Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed a bill on last week banning local governments from regulating plastic shopping bags in the state. The legislation supersedes Washtenaw County’s fee on plastic bags, the first regulation of its kind in the state.  

Senate Bill 853 prohibits municipalities from banning or placing fees on “auxiliary containers,” which include plastic single-use bags and other disposable packaging. The bill will go into effect on March 6.

The 10-cent fee adopted by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners in June was scheduled to take effect this April.

The Republican-sponsored bill passed on almost completely partisan lines in both houses of state legislature, 62-46 in the House of Representatives and 25-12 in the Senate.

State Rep. Adam Zemke (D–Ann Arbor) criticized the bill for attacking local governments’ autonomy.

“This is largely a local issue and I thought it was a really big infringement on what the local government had decided for itself,” Zemke said. “The state already has a really nasty precedent set of limiting local control. It’s overreach.”

Supporters of the bill argue that the implementation of “patchwork legislation” hinders the ability of national businesses to adhere to all county regulations and adds unnecessary complexities and costs.

Robert O’Meara, the Michigan Restaurant Association’s vice president of government affairs, said in a statement business will be hindered with “patchwork legislation” in place, and supported the bill as it reduced restrictions for chain restaurants.

“With many of our members owning and operating locations across the state, preventing a patchwork approach of additional regulations is imperative to avoid added complexities as it related to day-to-day business operations,” O’Meara said.

State Sen. Jim Stamas (R–Midland) also called for consistency in business regulations when he introduced the bill in April, according to MLive.

“This simply provides that you’re not putting different regulations across the state on the containers,” he said.

Zemke pushed back against claims of inconsistency.

“You’re talking about one community that charges for a bag,” he said. “I don’t see how the restaurant association could argue that restaurants in Washtenaw would go through a much larger hurdle in doing business. It’s way overstated.”

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D–Ann Arbor) said the Michigan Restaurant Association’s argument was not relevant to the bill, especially considering Washtenaw County’s proposed fee applied only to grocery stores.

“I think that if (the Michigan Restaurant Association) actually meant that they wanted more consistency they would be pushing for a way to address this statewide,” he said. “They just pushed for local units to do it locally. They’re making convenient arguments.”

Across the nation, states such as Hawaii and California implemented statewide bans on plastic bags in response to environmental concerns. Large cities including Austin, Seattle and Chicago also have similar restrictions in place. Zemke cited these examples to emphasize the local fee was put in place to decrease the prevalence of plastic in landfills.

“Michigan’s approach will have a negative environmental impact,” he said.

With the new bill, Michigan joins states such as Idaho, Arizona and Florida in banning plastic bag restrictions in an effort to defend businesses.

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