Hear­ing on over­turn­ing bag bans brings out op­po­nents,

GOP se­na­tor’s mea­sure spurs tes­ti­mony about pro­hi­bi­tion’s ben­e­fits.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By El­iz­a­beth Fin­dell efind­ell@states­man.com

A leg­isla­tive move to over­turn mu­nic­i­pal plas­tic bag bans across Texas brought out res­i­dents from the Gulf Coast to the plains to de­scribe plas­tic-laden beaches and chok­ing cat­tle — the dam­age they hope to pre­vent by keep­ing those bag bans in place.

State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Rock­wall, who in­tro­duced the legislation, said it would “re­turn the free­dom of busi­ness back to Texas” and ar­gued that sin­gle-use plas­tic bags are eas­ier to pro­duce and re­cy­cle than pa­per or multi-use al­ter­na­tives.

About 10 cities in Texas, in­clud­ing Austin, have lo­cal or­di­nances reg­u­lat­ing or ban­ning sin­gle-use plas­tic shop­ping bags, ac­cord­ing to the Texas Pub­lic Pol­icy Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­va­tive pol­icy group. Such bans aim to curb lit­ter and re­duce other en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, but many con­ser­va­tives ar­gue that they in­fringe on the lib­er­ties of con­sumers and busi­nesses.

At least one ban, in Laredo, has been over­turned be­cause

of an ex­ist­ing state pro­hi­bi­tion on re­strict­ing “the sale or use of a con­tainer or pack­age,” but Pub­lic Pol­icy Foun­da­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bryan Mathew said Hall’s bill would strengthen ex­ist­ing state rules, which the foun­da­tion sup­ports.

The bill was one of sev­eral to come be­fore Texas law­mak­ers Tues­day that, if passed, would over­turn Austin city poli­cies. Austin City Coun­cil Mem­bers Ann Kitchen and Ellen Trox­clair turned out to tes­tify on op­po­site sides of mea­sures to re­verse the city’s ride-hail­ing reg­u­la­tions. Pub­lic tes­ti­mony was sched­uled for late Tues­day on a push to over­turn city reg­u­la­tions on short-term ren­tal prop­er­ties.

Trox­clair and Mayor Steve Adler staked out op­po­sites sides on Sen­ate Bill 2, which would limit how much city and county prop­erty tax rates could in­crease with­out voter ap­proval. Adler sub­mit­ted writ­ten tes­ti­mony op­pos­ing the mea­sure. Trox­clair spoke in fa­vor of it be­fore the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on Fi­nance, elic­it­ing au­di­ble jeers when she said, “The lo­cal gov­ern­ments serve at the plea­sure of the state.”

Hall’s bill un­do­ing plas­tic bag bans, SB 103, would ex­plic­itly al­low busi­nesses to pro­vide bags “made from any ma­te­rial” dur­ing sales and bar cities from adopt­ing poli­cies to put fees on bags or oth­er­wise pun­ish busi­nesses for dis­tribut­ing them.

In Oc­to­ber, Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton sued the city of Brownsville, which re­quired a $1 en­vi­ron­men­tal fee per trans­ac­tion that in­cluded plas­tic bags. Dal­las had a short-lived 5-cent fee on sin­gle-use plas­tic bags in 2015; the City Coun­cil re­scinded it af­ter a law­suit was filed by bag man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Austin’s bag ban, im­ple­mented in 2013, doesn’t im­pose a bag fee, but some re­tail­ers choose to charge cus­tomers for bags of a thicker plas­tic, de­signed to be re­us­able. The Texas Re­tail­ers As­so­ci­a­tion sued Austin over the ban in 2013 but dropped the law­suit be­fore it played out in court.

A col­or­ful pub­lic hear­ing be­fore the state Sen­ate Busi­ness and Fi­nance Com­mit­tee on Tues­day in­cluded tes­ti­mony from “Bag Mon­ster” — Jeff Sein­sheimer, chair­man of the Galve­ston Surfrider Foun­da­tion, who wore a wav­ing suit of plas­tic bags. He told law­mak­ers plas­tic bags are “the mod­ern-day Texas tum­ble­weed.”

Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Joanie Stein­haus from the Tur­tle Is­land Con­ser­va­tion Net­work, spoke of the de­struc­tive ef­fect plas­tic bags have on wildlife and beaches from Galve­ston to South Padre Is­land.

An­drew Dobbs, from Texas Cam­paign for the En­vi­ron­ment, said blow­ing plas­tic bags get stuck in cot­ton gins and hurt busi­nesses. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the city of Freer said the bags can in­ter­fere with oil wells.

“When we see some­thing fly­ing in the wind, we’d much rather see the Amer­i­can flag or the Texas flag,” Freer res­i­dent Gil­bert Saenz said.

Tues­day’s hear­ing was solely to col­lect pub­lic tes­ti­mony. The bill re­mains pend­ing.

RALPH BAR­RERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Jeff Sein­sheimer, chair­man of the Galve­ston chap­ter of the Surfrider Foun­da­tion, dresses Tues­day as a “Bag Mon­ster” to make a point about the en­vi­ron­men­tal harm caused by plas­tic bags.

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