With a vote of six in favor and four against, at the recent RTM Public Works Committee meeting, the committee approved the proposed plastic bag ordinance to be sent to the full RTM Committee for their approval.
The Ordinance for the Management of Plastic and Paper Checkout Bags, which was proposed by BYO (Bring Your Own) Darien, phases out plastic bags of less than 12 mil thickness and requires a 10-cent charge for recycled paper bags, with the charge being retained by the retailer.
According to a recent revision proposed by the RTM, stores under 10,000 square feet would permanently not be required to charge a 10-cent fee with the purchase of a paper bag. However, if they want to, they could.
Fox and Bayne debate
At the Public Works meeting, Town Counsel Wayne Fox spoke about the ordinance, especially in regard to the very controversial 10-cent fee.
While Fox made clear that, being Town Counsel, he can’t tell the town how to decide on this issue, he said he has “a fiduciary responsibility” to point out “the issues that are there, the questions that you need to resolve, so that you can make an informed decision.”
In regard to whether the proposed bag fee constitutes a tax, Fox said this is a question that could be raised by an organization who is challenging it.
Also, in response to the fee being imposed to certain stores and not others — Fox asked, “Is there a kind of discrimination here? Is that invalid, inappropriate, is that something to be challenged?”
To this, he said, “I don’t know. No one knows what would happen if challenged.”
RTM Public Works Committee member David Bayne, who supports imposing the fee, said that if the ban were to be enacted without a fee, “we’d be imposing the additional cost of a paper bag verses the cost of a plastic bag on the merchants.”
So, the fee “is a way to shift the cost from the merchants to the people who don’t want to use reusable bags,” Bayne said.
He further said there is “factual data” that shows that an “environmental fee causes consumers generally to reduce their use of checkout bags.”
While Fox said Bayne made “viable and valid arguments,” he didn’t know “whether or not one imposes a cost to change one’s behavior would in fact constitute a tax.”
“You and I don’t know that and we’ll never know it unless someone challenges it and the court decides,” Fox said. “That’s the unknown factor.”
Fox and Bayne volleyed back and forth, debating the issue for awhile, before they were interrupted by Seth Morton, RTM Moderator, who said they are not in court and this is a public hearing.
Next steps
At the May 20 RTM Rules Committee Meeting, the proposed ordinance will be put on the agenda, to be voted on at the full RTM meeting on June 10.
sfox@darientimes.com