JEFFERSON CITY — Local governments in Missouri cannot enact bans, taxes or fees on paper or plastic bags because of a law passed in 2015. A bill currently under consideration in the Missouri Capitol would expand that law to also prevent restrictions on food containers.
The bill is sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, and in the Senate by Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau. Shaul is the state director of the Missouri Grocers Association, a position he has held since 2006, according to his bio on the House website.
The bill would stop restrictions and taxes on packaging — including bags, cups, containers and bottles of various materials, like plastic — that restaurants and retailers offer for food and beverages.
In recent years, other communities around the country have moved to ban plastic bags and some of the items in the current bill. In 2016, California voters approved a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.
“I saw what happened in California, and I didn’t necessarily care for what was happening in California,” Shaul said.
California’s Manhattan Beach and Santa Cruz have also banned all disposable plastics, and in February, the City Council of Malibu voted to ban plastic straws and cutlery, according to the Associated Press.
“I think the best person to decide this is the consumer and the retailer,” Shaul said. ”This is about consumer choice and businesses being able to run themselves.”
“I think it’s overreach,” Shaul said of the local ordinances this bill would prohibit.
Wallingford said the local ordinances that would be prevented under this bill make business complicated by varying rules across jurisdictions. As for the environmental aspect of this bill, Wallingford said “everything we do in this state has an environmental impact.” The issue is determining what that impact is, he said.
Rep. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, cast one of the three votes against the bill in a hearing of the Economic Development Committee on Tuesday. Nine representatives voted in favor. Washington said a municipality should be able to determine what is bad for its environment, and restrict, ban or tax usage based on that determination.
“Should we not have a right as a municipality to encourage the environment?” Washington said.
In September 2015, the General Assembly passed House Bill 722 over former Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. The bill, among other things, prevented local governments from imposing bans, fees or taxes on paper or plastic bags. The current bill would expand that law to include bags, cups, packaging, bottles and other containers of various materials used for food service.
Shaul sponsored HB 722, but Wallingford said he was not involved with that bill, other than voting on the Senate floor.
Terry Ganey, a Sierra Club member, spoke in opposition to the bill during a hearing on Feb. 27. In his written testimony, he said, “Communities should be allowed to make their own decisions to protect public health and their natural environment if they feel the state and national government are not taking necessary steps.”
Ganey said he understands that enacting restrictions “may not be something the whole state wants to do. But if the city of Columbia wants to do it, it should be given the opportunity to consider it.”
In 2015, the city discussed the possibility of a plastic bag ban, but the proposal was later withdrawn, according to previous Missourian reporting. Columbia’s sustainability manager, Barbara Buffaloe, said that in 2015, constituents raised questions about the potential costs and logistics associated with a plastic bag ban, and the discussion was tabled to allow time for education and outreach.
During the city’s debate over the proposed ban, the Columbia Environment and Energy Commission submitted a report that said plastic bags “show up as litter in rivers and streams, and entangle wildlife” and “are harmful when eaten by livestock and wildlife.”
Steven Sapp, the city’s community relations director, said he is not aware of any proposals in Columbia to restrict the items mentioned in the current bill.
Proponents of a ban argued in 2015 that the bags are nuisances and are not readily recyclable, Sapp said. Meanwhile, he said, opponents of the ban argued the bags serve multiple purposes, and people wanted to maintain their choice of whether or not to use them.