Ban the Bag Ban Ban

We are heading into Day 24 of the 2015 legislative session, and this time of year, a girl’s thoughts often turn to legislation that could potentially impact the way she does her job as a local elected official.

This year, I have my eye on several bills. I’ve written before on the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly the State Ethics Commission) and how it was a bit of a hot mess during several transitional years. Others agree, and the House and Senate are each considering bills that would provide waivers for fines that were accrued – frequently in error on the part of the GGTCFC(FKASCE) – during this special time in GGTCFC(FKASCE) history.

House Bill 442 addresses conflicts of interests for county and municipal governing authorities. I thought this was already a thing, but I’m all for anything that further clarifies to my colleagues throughout the state that if you have a substantial interest – and by “interest,” I mean money – in something before your elected body, recuse thyself! I’ve always felt like conflict of interest recusals is not something an elected official – at any level – should need to be told to do, but as I am often wrong (yet rarely in doubt), it can’t hurt to spell it out as clearly as possible, in ways that are as subtle as an anvil to the head.

Let that visual provide a nice segue to another bill addressing the shortcomings of a few bad apples, HB 192. I’ve held office in one of Georgia’s larger cities for seven years and have yet to encounter an opportunity where I needed to spend any amount beyond what could – and should – be charged on my personal credit card and submitted to the city for reimbursement. When I attend the annual Georgia Municipal Association meeting in Savannah, for example, the City of Smyrna pays the hotel and GMA directly for my registration fees, the classes I attend, and my lodging. There’s not much I need to spend out of pocket besides a few meals and incidental expenses. I truly cannot see how limiting the use of purchasing cards could be an issue for any elected or appointed official in this state, and I suspect that in city and county offices across Georgia, finance and purchasing directors are pumping their fists in solidarity with this bill.

Which leads us to SB 139, which passed the Senate on Thursday. You can read more about the bill here, and here. Essentially, SB 139 restricts Georgia cities and counties from regulating “auxiliary containers” (that’s legislator-speak for “plastic bags”). Many cities throughout the United States, including Austin and Seattle, and the state of California, have enacted plastic bag bans, and other cities, like Washington, D.C., have imposed nominal – like, a nickel, so they just codified what Aldi’s been doing for years – user fees on plastic bags in an effort to curb their use. Plastic bags are accused of various ills that range from leaching harmful chemicals into the environment to suffocating sea turtles; in Georgia, the City of Tybee Island began exploring a plastic bag ban in part because it is in keeping with Tybee’s awareness that protecting their marine life is critical to their economic vitality.

Supporters of the plastic bag ban ban argue that because Georgia has 159 counties and 536 cities, any cities or counties that elected to enacted a ban on plastic bags would unleash “regulatory mayhem” upon the citizens of this state. Apparently, while cities and counties can be trusted to make their own rules for Sunday alcohol sales and sign ordinances, we lack the regulatory fortitude to approach the plastic bags that are ubiquitous to stores and restaurants.

A fun exercise when reading SB 139 is to replace “auxiliary containers” with other things that cities might want to independently regulate, like “alcohol,” or “fences,” or “animal control,” or “waffle shops,” to illustrate the absurdity of a bill that takes such an egregious approach to usurping local control. I have no doubt that were the Georgia Legislature to attempt to implement a statewide ban on plastic bags, more than one city might choose to take a Battle of Gonzales approach, exhorting any overzealous regulators to “Come And Take It” – and that would be entirely their right. The economy of Ocilla is not as inextricable from marine life as that of Tybee Island, so it’s understandable that Senator Tyler Harper, who introduced the bill, might not fully appreciate why the City Council in Tybee Island might explore a measure that would help their city preserve the lives of endangered sea turtles. Situations like this are the reason so many Georgia lawmakers, particularly GOP lawmakers, try to respect local control, whether it regards the local tree ordinance or the county school system, and it makes no sense to support legislation that so boldly diminishes the role of local policymakers.

24 comments

  1. Noway says:

    You want to save the sea turtles? Post a shotgun wielding redneck by every birthing mound to shoot the God dang seagulls that eat 90% of the hatchlings before they ever reach the ocean! Tybee Island would be as rich as Saudi Arabia with all the new turtles everywhere!

