A ban on single-use plastic bags from pharmacies, grocery, convenience, and liquor stores that was to have taken effect in July of this year was put on hold with an announcement yesterday from California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Opponents of the measure, known to many as SB-270, successfully gathered enough signatures on a petition for a referendum on the new law. As a result, the referendum will be put on the November 8, 2016 election ballot.
Under California law, in order for the requirements of the disputed legislation to go into effect, they must now be approved by a majority of voters in that election.
Over 800,000 signatures were collected as a result of opponents who reportedly spent over $3 million on the referendum campaign. Bakersfield, Kern County, and the rest of the San Joaquin Valley contributed over 12 percent of the signatures. However, almost two-thirds (61.7 percent) of the opposition came from Southern California, with the coastal counties of Los Angeles (27 percent), San Diego (10.4 percent), and Orange (7.1 percent) contributing more than half of that.
The landmark legislation had been approved last year and made California the only state in the nation to have a state-wide ban on such bags. The law complemented existing ordinances across the state that had already been implemented by some local governments. As originally adopted and beginning in July 2015, grocery stores and pharmacies would have been prohibited from distributing single-use plastic bags to their customers. The ban would also apply to convenience and liquor stores one year later.
One contentious part of the new law, often brought up by opponents, is that stores would be required to charge consumers for reusable bags at a rate no less than 10 cents per bag. Some thought this requirement was the result of a backroom deal between grocery store unions and the grocers themselves.
Indeed, according to Lee Califf, Executive Director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, “SB 270 was never a bill about the environment. It was a backroom deal between the California Grocers Association and their union friends to scam consumers out of billions of dollars in bag fees – all under the guise of environmentalism. California voters will now have the chance to vote down a terrible law that, if implemented, would kill 2,000 local manufacturing jobs and funnel obscene profits to big grocers without any money going to a public purpose or environmental initiative.”
Proponents of the measure, on the other hand, saw the referendum as a ploy by plastic bag manufacturers to buy their way out of complying with the new law. According to Mark Murray, who is with a group called Californians vs. Big Plastic, “It’s not surprising that after spending more than $3.2 million, 98 percent of which is from out of state, the plastic bag industry has bought its way onto the California ballot to protect its profits.”