We all knew the bill related to the Howard County Plastic Bag Tax was coming soon…and it was “prefiled” yesterday as CB64-2019 (Introduced by: Opel Jones and Christiana Mercer Rigby). Here are some highlights of the bill:

Summary:

AN ACT to require a specified fee on certain disposable bags; providing for the collection of the fee and the administration of the subtitle; specifying the duties of certain stores; creating a Disposable Plastics Reduction Fund; providing for the administration and uses of the Fund; providing for penalties for certain violations; requiring certain studies and reports; and generally relating to disposable bags in the County.

Definition of “Disposable Bag” is the following per “SECTION 13-1001 OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ARTICLE OF THE MARYLAND CODE”:

(2)(i) “Disposable bag” means a plastic bag provided by a store to a customer at the point of sale.
(ii) “Disposable bag” does not include:
1. a durable plastic bag with handles that is at least 2.25 mils thick and is designed and manufactured for multiple reuse;
2. a bag used to:
A. package bulk items, including fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy, or small hardware items;
B. contain or wrap frozen foods, meat, or fish, whether prepackaged or not;
C. contain or wrap flowers, potted plants, or other damp items;
D. contain unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods; or
E. contain a newspaper or dry cleaning;
3. a bag provided by a pharmacist to contain prescription drugs; or
4. plastic bags sold in packages containing multiple plastic bags intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or yard waste bags.

Fee / cost to shoppers:

A FEE OF 5 CENTS IS IMPOSED FOR EACH DISPOSABLE BAG THAT A STORE PROVIDES TO A CUSTOMER

How much money to local business get from this tax / fee?

TO COVER THE ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENSE OF COLLECTING AND REMITTING THE FEE, THE STORE MAY RETAIN UP TO 10 % OF EACH 5 CENT FEE COLLECTED

So stores that GIVE you plastic bags at checkout (and already charge you for those bags in costs of their products) will now also get to keep 1 out of every 10 cents they collect on this tax / fee. This is now an additional revenue source for local businesses.

What will the money be used for locally?

THE OFFICE OF COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY AND THE DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE SHALL USE THE DISPOSABLE PLASTICS REDUCTION FUND:

(1) FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL PURPOSE, INCLUDING:

(I) THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PROGRAM TO PROVIDE REUSABLE BAGS TO INDIVIDUALS IN THE COUNTY, PREDOMINANTLY TO VULNERABLE INDIVIDUALS;

(II) MAKING GRANTS TO ENTITIES ENGAGED IN:
A. WATER QUALITY AND WATER POLLUTION EDUCATION;
B. ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS THAT SUPPORT SCHOOL CURRICULUM;
C. STREAM CLEAN UPS; OR
D. ANTI-LITTERING EDUCATION; AND

(III) ACTIVITIES TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC ABOUT THE BENEFITS AND METHODS OF
REDUCING THE USE OF DISPOSABLE PLASTICS; AND

(2) TO IMPLEMENT, ADMINISTER, AND ENFORCE THIS SUBTITLE.

How often will we get information about the bag tax?

WITHIN 30 DAYS AFTER THE END OF EACH FISCAL YEAR AND IN ACCORDANCE WITH SECTION 22.1000 OF THIS CODE, THE DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE JOINTLY WITH THE OFFICE OF COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY SHALL SUBMIT A REPORT TO THE COUNTY COUNCIL AND THE COUNTY EXECUTIVE THAT INCLUDES:

(1) AN ANALYSIS OF THE FEES COLLECTED UNDER THIS SUBTITLE;
(2) THE COST TO THE COUNTY OF CARRYING OUT THIS SUBTITLE;
(3) AN EVALUATION OF THE COUNTY’S PROGRESS IN REDUCING THE USE OF DISPOSABLE BAGS AND OTHER DISPOSABLE PLASTICS;
(4) THE IMPACT ON AND THE RESPONSES OF STORES THAT ARE SUBJECT TO THIS SUBTITLE;
AND
(5) RECOMMENDATIONS ON CHANGES TO THIS SUBTITLE OR ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO REDUCING THE USE OF DISPOSABLE PLASTICS.

