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Kansas moves to block plastic-bag bans by cities, counties

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Nadya Faulx
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Republicans in the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature have moved to block local bans, restrictions or taxes on plastic bags or other packaging.

TOPEKA — Pushed by business groups, Republicans in the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature moved Wednesday to block local bans, restrictions or taxes on plastic bags or other packaging.

The state Senate voted 27-13 for a bill that would strip cities and counties of their power to regulate or tax bags, cups, bottles or other packaging. The measure would cover not only plastic, but cloth, paper, cardboard, aluminum, glass or foamed plastic such as Styrofoam. The bill goes next to the House.

The bill's backers included the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and groups representing small business owners, soft-drink distributors and restaurants. They argued that a patchwork of local regulations would be difficult for businesses to follow. Some supporters also suggested that local bans could create confusion about how far they go.

“I would just like for us to imagine for a second banning plastic bags. Does that include banning plastic trash bags?” Senate Commerce Committee Chair Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican, said during a short debate Wednesday. “I personally love Twizzlers. They come in a plastic bag. Should they be banned — those plastic bags?”

At least 18 states have blocked local regulations of plastic bags, including the four surrounding Kansas, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Kansas proposal cleared the state Senate Committee on Monday, and it was among the last items to clear the full Senate on its “turnaround” deadline for most bills to clear their chamber of origin.

“There's retailers in Kansas that have multiple locations in multiples cities and counties, so passing a restriction or ban in one city or county — that retailer then has to supply or ship special products to that one county but not the next county or that one city and not the next city,” Kent Eckles, a Kansas Chamber lobbyist told the Commerce Committee last week. "That affects the supply chain."

Environmentalists argue that plastic bags create extra trash and long-lasting dangers to fish and animals and their habitats. At least eight states have banned single-use plastic bags, including New York and California. In Kansas, the idea has been considered in Lawrence, the liberal home to the main University of Kansas campus, and Wichita, the state's largest city.

“Right now, we are dealing with an incredible amount of trash,” Lori Lawrence, a pro-ban Bag Free Wichita member, told the committee last week. "We really need to be able to put some limits on that, some restrictions on that."

Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, said the proposed state policy could restrict how city and county problems handle recyclable trash — something backers of the bill disputed. She and other critics of the bill argued that cities and counties should be allowed to impose the policies their residents want.

“When simple convenience for business is given more weight than home rule, it is a sad day in Kansas,” said Democratic state Sen. Mary Ware, of Wichita. “This is an anti-democracy bill.”