Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and City Council President Brandon Scott both are in favor of a ban on all plastic bags at Baltimore stores, not the partial ban backed by a City Council committee this week.
“I support a ban because it ends up in our trees and in our harbor,” Young said Wednesday. “I support a ban: all plastic bags."
Stefanie Mavronis, a spokeswoman for Scott, said the council president feels the same way.
“From the beginning, he’s been very supportive of the spirit of this legislation, and does support a full ban on plastic,” Mavronis said.
Their comments follow a vote earlier this week by the judiciary committee to amend a bill so that it would ban only bags that are less than 2.25 mils thick. A mil is one-thousandth of an inch.
The amendment had the support of retailers in the city, who argued thicker plastic bags are reusable. Councilman Eric Costello, chairman of the committee, said during Monday’s hearing on the amendment that it had the backing of the Young and Scott’s offices. Environmentalists slammed the change as undercutting the intention of the bill and its potential positive impact.
On Wednesday, Young said Costello’s claims about the mayor’s support for the amendment were misinformed.
“I think things got twisted,” Young said. “My position was if the council passed a bill [to ban plastic bags], I will sign it. Now, if the bill came in different from what was introduced, then there’s a problem.”
Mavronis said that Scott had expressed conditional support for the amendment — “he was open to it,” she said — in part because of “a really real need to attract and retain grocery stores to parts of the city that are food deserts.”
Scott was also under the impression that the mayor was for the amendment, she said, and he wants to advance a bill that the mayor will sign. He revised his position after hearing the mayor is, in fact, for a full ban and after listening to concerns from environmental groups.
“We want a bill that’s not going to just get to the mayor’s desk and then get vetoed,” she said. “We’re all trying to work toward the best bill that can become law and ban plastic bags."
Costello said Wednesday that he had received “clear indications from the mayor’s and the president’s staff that they were in support of the amendment” prior to Monday’s vote, so he shared that with his committee.
“Positions have changed, and that happens,” he said.
The bill is expected to go to the full council with the wording permitting thicker bags, but not before the committee settles another issue: how much retailers could charge shoppers for any bags they would be allowed to provide and how much of that amount they can keep.
Costello said there is no consensus among council members on such bag fees — whether to charge one, how much to charge or how much retailers could keep.
Some council members want the fee to make the retailers whole in terms of cost, as they operate on thin profit margins, Costello said. Others want to see a larger portion of the fee go to the city, to support its own initiatives.
Costello said the fee debate has kept the bill in committee because he wants to find a consensus before voting the bill out to the full council. A date for the committee’s next work session has not been set.
The full council could revise the bill to strip out the amendment on bag thickness or revise any fee structure proposed by the committee.
Mavronis said Scott will be “meeting with some environmental groups to hear concerns” in coming days, and working to “get more insight into what’s made plastic bag bans in other places successful.”
Retailers have said the 2.25 mils threshold for bag thickness that was approved under the amendment represents an “industry standard” when it comes to bans, though Councilman Bill Henry, the bill’s sponsor, points to smaller jurisdictions in California that have set threshold of 4 mils.
The mayor, council president and council members are all Democrats.