    • Teri says:

      My concern is more local control than sea turtles, but thanks for that visual? I picture a Yosemite Sam-type, but since it’s the beach, he’d probably be wearing an airbrushed t-shirt.

      • Noway says:

        I agree with the local control aspect. Imagine the pencil necked geek councilman wearing his John Lennon round glasses addressing the full council in serious tones arguing for a ban on plastic grocery bags!!! LMAO!

        • Teri says:

          (What makes you assume it would be a Councilman?) If it happens in your city or county, I assume you’d take advantage of opportunities for public comment and would probably have an exchange (or four) with your councilmember or commissioner. And again, for the purposes of this discussion, pretend it’s not plastic bags, pretend it’s, oh, I don’t know, pancakes. The state wants to ban any potential bans on pancakes in the state of Georgia. Let’s say you hate pancakes – maybe your grandpa choked to death on a pancake. To hell with pancakes! It’s your God-given right to ban pancakes in your city, right?

          • Noway says:

            Your suggestion has merit, Teri. Pancakes with all of their carbs might give the turtles Type 2. I’m sure some idiot would propose that legislation. I think you’re thinking I’m busting your chops. Hell, no. I’m commenting on the idiocy of someone advocating that silly type of legislation. You’re simply watching the bill.

    • Rick Day says:

      I don’t think you get the point. On a lesser point, sea turtles and gulls have coexisted for thousands or millions of years, (depending on what myths you were raised). Nature has that balance covered with the gulls, or there would be no sea turtles. It is the bags that cause an imbalance of nature, similar to introducing an invasive species into an ecosystem.

      Balance, yo!

      But the bigger point is that establishing such a rule of law (banning bans at local levels with a blanket state law that ignores subjective issues that may legitimately arise).

  2. Progressive Dem says:

    Can’t we let the governments closest to their constituents figure it out. Let the locals make the determination of whether plastic bags are a convenience or a litter problem or an environmental hazard?

  3. Noway says:

    My point is that it is a gigantic waste of time even talking about banning plastic freaking bags to save some damn turtles. One hundred percent liberal pablum!

        • Progressive Dem says:

          More good reasons (aka science) to shut down coal plants than banning plastic bags. BTW I don’t mind the nukes.

          • Noway says:

            If you’re saying people are harmed by the emissions from the coal plants, then why aren’t you advocating for the elimination of cigarettes, too? Hmmm? How ’bout booze? How ’bout advocating the elimination of cars, too? Hundreds of thousands of people die each year in wrecks from those! Gotta love those intellectual liberals! LMAO! And we let you people vote?

            • benevolus says:

              You’ve finally convinced me. If we can’t ban everything unhealthy we shouldn’t bother trying to ban anything.
              Life is going to be so much easier now.

  4. DavidTC says:

    Republicans saying they want ‘local control’ has always been a con.

    Republicans want control at the levels of the government they control, and only those levels, and are perfectly willing to take it away from more local levels if those local levels attempt to do more liberal things.

    This isn’t to say that Democrats don’t often do the same thing, but at least Democrats aren’t running around repeating ‘local control’ like it’s some sort of principled part of their political platform, but then completely ignoring it the *second* that California imposes some food regulations or local communities try to reduce plastic bag use.

    And, yes, it’s almost completely impossible to reconcile with how local businesses are expected to deal with the incredibly confusing patchwork of alcohol rules that vary from county to city and change entire lines of products that they can or can’t sell specific days…but somehow can’t deal with checking once whether they are physically in the city limits of the Tybee Island (Which they presumably already know) and, you know, use paper bags from then on. It’s a one-time transition. (And hopefully has enough of a lead-time that businesses can use up their existing supply of plastic bags, and that would be a valid complaint if not true.)

    It’s a hell of a lot easier than having to keep their damn eye on the clock to know when they can no longer sell liquor. Unless there are some sort of *roving* storefronts I am unaware of that wander back and forth across city lines.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      It’s not a con, but rather an omission to avoid confusing the base. The GOP is for GOP local control. Saying that in the bubble would be confusing, since it raises the notion of other than GOP control.

