Prince George’s County one big step closer to a bag fee

This morning delegates that represent Prince George’s County in the Maryland General Assembly voted 12-9 in support of HB895, which would give the County the authority to enact a five-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags. The bill now moves to the Environmental Matters Committee of the House, and then to the floor of the full House of Delegates. In considering local bills like this one, though, those committee and floor votes are for the most part a formality, as the current legislature prefers to support the counties’ wishes.

The County’s senators must also support the bill, but it passed easily last session and no senators are known to have changed their position.

This vote has been the biggest hurdle in the process so far. Opponents of the bill–namely the manufacturers of plastic bags–have paid a fortune in public affairs and outreach expenses, with thousands of robocalls misleading citizens and flooding delegate offices. The County Affairs subcommittee was unable to reach constitutional majority on either a favorable or unfavorable recommendation (and even on “no recommendation”), but after three such votes it was eligible to move up to the full delegation anyway.

The bill’s supporters withstood the pressure and protected home rule, allowing the County Council to now take up the bag fee this fall. The authority will take effect in October. The Council voted 8-0, with one abstention, last month to support this measure. Should the statewide bag fee bill also pass, the Council will have six months to pass the county’s program in order to be exempt from the statewide system.

The supporting delegates were sponsor Barbara Frush, Ben Barnes, Dereck Davis, Tawanna Gaines, Anne Healey, James Hubbard, Jolene Ivey, Doyle Neimann, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Justin Ross, Michael Summers, and Kris Valderrama. Delegate Ivey attended despite being on bereavement leave following the death of her father last week.

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