Marion Barry, Tommy Wells pitch Maryland lawmakers on 5-cent disposable bag charge

February 28, 2013

Maryland Del. Michael Summers called him “everybody’s mayor,” and a beaming Marion Barry said he was happy to have the title. He even got a standing ovation from the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.

But the former D.C. mayor and now-D.C. Council member’s message was nothing if not serious. Maryland, he said, needs to enact the 5-cent bag fee that the District and Montgomery County already have in place.

“This is an innovative new idea that Tommy Wells brought to me,” Barry said at the meeting Thursday in Annapolis. Wells, a fellow Democratic D.C. Council member, nodded and waited for his chance to speak.

“It is an environmentally healthy tax for the community. None of us want this litter in our community,” Barry said. He said Wells had persuaded him to support the bag tax on a visit to the boat ramps on the Anacostia River, which the District shares with neighboring Prince George’s County. Many Prince George’s state legislators have hesitated to back the measure, but support appears to be growing.

“You will hear that it is too much,” Barry said. “But people will waste five cents on alcohol, on a lot of things,” he offered, and many of the caucus members laughed.

“You will find support from environmentalists all over the state, from sanitation workers all over the state,” he said. He was interrupted by caucus chairman Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s), who last year opposed the bill, which died in the Prince George’s delegation but will come up again next week.

Braveboy said the caucus has a lot on their agenda, and asked the former mayor to please try to wrap it up.

“I can get wound up; you know how politicians are.” More laughter.

Wells told the caucus that Maryland lawmakers should not heed the call of the bag manufacturing industry, which opposes the tax.

“They say it increases the cost of food for the poor,” he said, but then noted that two grocers that serve low-income communities in the District and Prince George’s -- Aldi’s and Save-a-Lot -- already charge for bags. Their food prices are among the lowest in the area.

The price of those “free bags,” is already built in to what consumers are paying, Wells argued. Getting rid of them and encouraging the use of reusable bags could save some people money.

Barry said after the discussion that despite concerns raised by some lawmakers from Baltimore and Prince George’s, he thought the duo from the District had been well received.

‘I thought we made a great impression,” Barry said. As for the opponents, well, “you know how politicians are. They have to play to their constituents.” Barry and Wells said they would try to have some smaller meetings with Maryland lawmakers to win them over.

Meanwhile, the plastic and paper bag industry is also hard at work trying to defeat the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery) and Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore) and Summers.

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