Repeal of OBX plastic bag ban approved by the state Senate

By on April 24, 2017

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Sen. Trudy Wade added the amendment to repeal the plastic bag ban to Senate Bill 434.

The ban was passed in 2009. (NOAA)

A repeal of the ban on the use of plastic shopping bags by Outer Banks retailers was approved by the N.C. Senate Monday night after it was added last week to a proposal that changes several environment-related laws.

The repeal of the 2009 law was tacked on to Senate Bill 434 before being approved by the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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It was then reported favorably by the appropriations panel just a few hours later on Friday, then by the Senate Rules Committee on Monday afternoon.

All three votes in the committees were along party lines, as did the Senate by a 31-17 vote Monday evening.

The push to get the bill approved comes ahead of Thursday’s deadline when many pieces of legislation have to be approved in either chamber of the General Assembly to be considered this year.

SB 434 was originally filed on March 29 by Sens. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, Norman Sanderson, R-Onslow, and Andy Wells, R-Catawba.

But the bag ban repeal was first included in another environmental regulatory reform measure, SB 539, filed on March 30 by Cook, Sanderson and Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie.

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WRAL-TV reported that during Friday’s meeting of the environment committee, Cook told the panel he co-chairs that the ban infringes on the freedoms of local residents and is not working because visitors are bringing plastic bags with them from inland areas.

“What I’m trying to do here is provide some freedom to the Outer Banks so that they can do whatever they want to do,” Cook said.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said he talked to one retailer who estimated the ban was costing his business $50,000 a year, and that the ban was overall anti-business, WRAL reported.

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Tillman conceded the ban did help cut down on litter initially but said it’s no longer needed. “They don’t have this ban in Myrtle Beach, and they don’t have plastic bags down in Myrtle Beach,” WRAL quoted him as saying.

According to WRAL, John Wasniewski of Kill Devil Hills, president of Shoshin Technologies and former chairman of the Outer Banks chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, spoke during the public comment session of the hearing against the bill.

“No one is for this on the beach, I’m here to tell you. No one wants this,” Wasniewski said, relating that Dare County local governments and organizations had passed resolutions opposing the repeal.

WRAL also reported that in an unusual breach of decorum, Tillman, R-Randolph, challenged Wasniewski directly: “You made a mistake. How many of these merchants have you talked to?”

“The environment is so bad down there for grocery stores that two new ones are opening up,” Wasniewski shot back.

Cook echoed his comments during debate on the bill Monday night in the full chamber, which approved the measure on a 31-17 vote along party lines and sent it to the House for consideration.

If it clears the General Assembly and the governor, the law would go into effect on July 1.

The proposals in the Senate follows a bill introduced by Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, in the N.C. House of Representatives on March 7, but it has not moved beyond being assigned to the House environment committee.

Support for the repeal has come from the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, and Sen. Cook’s office said the legislation was introduced in both chambers at the request of several larger retailers with locations on the Outer Banks.

Passed in 2009, the law initially blocked larger retailers on the barrier islands from Corolla to Ocracoke from using the bags, then expanded the prohibition to all businesses the following year. It also requires retailers to offer recyclable paper bags and to give a rebate or other incentive for each re-usable bag a customer provides.

The ban was championed by then-Senate leader Marc Basnight (D-Dare) as an effort to cut down on the use of the bags and promoted primarily as a way to keep the barrier islands’ beaches and waterways cleaner.

While Cook and Boswell, who both represent the Dare and Hyde county sections of the barrier islands, have sponsored the bills, Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan), whose district includes the Currituck County sections, has said he will vote against a repeal.

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