Proposal would allow Howard County to impose a plastic bag tax

A tax on plastic bags could be coming to Howard County.

Delegate Terri Hill, a Democrat who represents portions of Howard and Baltimore counties in the state legislature, plans to introduce a bill that would allow Howard County to levy a tax on plastic bags provided to customers “at the point of sale,” according to a draft of the bill. The tax would not apply to paper bags, plastic bags used for bulk vegetables or produce, dry cleaning, newspapers or prescription drugs.

Two other Maryland counties have bag taxes, enacted to reduce use of disposable plastic and paper bags, cut down on litter and encourage recycling and promote reusable bags.

Hill’s bill, which caps the fee at a nickel per bag, is being filed at the behest of Less Plastic Please, an environmental group born out of a coalition between IndivisibleHoCoMD and Our Revolution, separate advocacy groups tied to national organizations.

Alissa Niefeld-Batiz, co-founder of Less Plastic Please, said the bill is meant to inspire a reduction of single-use plastic as recycling has declined since global markets have been flooded with plastics, driving down commodity prices.

“[Your recyclables] are really going to a landfill,” Niefeld-Batiz said.

If approved, the state legislation would give the County Council and county executive the authority to impose the tax.

County Executive-elect Calvin Ball said he is “not considering proposing a bag tax in Howard County,” and would not say if he would veto a measure if one is passed by the council, according to a spokeswoman.

David Yungmann, a Republican from District 5 who was elected to the five-member council this month, said the fee could be regressive.

“It would disproportionately effect the people that cannot afford it,” Yungmann said.

None of the other future council members, who will be sworn in Dec. 3, responded to requests for comment.

Yungmann’s concern is shared by outgoing Democratic Councilwoman Jen Terassa, who last year prodded the idea of legislation to levy a tax on plastic bags. Terassa considered making available reusable bags. Terassa, who is leaving the council and has been elected to the state House of Delegates, did not inquire further about ways to pay for the initiative as she became concerned she would not receive support from her colleagues. Terassa, in an interview, said she is supportive of the intent of Hill’s proposal could not say if she would vote for it next year, as she has yet to see a draft of the bill.

Neighboring Montgomery County in 2012 imposed a 5-cent tax on disposable bags and the revenues are given to “help to shift the burden of litter cleanup costs from public taxpayers to consumers who have a choice to avoid the 5-cent charge by bringing reusable bags,” according to the county website.

Montgomery found disposable bag sales increased 3.2 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to county data. The county in its 2015 report cited improved economic conditions and a rising population as influencing the increase. Seventy percent of bag distribution in 2015 came from grocery stores.

Baltimore City in 2014 proposed an outright ban on plastic bags. The legislation was vetoed by then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. The legislature considered a similar measure in 2014 but the bill died in committee.

“There's no such things a free bag,” Niefeld-Batiz said, suggesting the cost of the plastics are wrapped into the subtotal of a transaction.

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