Considered an assault on home rule by many legislators, House bill H. 3529 would prevent other cities and counties from following in the footsteps of Folly Beach and the Isle of Palms by placing restrictions on the sale and distribution of plastic bags and certain disposable containers. House members voted 50-49 Tuesday to prevent any further discussion of the bill until 2018.
Currently, Folly Beach and the Isle of Palms are the only municipalities in South Carolina with legal restrictions on plastic bags and disposable containers, with community leaders arguing that such items pose a serious risk to the coastal environment. An amendment to the proposed bill would have allowed those cities to maintain their current laws as written, but would close the door on other communities hoping to follow suit.
Bill sponsor Rep. Eric Bedingfield told his fellow legislators that such regulations put in place by municipalities threatens businesses faced with adapting to the new rules, adding that these bans limit an owners’ right to choose whatever type of bags they desire. The Greenville Republican then listed the local and state organizations that supported the bill, including the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Shannon Erickson of Beaufort spoke strongly against the bill, her main points of argument being the environmental threat that plastics present to coastal communities and the impact that such a bill would have on home rule. Calling the restriction on bans “liberty taking” for small municipalities, Erickson added, “On a local level, people closet to the issues know best.”
Rep. Mike Ryhal joined Bedingfield in supporting the bill, ultimately declaring that plastic bags don’t pose a risk to the environment until humans commit to littering. Novolex, the packaging and plastic bag manufacturer headquartered in Hartsville, was also a key concern for those in favor of the bill. With Novolex directly employing more than 7,000 people across North America, several lawmakers criticized the effect that more bans could have on jobs. Those opposing the bill saw things a different way.
Rep. Cezar McKnight said that passing the bill would be a clear sign that every time a big business finds a local ordinance that they oppose, those groups can just run to Columbia to have the matter quashed. Calling coastal communities the driving economic force behind the state, Rep. Bill Herbkersman said stepping in to “regulate what these communities do would be like cutting our own throats.”
Tuesday’s vote to prevent the bill from moving forward was a welcome sign to environmental groups who have supported efforts by coastal communities to limit the use of plastic bags.
“Today’s vote reaffirms the commitment of the S.C. House of Representatives to the principles of home rule and local solutions to local problems,” said Katie Zimmerman of the Coastal Conservation League. “We thank the hundreds of Conservation League members who contacted their representatives to oppose this bill, and the many representatives who stood up for coastal communities and the fishing and tourism businesses that support them.”
An effort to prohibit local bans on single-use plastic bags was dealt a major setback in the South Carolina House of Representatives Tuesday.