Utah lawmakers sack effort to overturn Park City ban on plastic bags
The state House of Representatives on Thursday night sacked a bill that would have overturned Park City’s ban on plastic bags, delivering City Hall’s environmental programs a legislative win as well as highlighting the ability of a municipality to control its future.
The three representatives whose districts include parts of Summit County voted against the bill, showing bipartisan support for the rejection. The House of Representatives cast the vote in the waning hours of the annual session.
The ‘Nay’ vote cast by Rep. Tim Quinn, a Republican from Wasatch County whose district includes Park City, is especially notable. Quinn is seen as a staunch conservative whose positions oftentimes significantly break from his constituents in Park City. He has said he supports Park City’s right to enact a ban on plastic bags without interference from the Legislature. Quinn has also said he opposes the overarching ideal of Park City’s ban, however.
Republican Logan Wilde and Democrat Brian King, whose districts include parts of Summit County outside the Park City limits, joined the majority. The vote was 58-14 against the bill.
The House of Representatives broke from the state Senate, which approved the legislation earlier. Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, a Vernal Republican whose district includes Park City, cast a ‘Nay’ vote when the upper chamber addressed the bill.
Park City officials argued that decisions like a ban on plastic bags should be left to local governments. They compared the situation to the displeasure of Utah leaders when the federal government intervenes in what they see as a state-level issue.
“We were able to maintain an ability to make these decisions locally,” said Matt Dias, the assistant Park City manager and a City Hall staffer assigned to legislative matters.
He expressed “profound appreciation” for the work of the area’s delegation at the Capitol. He said Quinn and Wilde lobbied against the bill.
Dias said he anticipated a closer vote in the House of Representatives. He said organizations that lobby for local governments like the Utah League of Cities and Towns as well as the Utah Association of Counties supported the Park City side.
There was resistance from an industry group at the time Park City enacted the ban. The concern centered on the possibility the ban would lead to a competitive disadvantage for stores inside Park City since businesses outside the city limits are not covered.
“We weren’t being an activist government,” Dias said.
The City Hall ban, enacted in 2017, prohibits stores of at least 12,000 square feet selling groceries from distributing razor-thin plastic bags. The ban impacts three stores — Fresh Market, The Market at Park City and Rite Aid. Officials enacted the ban as part of City Hall’s environmental program, also arguing the plastic bags litter the community. The Park City Council at the time of the enactment understood the Legislature could later overturn the ban. Dias noted the ban was the result of a citizen-led initiative involving Parkites, describing the move as something that blocks plastic bags from eventually reaching a landfill and shows Park City visitors the community is environmentally minded.
In his comments to the House of Representatives on Thursday night, Quinn said the legislation was “directed solely at Park City.” He said Park City is a community of upward of 8,000 people, but there could be tens of thousands of visitors in the city on a winter day. He said Park City has had difficulty with the plastic bags and so many people. Quinn claimed the legislation was introduced in support of a manufacturer of plastic bags.
“Put this bill in the garbage,” Quinn said.
Legislators who supported the bill told the other representatives the Park City ban impacts just three businesses and questioned whether there could be more bans later on goods like plastic spoons and straws.
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