Mar 14, 2016

Wisconsin bill would create ban on plastic bag bans

The plastic bag — popular, handy and readily available — has suffered a bit of a backlash, with some communities across the country looking for ways to clamp down on them.

GOP lawmakers in Madison have watched developments in other states and are trying to head off any future local initiatives that would restrict the use of the bags and a variety of other "single-use" containers.

A bill likely to be taken up this week by the state Senate would prohibit communities from banning plastic bags.

There are no restrictions on them now in Wisconsin.

The bill has already been approved by the Assembly, by a 63-35 vote.

The Senate will meet for what is expected to be its final time of the year on Tuesday. Leaders have not yet said what measures they plan to take up, but final session days tend to be long as legislators seek to put their favored bills — some controversial, some mundane — into law.

Among the issues that could come up are proposals by Gov. Scott Walker to address college affordability. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said on WKOW-TV in Madison that senators are unlikely to take up one Walker idea that would make more interest on college debt tax deductible.

Senators are also debating whether to take up legislation to help people with dementia and penalize local governments if they adopt so-called sanctuary city policies for illegal immigrants.

Plastic bags and other containers have attracted attention in recent years because of their potential to be a source of litter, pollute water and harm wildlife.

Retailers and business groups, however, are concerned that bans on bags in individual communities would lead to a patchwork of regulation and higher business costs.

Senate Bill 601 would restrict a town, village, city or county from regulating "containers" made of plastic, paper, cardboard, metal and glass.

This would prohibit a community from regulating single use bags at retail locations, including restaurants. Communities also could not impose fees or surcharges on plastic bags and containers.

"Most of the time, government is reactive and we are trying to be proactive," said Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton), the chief sponsor in the Senate. "This could be very burdensome."

Bill G. Smith, state director of the Wisconsin chapter the National Federation of Independent Business, agreed.

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