Meaning that we will get an annual report…not the type of reporting that MoCo gives their residents on the money being collected by County Government and local stores (monthly data that you can access via their data website).

I have written MANY ARTICLES about this punitive tax / fee on shoppers in Howard County in the past on this blog. I think most everyone knows where I stand…I am 100% against this punitive tax / fee and 100% in favor of a ban with certain exemptions similar to what was passed for the city of Westminster.

This bill does not do the following: Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has recently stated the following in regards to going plastic bag free with recycling: “Making Howard County the most environmentally friendly jurisdiction in the state and region is a goal of my administration…”. This bill does not stop bags from leaving the stores…it punishes shoppers for accepting those bags at checkout. It brings in funding to the County and to local businesses that provide those bags at checkout. This bill makes Howard County a follower in the state and region and not a leader in regards to reducing plastic bags.

I will have many more articles on this bill in the future. I am now 100% interested in what our County Executive thinks about this bill and it will be a topic I reach out on soon to his staff. I am also looking forward to hearing comments from the other three councilmembers on this topic. I will keep an eye on social media for their comments.

Stay tuned…I will stay on top of this as it moves forward.

Scott E

5 COMMENTS

  1. Dear County Council,

    My name is Jocelyn . I live in at .

    I saw the prefiled legislation for a disposable bag tax, and wanted to raise my concerns.

    I went to the state legislature’s hearing before they passed the law granting us this privilege and heard many arguments from supporters saying that a plastic bag ban would end up in a morass of lawsuits if we tried to go that route.

    The only cases of this happening are in states where the state has laws that pre-empt the locality from doing so.

    Our county has a large wealth gap. If we choose to tax disposable bags we are enacting a regressive tax on those who are already struggling to live here.

    I also have not seen evidence that the use of plastic bags has decreased in neighboring counties that impose taxes as opposed to bans. The numbers point towards the tax being an income stream only.

    I am *not* opposed to increased revenue for the county. I see my tax dollars work hard here! I am opposed to regressive local taxes. People like me and my husband should be carrying these tax burdens, not the single mom just trying to get her kids a good education by living in the county.

    I am also not opposed to trying to limit plastic bag use, but I would strongly prefer a plastic bag ban. I think it will accomplish the stated goal more effectively.

    With either a bag tax or ban, though, I would like to see the county investigate the feasibility of some sort of reusable “bag library” program that can help provide reusable bags on-demand at some of the larger retailers, hopefully reducing the burden imposed by change in general, and for those who don’t already have a stockpile of reusable bags.

    The county could solicit bag donations from citizens (many of us have more of these bags than we could use) or even sell advertising opportunities to local companies on bags printed with the ads and the county logo and/or facts about sustainability.

    I would love to see bag stations where you can return borrowed bags and be reminded to grab your bags from your trunk outside the local grocery store.

    Alternately, the stores charge a per-reusable bag “deposit” at checkout that can be recovered by returning the bags to a participating retailer, though this would also act like a tax to many.

    I know there are lots of logistics to a “bag library” being overlooked (cleaning fees, distribution, etc) but I have confidence that the council could work through the details to create a sustainable program.

    Thanks for all the hard work you do!

  2. Stop calling it a tax. It is not a tax. Make factual arguments if you don’t like to fee, but stop using misleading language to try and influence people’s opinions. Such a strategy is lazy and shows you have to rely on being misleading to get people to support you.

  3. All of the radical things the HoCo state representatives, county council, county exec and bd of Ed are during will make it very easy for people to run against them. I suspect a middle of road dem’s will unseat many of them if the present elected officials continue this trend.
    They are all saying – ” it can not happen here, my elected seat is secure. ”

    Politics and voters are similar to a pendulum. The pendulum swings in one direction and then quickly in the opposite direction.

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