Park City’s plastic bag ban again threatened by Utah lawmakers
February 15, 2019
A Utah legislator wants the state to block municipal governments from prohibiting plastic bags, something that could eventually overturn Park City's rule against the bags in what is the second consecutive Statehouse challenge to the City Hall ban.
Rep. Michael McKell, a Republican from Spanish Fork, crafted legislation that would bar ordinances like the one Park City leaders enacted in 2017 as part of the municipal government's wide-ranging environmental efforts. The City Hall ordinance prohibits stores of at least 12,000 square feet selling groceries from distributing razor-thin plastic bags. The Park City ban impacts three stores — Fresh Market, The Market at Park City and Rite Aid.
The McKell bill would preempt the City Hall prohibition regardless of the local ban predating the legislation. The bill was under consideration in the House Rules Committee on Friday.
City Hall opposes the bill, as it did a similar measure in 2018. Assistant Park City Manager Matt Dias, who tracks the Legislature on behalf of City Hall, said on Thursday rank-and-file Parkites sought the prohibition, describing the efforts as "organic." The legislation interferes with "the ability for local jurisdictions to make these decisions," Dias said, arguing that Park City leaders should have the ability to make such a decision.
Dias said City Hall estimates the ban prevents the distribution of 800,000 plastic bags per year in Park City. He said many of those bags would have ended up in landfills, storm drains or the natural environment.
If the legislation passes and is signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, it would "immediately overturn our ability to have a plastic bag ordinance," Dias said.
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According to Dias, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, Summit County leaders and the government of Moab oppose the bill alongside City Hall. Dias, though, said the supporters of the bill are mounting a "more organized effort to preserve the rights of the plastics industry" in 2019 compared to the support for the legislation in 2018.
Rep. Tim Quinn, the Republican legislator from Heber City whose district includes Park City, opposes the bill, saying decisions like whether a ban on plastic bags is enacted should be left to a community's leaders rather than the Statehouse.
"A principle is a principle to me. The principle is local control," Quinn said.
The effort to enact a law in 2018 cleared the state Senate before the House of Representatives voted against a bill. City Hall argued against the 2018 bill using the same strategy of pressing the angle of allowing a local government to make those sorts of decisions.
Quinn said the legislation in 2019 "definitely has a better chance" for passage than the bill in 2018. He said there are freshmen legislators at the Statehouse after the election of 2018 and there are concerns among the bill's supporters about other communities enacting a ban. He said the ideal of allowing local leaders to make decisions like banning plastic bags might not carry the opposition to the bill this year.
"It only holds so much water," he said about local control.