PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to kill efforts by cities and counties to regulate grocery bags before the idea spreads.
On a 5-3 vote, the House Commerce Committee approved legislation to make it illegal for any community to impose any sort of fee or deposit on the use of “auxiliary containers.” That includes everything from soda bottles and cups to disposable bags “used for transporting merchandise or food.”
The provision in SB 1241 is being moved in tandem with a prohibition against cities and counties from requiring businesses and building owners from having to report their energy consumption.
That part of the legislation is in reaction to a proposal by the city of Phoenix to monitor energy use.
Tim Lawless, lobbyist for the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, said that will lead to building owners having to make their energy use public, perhaps for the purpose of embarrassing them into becoming more efficient. And the next step, he said, would be mandates to cut energy use.
But the more immediate impact would be on efforts to limit those bags used to transport anything from groceries to restaurant carry-out.
So far only Bisbee has enacted such a law, imposing a nickel-a-bag tax on disposable bags. The retailers get to keep 2 cents for the cost of bags and administering the fee, with the balance going to a fund that can be used to provide reusable carryout bags and promoting conservation and recycling programs.
But Flagstaff, Tucson and Tempe have been looking at their own ordinances, which would be pre-empted if SB 1241, which now goes to the full House, becomes law.
“We’re protecting the individual business from being forced to do something,” said Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who is sponsoring the legislation.
But Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said this is none of the Legislature’s business.
“It’s about local control,” she said, with council members answering to the people who elected them.
She pointed out her community sits on the edge of California, which has its own statewide restrictions on disposable grocery bags.
“If our City Council wanted to adopt that, if this bill passed, we wouldn’t be able to,” Fernandez said. “We would be tying the hands of the City Council in the city of Yuma.”
But Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said he has a different definition of local control — namely the merchant.
“It would be their decision as to whether or not paper bags or plastic bags” would be used, Lawrence said. “That’s local control.”
Tim McCabe, president of the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, acknowledged that plastic bags are a highly visible form of litter. But he said they represent less than 1 percent of items thrown away.
McCabe, whose organization represents grocery stores and supermarkets, said allowing each community to establish its own rules, and even require a separate charge for bags, would create confusion.
“What if, for example, Phoenix banned 32-ounce fountain cups, Mesa put a deposit on water bottles, Peoria put a fee on all bags and Chandler banned plastic bags?” he asked lawmakers. McCabe also said it would create situations in urban areas where shoppers who want free bags could simply walk across the street to another market in another city.
McCabe said that, at least in California, the charge for grocery bags was approved on a statewide basis, ending those problems. But he did not offer to back a similar statewide law here.
The measure also drew support from Chianne Hewer, lobbyist for the Arizona Restaurant Association, who said restaurants do not want limits on take-out bags, which often carry the establishment’s logo and become part of their marketing.
Among those voting for the bill was Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, whose family has been in the grocery business for more than 60 years. But Shope, in explaining his position, did not mention the question of bags, instead focusing on the energy-reporting provision in SB 1241.
“Frankly, I don’t think it’s the government’s business to know what my energy use is,” he said.