Go to a grocery store in California and buy all the milk, eggs and vegetables you want. But there’s one thing you won’t find at the checkout line, beginning July 1, 2015: Plastic bags to carry your stuff home.
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Tuesday signed into law a ban on single-use plastic bags, making California the first state to prohibit stores from using the ubiquitous carry-alls. Shoppers will be charged 10 cents for every paper bag and heavy-duty plastic bag they use.
“This bill is a step in the right direction,” Brown said in a press release announcing his approval. “It reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself.”
It is also a step toward what is likely to be an expensive electoral fight pitting the plastics industry against environmentalists who support the ban. The American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry group of plastics producers, said Tuesday it will mount a campaign to collect enough signatures to put an initiative repealing the measure on the ballot in 2016.
“The approval of SB 270 by the California legislature and Governor Jerry Brown could serve as a case study for what happens when greedy special interests and bad government collide in the policymaking process,” Lee Califf, the group’s executive director said Tuesday. The “bill was never legislation about the environment. It was a back room deal between the grocers and union bosses to scam California consumers out of billions of dollars without providing any public benefit – all under the guise of environmentalism.”
Ballot initiative sponsors have 90 days from enactment, which begins next July 1, to gather enough signatures to qualify a referendum. They will need about 505,000 valid signatures; in practical terms, that means they will have to collect upwards of 700,000 or so to ensure they have enough valid signatures to make up for the inevitable number of ineligible signatures.
If backers succeed in collecting the requisite number of signatures, the law will be suspended until a vote takes place.
The fight will begin costing plastics makers almost immediately. California has a long tradition of expensive ballot initiatives, starting with the signature gathering: Paid operatives charge several dollars per signature collected, meaning proponents must spend millions of dollars just to qualify the measure for the ballot, even before the real campaign begins.
Spending on ballot measures explodes when major special interest groups find themselves on opposite sides of an issue. This year, supporters and opponents of two measures relating to insurance premiums and medical malpractice payouts have spent tens of millions of dollars battling for scarce votes. By Election Day, the two sides are likely to have spent well over $100 million to make their respective cases.
Rival sides interested in the bag ban could spend almost as much in 2016. The key, one supporter of the bill said, is whether the paper industry decides to weigh in on behalf of the measure; banning plastic bags in favor of paper bags benefits their manufacturers.
More than 120 municipalities in California already ban the use of plastic bags. Dozens of other cities around the country, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Portland, Dallas and Seattle either require consumers to pay for plastic bags or ban them altogether, according to a list compiled by Californians Against Waste, the group that backed California’s ban.
The measure Brown signed on Tuesday was one of hundreds he acted upon over the last few weeks as a Sept. 30 deadline approached. Others he signed Tuesday include measures to allow individuals and law enforcement agencies to seek temporary restraining orders prohibiting the mentally ill from access to firearms if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Brown also vetoed a package of ethics reforms that would have prevented lawmakers from accepting free tickets to sporting events and drastically lowered the monetary value of gifts lawmakers were allowed to accept. He nixed another bill that would have prohibited lawmakers from donating their left-over campaign funds to nonprofit groups owned or operated by family members, or using the extra cash to pay for everything from clothing to vacations, tuition to gifts for family members. Brown said the additional requirements would have placed an undue burden on elected officials without meaningfully reducing undue influence by outside interest groups.
Brown did sign measures prohibiting lobbyists from hosting fundraisers for lawmakers at their homes or offices.