, filed a proposed initiative statute with Kamala D. Harris, California State Attorney General, entitled the “Environmental Fee Protection Act.” The initiative would require that mandated fees paid by shoppers for carryout bags to be put into a statewide environmental fund rather than kept by grocers. (Lin, 2015) (Johnson, 2015)
According the filing: “The purpose of the Environmental Fee Protection Act is to fulfill Californians’ expectations by requiring that any charges on carryout bags paid by consumers in connection with, or to advance, any plastic bag ban are dedicated to appropriate and worthy environmental objectives like drought mitigation, recycling, clean drinking water supplies, parks, beach cleanup, litter removal, and wildlife habitat restoration.” (Johnson, 2015)
To be more explicit, the proposed initiative declares as follows:
“The People of the State of California find and declare as follows:
(a) In 2014, the California state Legislature enacted a ban on plastic carryout bags after lobbying by special interests including the California Grocers Association.
(b) The law further mandated that stores sell every paper or reusable carryout bag they provide to consumers for a minimum of 10 cents. Stores can charge even more if they so choose, and the grocers and retailers are specifically required by the law to keep these mandated sales charges as extra revenue.
(c) None of the sales charges on carryout bags required by state law will go to environmental purposes. The Legislature specifically wrote the law in such a way as to make these sales charges additional revenue to grocers and retailers.
(d) This special interest deal will provide grocers and retailers over $400 million in added revenue every year – all at the expense of California consumers and with little or no benefit to the environment.
(e) The people of California have every right to expect that any sales charges on carryout bags they are required by state law to pay are dedicated to protecting the environment; not enriching corporations.” (Johnson, 2015)The new initiative would redirect mandated fees for paper and plastic reusable carryout bags paid by consumers to be paid into a state environmental fund and used by the Wildlife Conservation Board as stated in the following:
“(c) The Wildlife Conservation Board shall use the moneys in the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Fund to fund environmental protection and enhancement grants. Projects and programs eligible for grants are as follows:
(1) Drought mitigation projects including, but not limited to, drought-stressed forest remediation and projects that expand or restore wetlands, fish habitat, or waterfowl habitat.
(3) Clean drinking water supplies.
(4) State, regional, and local parks.
(5) Beach cleanup.
(6) Litter removal.
(7) Wildlife habitat restoration.” (Johnson, 2015)
The initiative does not affect fees mandated by local bag ban ordinances. However, the local jurisdiction may require those fees to be deposited in the state Environmental Protection and Enhancement Fund, as stated in the following:
Section 42273. (a) Notwithstanding any other law, local governments may require moneys generated or collected pursuant to any local law that bans free distribution of any type of carryout bag, and mandates the sale of any other type of carryout bag, to be deposited into the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Fund and used for the purposes set forth in Section 42272. (Johnson, 2015)
The next step is for California’s Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris, to prepare a ballot title and official summary. After which initiative petitions can be prepare for circulation to gather the required signatures to qualify the initiative for the 2016 ballot.
Some pundits see the filing of this initiative as an admission that the referendum in the 2016 elections will fail or that it is a cynical ploy to confuse voters. (Lin, 2015) On the contrary, it is a brilliant political move. If California voters uphold the statewide bag ban (i.e. the referendum fails) and this new initiative passes, grocers will be denied their multimillion dollar windfall from carryout bag fees.
Furthermore, local jurisdictions that have passed bag bans with mandated fees for store-provided paper and plastic reusable carryout bags will have the impetus to drop their bag bans in favor of the state bag ban or change the local law to require those fees to be paid into the state Environmental Protection and Enhancement Fund.
The initiative should win handily, it does not raise new taxes, but it does redirect state mandated carryout bag fees paid by consumers to an environmental fund rather than to the pockets of grocers.
Readers who wish to view the new initiative as filed can do so by clicking the following link: 15-0074 (Carryout Bag Fees)
Johnson, D. L. (2015, October 2). Initiative 15-0074 Environmental Fee Protection Act. Retrieved from State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General: https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/initiatives/pdfs/15-0074%20%28Carryout%20Bag%20Fees%29.pdf?
Lin, J. (2015, October 2). Plastic bag manufacturers second California measure. Retrieved from SFGATE: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Plastic-bag-manufacturers-file-second-California-6546773.php