      It is out of order to mention the GOP’s weeping and gnashing of teeth at policy or directives out of Washington that usurp state control, especially if they emanate from the black Muslim Kenyan? Or how about economics. It’s much cheaper for industry to hire consultants to develop a smoke screen like “confusing patchwork” to cover the couple dozen people they’ve bought at the Gold Dome, instead of hundreds of local pols, or heaven forbid. actually make a case to their customers and communities.

      Higher levels of government don’t know what’s best for you, except when they do.

      • DavidTC says:

        ‘Local control’ is one of those things that Republicans *just happened* to be saying when the political universe solidified in the 90s or so, when suddenly everyone got a political memory and things *were no longer allowed to change*. And so they’ve been forced to say it ever since, because it got hardwired into Rush Limbaugh listeners and Fox News viewers, and now it’s ‘conservative’, for some unknown reason. (And, hilariously, it’s so hardwired that it sometimes accidentally triggers, like with Common Core.)

        And the real joke is, ‘local control’ wasn’t even believed when it was being repeated in the 90s. That was a leftover dogwhistle from the 80s, harking back to racists and the 60s, when local control meant ‘segregation’. And now ‘local control’ is not even *that*. It’s just sorta a random floating thing, a Republican philosophy disconnected from any actual policy(1), and you’ll never heard Republicans actually *explain* why certain things should be under local control and other things shouldn’t, or what that has to do with conservativism.

        They keep trying to link it into ‘small government’, but that is often obviously completely stupid. Things are usually much *smaller* if we just do them once at a higher level, instead of reinventing everything. (This doesn’t mean that I’m against local control. I think we *should* sometimes reinvent the wheel and/or have a larger government, but then again, I’m not a Republican, am I?)

        Yes, logically, to ‘change slowly’ (as conservatives claim we should do) would require a few local communities changing first, but the *next* step is for higher levels noticing what works and what doesn’t and implementing it *there*, not every single damn local community having to do it. There’s a difference between ‘calmly and deliberately’ and ‘tediously drawing things out over decades and just hoping everyone follows along’.

        This is, of course, only relevant when Republicans are bothering to pretend to follow their own claims of their beliefs, unlike here, where they’re considering interfering in a local law that cannot *possibly* cause any actual problems, solely because that law is…uh…pro-environment. Because Republicans are apparently anti-environment?! Or anti-beaches? Or, most likely, ‘anti-anything-the-left-would-like’.

        [insert joke here about how Obama should ban drinking bleach, and see if Republicans do it]

        1) Of course, ‘a Republican philosophy disconnected from any actual policy’ is almost completely redundant.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          And what about the free market? Businesses would pull up stakes and move a couple of miles in response to such costly onerous regulation.

  5. saltycracker says:

    Local control has roots with the anti-federalists. Those guys that wouldn’t buy into the constitution until we got the Bill of Rights.

    • DavidTC says:

      Erm, not really. They have no historic connection. People arguing for local control might be able to use some anti-federalists arguments, but anti-federalists stopped existing well before the civil war, and ‘local control’ is not the same thing as what they were wanting. There’s a different between the concept of ‘state sovereignty’ and generic ‘local control’. (The anti-federalists would have thought it very silly if you argued that a state shouldn’t make laws for its cities.)

      The ‘local control is an inherent good’ idea that *currently exists* in this country has its origin much later. And that origin, really, is segregation, or perhaps more dog-whistling about segregation. Sorry to have to point that out, but it is. And like I said now, it’s not even that anymore, it’s just some sort of nonsense that accidentally ended up lumped into conservativism.

      I guess you could say something like ‘Local control has roots with the anti-federalists’ in the same way that ‘American Democracy has roots in Ancient Greece’. As in, they helped develop the idea…but there’s not any sort of historic connection.

  6. Nixonstheone says:

    Ask any seasoned lobbyist: the party out of power always advocates “local control” – until they become the majority. Then they suddenly think the state needs to tell the locals what they can and can’t do.

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