Plastic-bag bills die in General Assembly

Published 7:43 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Virginia legislators have shelved bills to ban the distribution of environmentally unfriendly plastic bags by retailers.

None of the bills made it out of committee, so they died last week at the session’s midpoint.

Senate Bill 873, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Ticer, D-Alexandria, and House Bill 1814, sponsored by Delegate Joe Morrissey, D-Highland Springs, would have prohibited plastic carryout bags unless they had durable handles, were especially thick and were designed for reuse.

Ticer’s bill was left in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. Morrissey’s measure died in the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.

Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, said the marketplace – not the General Assembly – should determine whether stores dispense plastic bags.

“I would rather see all of us use paper bags made from resources grown in our region,” said Ruff, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee. “But I think that this is a business decision best made by the retailer and their customers, not government.”

Nathan Lott, executive director of the Virginia Conservation Network, said the economic downturn doomed the bills.

“When the issue of cost came up, the retailers said plastic bags were cheaper for them,” Lott said. “And I think in this economy, the General Assembly members were probably very sympathetic to that.”

Instead of a statewide ban, two legislators sought to allow local governments to prohibit retailers in their jurisdictions from issuing flimsy plastic bags. That was the intent of HB 1534, proposed by Delegate William Barlow, D-Smithfield, and SB 711, proposed by Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk. Both men represent portions of Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County in the General Assembly.

Those bills also died this session.