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Colo. bill aims to repeal decades-old law prohibiting municipalities from banning types of plastic

Bill comes weeks after Denver Council passed bag fee
Colorado state capitol
Posted at 4:45 PM, Jan 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-14 09:03:13-05

DENVER – Weeks after the Denver City Council approved a 10-cent plastic- and paper-bag fee, which will go into effect on July 1, lawmakers at the state Capitol have introduced a bill that aims to repeal a decades-old law that prohibits local governments from banning the use or sale of specific types of plastic.

The proponents of SB20-010 say the measure is aimed at allowing local governments to pass their own laws regarding specific types of plastic – including fees or bans on plastic bags – and shield municipalities that have already passed plastic-bag fees from possible lawsuits.

A portion of statute passed in 1993 involving recycling says, “No unit of local government shall require or prohibit the use or sale of specific types of plastic materials or products or restrict or mandate containers, packaging, or labeling for any consumer products.” The Colorado Sun took a look at the history of the statute last year.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail and Reps. Alex Valdez, D-Denver and Meg Froelich, D-Englewood, would repeal that section of the statute.

Denver and at least 11 other local municipalities in Colorado have passed bag feeds in the past decade and the portion of statute has not come up often after the laws were enacted. But Valdez said in an interview Monday the ’93 statute could still potentially open some of those municipalities up to litigation or other possible consequences if the statute is not repealed.

The effort comes a year after an effort to regulate plastic straws in restaurants failed in the legislature amid pushback from the restaurant industry and others who said the law would create loopholes and too many exemptions. Another 2019 bill that would have given local governments the authority to set their own rules for use of different types of disposable food containers also died.

Valdez said Monday he believed this year’s measure could face similar opposition.

“It’s always been hard to pass, because what you’re looking at it is giving the ability for local governments to create their own rules around how they regulate plastic,” he said. “And that’s controversial because what the opponents would say is that it creates a situation that creates patchwork.”

He said he believed that the bill could receive pushback particularly from larger box stores and grocers who operate all over Colorado since they would have different rules, potentially, for different cities. But he said he believed the group of lawmakers at the Capitol this year have heard about addressing the plastic issue from their constituents enough to act in 2020.

Valdez also said he believed House members would be working on other legislation around plastic and minimizing the use of certain types in the state.

“I do believe this is the start of a much larger conversation on how we become better stewards of the living environment that we are a part of,” he said.

The Denver fee goes into effect July 1. Stores will get to keep $.04 from every $.10 charged, while the city will take the other $.06. Denver plans to spend some of the money it collects to distribute free bags to people. City officials estimate Denver residents use about 200 million plastic and paper bags a year.

The bill was introduced last week and assigned to the Senate Local Government Committee.