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Austin’s plastic bag ban can stay: Measure dies in Texas Legislature, along with other local pre-emption bills

May 23, 2017

Austin Business Journal
By Kimberly Reeves
Original article here

AUSTIN – Environmentalists are declaring victory at the Texas Capitol in the fight to give cities the right to ban single-use plastic bags at stores, one of the few victories this legislative session for local governments in their fight against state pre-emption.

Those who track the issue say 16 cities, from Austin to tiny Kermit to Dallas, have bag bans. Senate Bill 103 was one of the earliest bills filed in the 2015 session, by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Rockwall, who said the choice of which types of bags to offer customers belong with local businesses.

SB 103, which hadn’t moved in two months, officially died May 20 in a Senate committee. The Senate deadline to consider bills is two weeks longer than the House, giving some the chance to revive bills that have died awaiting approval.

“Together, we changed the dynamic of the discussion on the issue at the State Capitol, bringing in the voices of ranchers, small business owners, technical experts, wildlife advocates and others who know the real impacts of single-use bag pollution,” Robin Schneider of Texas Campaign for the Environment wrote in a message to supporters. “The public hearing on SB 103 made clear to state lawmakers that this issue is not about environmentalists versus business, but rather a few business lobbyists versus costly and damaging pollution.”

Ultimately, the bag ban issue will not be left to lawmakers. A case on the bag ban issue has been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. Attorney General Ken Paxton recently challenged the bag ban in Laredo, protesting the use of a fee to pay for bags.

Other than plastic bags, the scorecard for the Texas Legislature’s attempts to remove issues from local control has been mixed this session: the so-called “bathroom bill” is now city-less and a bill to ban local regulation of short-term rentals made it out of the Senate but was never heard in the House Urban Affairs Committee.

However, lawmakers were able to wrest ridesharing regulations away from local jurisdictions and put them under the purview of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said it has been a rough session for cities, not only for stopping cities from passing ordinances but also pre-empting the regulation of network nodes by local government.

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