Retail group: Massachusetts Senate bag ban vote latest in string of mandates
BOSTON >> A ban on single-use plastic bags from large stores and chains around the state, approved by the Massachusetts Senate on Wednesday, will feed the anger of store owners upset with recent government actions, according to their chief spokesman.
On Wednesday, the Senate added a rider to its budget on a 29-to-9 vote banning single-use plastic bags at many checkouts throughout the state. Under the legislation, checkout bags at certain stores would need to be reusable or made of recycled paper and sold for at least 10 cents apiece.
"It's becoming a bit frightening this big government I-know-better-than-you attitude," Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst told the News Service after the vote. He said, "This is what small business owners are angry about - all the red tape and everything that is occurring as they try to stay in the black."
Sponsored by Sen. Jamie Eldridge and four other Democrats, the measure would ban giving away single-use bags at points of sale at stores with gross square footage of 3,000 or more or chains with three or more locations.
Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, said plastic bags are used for only an average of 12 minutes, and wind up as litter stuck in trees or as harmful micro-plastic. According to Eldridge's office the U.S. annually uses 100 billion plastic shopping bags made from the equivalent of 12 million barrels of oil.
Hurst said the mandated 10-cent price on checkout bags would be subject to the state's 6.25 percent sales tax, calling it a "tax on a tax," and he said shoppers re-use plastic bags from stores for a variety of purposes.
"Don't they realize that these consumers are going to have to go out and buy plastic bags?" Hurst asked. He said, "I think small businesses are better equipped to make these decisions on their own."
While plastic shopping bags are ubiquitous at many pharmacies and grocery stores, many customers prefer to shop with an environmentally friendly reusable bag.
A statewide plastic bag ban would add to small business grievances that include mandated sick leave, a hike in the minimum wage and legislation increasing the statewide smoking age, Hurst said.
"The consumer should be blaming the elected officials," Hurst said. Asked whether the bag ban would relieve businesses from the cost of providing free bags to customers, Hurst said the stores would have to "take the grief from the consumer," and they don't want to make money by "making the customers unhappy."
Hurst said it would also give a leg-up to the online retailer Amazon.
According to Eldridge's office, 32 municipalities have approved plastic bag bans: Aquinnah, Barnstable, Bridgewater, Brookline, Cambridge, Chatham, Chilmark, Concord, Edgartown, Falmouth, Framingham, Great Barrington, Hamilton, Harwich, Ipswich, Lee, Manchester, Marblehead, Nantucket, Natick, Newburyport, Newton, Northampton, Provincetown, Shrewsbury, Somerville, Tisbury, Truro, Wellesley, Wellfleet, West Tisbury and Williamstown.
Hurst said the business community would be more amenable to statewide mandates if lawmakers also took steps to pre-empt local mandates. The legislation adopted by the Senate specifically allows municipalities and the state to establish any "further limitation of single-use carryout bags."
In addition to larger retail locations, the bag ban would be imposed on stores with "at least 3 locations under the same ownership or brand name" within the state and would go into effect Aug. 1, 2018.
The measure would need to survive budget negotiations with the House in order to be included in the final budget expected to reach Gov. Charlie Baker's desk this summer.