The Howard County enabling bill will now go to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan who has the power to veto it.
The Howard County enabling bill will now go to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan who has the power to veto it. (Matt McClain / The Washington Post)

Legislation that would enable Howard County to place a fee on disposable bags at the point of sale has passed the General Assembly and is headed to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk.

A spokesman for the Republican in an email said the “governor looks forward to reviewing this legislation when it reaches his desk."

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The proposal would allow Howard County lawmakers to charge up to five cents per disposable bag. The measure excludes a fee for plastic bags used for certain items including those used for bulk vegetables or produce, dry cleaning, newspapers or prescription drugs.

If approved by Hogan, Howard would become one step closer to becoming the second county in the state to charge for plastic bags. Montgomery instituted a bag fee in 2012.

Del. Terri Hill, a Democrat who represents portions of Baltimore and Howard counties, said the bill’s primary purpose is not to raise revenue but to change behavior.

State bill to bring plastic bag fee to Howard County advances in General Assembly

The bill would enable the Howard County council to place a fee on plastic bags which is blamed for contributing to climate change. In Annapolis, the state delegation voted to advance the bill. Sen. Guy Guzzone was in support of the bill but said he is in favor of a ban.

The revenue generated from it could only be used to support administrative costs or to start an environmental program — including one that would provide reusable bags to county residents.

A fiscal analysis found that revenue from the fees could be as high as $870,000 if each household in Howard County purchased three bags per week, based on 2017 census data.

The bill, which was introduced by Hill, has been championed by local environmental groups like Less Plastic Please, which says it will cut down on single-use plastics.

Plastic bags are made from polyethylene and emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, according to a 2018 report by researchers at the University of Hawaii.

The bill has in the past been criticized by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, which said that collecting the fee would be time consuming for businesses and place a big fiduciary responsibility on them.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has said previously he doesn’t plan to introduce legislation on the issue.

The four Democrats on the County Council — Liz Walsh, Opel Jones, Christiana Mercer Rigby and Deb Jung — have previously expressed interest in probing the issue. Councilman David Yungmann last year expressed concern that the fee would become a regressive tax for those who cannot afford it.

This story has been updated with a response from a Hogan spokeswoman.

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