State legislature approves ban on local ‘bag bans’

A photo of the Ohio Statehouse from Wikimedia Commons.

Paper or plastic?

That’s a question headed to the governor’s desk.

The state legislature has approved House Bill 242 that would prevent local governments from enacting any ban or tax on “auxiliary containers” such as plastic bags over the coming year.

The Ohio House of Representatives passed the ban on bag bans late last year. The Senate passed an amended version making the legislation valid for just 12 months; the House agreed to that change on Wednesday and the bill awaits a signature from Gov. Mike DeWine.

Some local governments have considered enacting such restrictions in support of the environment, with the goal of diverting waste and encouraging Ohioans to recycle. 

Cuyahoga County approved a countywide ban on plastic bags in 2019, with county council members citing environmental concerns. (Enforcement of the ban has been pushed back to next year due to the pandemic.)

If signed into law by DeWine, such local decisions would not be permissible — at least for the next 12 months.

Supporters of the bill argue that allowing a patchwork of different restrictions and taxes leads to a difficult business climate. Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester, said Wednesday that differing rules pertaining to auxiliary containers could lead would-be entrepreneurs to choose another state to do business in.

Lang said “empirical” research showed that reusable grocery bags could lead to COVID-19 spread compared to plastic bags for individual use.

Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, said the pandemic also proved that plastic bags and other take-out containers were needed in society. (The Cuyahoga County ban included several exemptions, including restaurant carry-out orders.)

Euclid Democrat Kent Smith, whose 8th District is located within Cuyahoga County, reiterated that plastic bags are harming the Great Lakes region in particular. 

“We should let local leaders lead,” Smith said, adding that the legislature should not install a “Columbus knows best” approach to this issue.

The bill was approved along mostly party lines, with Republicans in support of the ban on local container bans.