A Baltimore City Council committee delayed action Monday on a proposal to ban retailers from using plastic bags amid a discussion over how much shoppers should pay for paper bags — and how much of that fee store owners should get to keep.

Before a judiciary committee hearing Monday morning, council members discussed a fee as high as 10 cents each on paper bags, while retailers pushedto retain more than the 1 cent currently in the bill to recoup the cost of the more expensive bags.


Democratic Councilman Bill Henry proposed the legislation this summer, calling for a ban on retailers offering plastic bags and setting a 5-cent fee on other types of bags. The goal is to virtually eliminate plastic bag litter and to reduce other types of single-use waste. Similar city proposals have failed eight times since 2006.

But instead of hashing out out a bag fee proposal, lawmakers put off a formal vote on the legislation at the committee work session. They opted for a third public discussion of the proposal before taking it to the full council.

“I don’t think there was a majority of votes today to go one way or another,” Democratic Councilman Eric Costello, chairman of the judiciary committee, said after the committee meeting. The lawmakers did tackle other aspects of the legislation, including removing a bag fee exemption for those on public assistance.

City leaders were reluctant to publicly voice support for any specific bag fee proposal, clouding details of a proposal that a supermajority on the City Council have said they support in general. Representatives for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Council President Brandon Scott, both Democrats, said they support continuing discussions over how best to ban plastic bag use.

“Plastic bags need to be banned,” said Lester Davis, Young’s chief lobbyist. But he said it’s hard to predict what proposal might make it to the mayor’s desk. “I think the council’s deadlocked.”

Stefanie Mavronis, a spokeswoman for Scott, said the council president supports the legislation but isn’t taking a position on the particulars “until more discussion happens.”

The discussions come as the races for the city’s top offices continue to take shape. Scott launched his campaign for mayor this month. Young has said he is weighing whether to run. Young was elevated to the mayorship, and Scott elected to the council presidency, after Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned in May amid a scandal over her sale of children’s books to the University of Maryland Medical System and other entities doing business with the city.

Retailers are concerned the cost of alternatives to plastic bags could eat into their profits. Grocery stores, in particular, operate on a 1% to 3% profit margin, so any increase in costs could make it harder for them to operate in the city, said Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.

“Our members feel very strongly they need to be made whole,” Tolle said.

Henry said bag ban legislation in cities and other jurisdictions around the country shows that a ban-and-fee regime is most effective at reducing waste, and residents are encouraged to change their behavior when the fee is at least 5 cents.

Plastic bags are among the most prevalent pieces of litter found in waterways and gutters during community cleanups, environmental groups say. Observations from other jurisdictions that have imposed bag bans and fees, including Montgomery County, show that the policies can significantly reduce plastic litter.

The legislation could have come up for a council vote as early as Monday night, but, with no consensus on the details of any bag fee, it now will go through a third public council work session on Oct. 7.

While those elements of the proposal remain unresolved, members of the judiciary committee did adopt some revisions to the legislation. One amendment makes clear that violating the ban would not lead to jail time but could prompt a misdemeanor fine of up to $1,000.

Members also voted 4-2 to eliminate a bag fee exemption for people who rely on public assistance to buy food.


There had been concerns that a fee would be regressive, hitting poorest residents the hardest. But some council members said they worried exempting those residents — nearly 200,000 city residents use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, or the Women, Infants and Children program — would defeat the purpose of the bill: to encourage all city residents to reduce waste.