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Ohio House passes bill blocking cities from imposing plastic bag fees

Local governments would be barred from imposing fees on consumers for single-use bags, cups and containers, under a bill that passed the Ohio House on a 54-29 vote Wednesday.

State Reps. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., and Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, the bill sponsors, call House Bill 625 “important pro-business” legislation, but it sparked lengthy debate among lawmakers.

The bill is backed by business groups such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, Ohio Restaurant Association, Ohio Grocers Association and others. It is opposed by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.

If it becomes law, the measure would block municipalities, counties and other local jurisdictions from taxing or imposing a fee on items such as plastic bags, Styrofoam cups, carry-out food containers, glass bottles or aluminum cans.

“The market can regulate itself,” Lang said. “It doesn’t need the government to get involved in everything they do.”

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State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, said the bill will put Ohio on a backward track. “Plastic bags take centuries to decompose,” she said. “In a few short years, we will have more plastic in our oceans than fish.”

The Ohio Municipal League said the bill is an unconstitutional infringement on home-rule authority. It also noted in written testimony that no Ohio city has taxed such items and “in our view, this bill poses a solution looking for a problem.”

“Regulating bags can mitigate harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests and the wildlife that inhabit them. Reducing bag use can also relieve pressure on landfills and waste management,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Related: Vacationing at Lake Erie? Check for slime before you go

NCSL reported that across the country, several cities and some states have moved to ban single-use plastic bags or impose fees on them to discourage use.

At least 73 bills have been introduced in state legislatures regarding the use of plastic bags by retailers, according to the NCSL.

State Rep. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, argued against the bill, saying Lake Erie communities need options for paying for clean up and cutting plastic waste. He quoted a study that found 22 million pounds of plastics enter the Great Lakes each year, including 5.5-million pounds in Lake Erie.

The bill now moves to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

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