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As Wichita Considers Regulating Plastic Bags, State Bill Would Prevent A Ban

Nadya Faulx
The city of Wichita formed a Single-Use Plastic Bag Task Force last week to research possibly banning or taxing plastic bags.

Call it a ban on plastic bag bans.

A new bill introduced this week in the Kansas House Commerce Committee would pre-emptively prevent state municipalities from enacting their own bans or taxes on plastic items, including shopping bags.

The push comes days after the Wichita City Council appointed a Single-Use Plastic Bag Task Force to look into the issue and possibly craft an ordinance regulating plastic bags in the city.

The task force includes activists, former and current city officials and business representatives.

“My goal, our goal, the ones of us who got this going, is to ban plastic bags in Wichita,” says Lori Lawrence, one of the group’s members and an organizer of Bag Free Wichita. “The goal of the task force, to me, is to write an ordinance.”

Wichita isn’t the first Kansas city to try to tackle the issue of single-use plastic bags, which have a short lifespan and often end up in landfills — if they haven’t landed in a stream or a tree first. The Lawrence City Commission last year began looking into ways to either ban or charge for single-use plastic and paper bags; some council members in Prairie Village, in Johnson County, also recently proposed a ban.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which is pushing for the bill now in the state Legislature, says in its 2020 legislative agenda that it will oppose bans on plastic items, including bags and straws.

If a bill is passed, Kansas would join 15 other states that have already enacted pre-emptive laws against plastic bans; that’s compared to the eight states that have passed plastic bag bans, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lori Lawrence says she understands why some opponents of a ban or tax worry the change wouldn’t go over well with shoppers.

“That’s a legitimate concern,” she says. “I have no doubt that it’s going to make a change for them. But it’s not an impossible change. It can be done.”

Lawrence says she hopes Wichita will have an ordinance passed by the end of the year.

The task force has yet to meet, and Lawrence says a change, if any, wouldn’t happen overnight: Similar ordinances have been phased in, allowing stores time to make the switch.

“Most of the places … will do a gradual implementation, warn the businesses ahead of time so they don’t order any more plastic bags,” Lawrence says. “It’ll take a while.”

And, she says, any ordinance would likely only apply to bags of a certain thickness. She says those are among the details the task force will need to discuss when it meets later this year.