City Council panel again considers shopping bag fees

One proposal would assess penalty for plastic or paper sacks

February 17, 2010|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com

Plastic shopping bags snarl drainage grates, clog waterways and tangle up in trees, presenting an ecological and aesthetic challenge, environmentalists say.

For three years, Baltimore City Council members have been trying to ban them or discourage their use, but those attempts seem almost as hard to manage as the bags themselves.

On Tuesday, the council's legislative and investigative committee again took up the issue at a work session, discussing an outright ban or proposed fees.

Councilman James Kraft, whose 2007 bill to ban the bags was voted down, is again pressing for similar legislation.

Retailers would be able to distribute recyclable paper bags and sell reusable bags, but they would be fined for giving out disposable plastic bags.

A similar ban has been in effect in San Francisco since 2007.

But Councilman Bill Henry has an eye on the District of Columbia, which implemented a fee of 5 cents per bag at the beginning of the year. He has proposed a 25-cent fee on both paper and plastic bags.

As a group of lobbyists representing paper and plastic bag retailers shuffled through folders of notes, Kraft, Henry and Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke - all members of the committee - discussed the logistics of collecting the fee from retailers. They are contemplating charging the fee on a quarterly basis and imposing an additional penalty and interest for late payments.

While the fee is intended to encourage the use of reusable totes, many have complained that it would be an unfair burden during tight financial times.

At a hearing on the issue during the summer, Baltimore NAACP President Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr. said the fee would "punish" the city's poor.

The bags fee would cost the city about $85,000 to implement and could generate from $1.6 million to $6.4 million in revenue for Baltimore, according to the city's finance department.

A committee vote on the issue was postponed until March 16 because several retailers' lobbyists were unable to attend the session.

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