Austin bag ban supporters protest state lawmaker's anti-ban bill


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

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Posted on March 20, 2013 at 6:24 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 20 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Strolling the hallways with cloth sacks in hand, a group of young demonstrators unexpectedly arrived inside the Capitol office of a North Texas state lawmaker Wednesday to drop off a few armloads of reusable shopping bags.
The tongue in cheek protest came complete with a man covered in disposable plastic sacks, purporting to support HB 2416 filed by state Rep. Dale Springer (R-Muenster). On the heels of the City of Austin's decision to prohibit single use bags, Springer's Shopping Bag Freedom Act would outlaw such bans statewide.
"On the issue of plastic bags, this is something that local governments have to deal with," said Andrew Dobbs, Central Texas program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment and leader of Wednesday's demonstration. "It is highly inappropriate that someone from one community comes and tells every community in Texas what they can do. This is an issue of local control, and we're asking these people to be consistent on their policies."    
The bags were accepted with smiles by Springer's office staff. Although unavailable for comment Wednesday, Springer laid out his opposition to single use bag bans in a press release announcing the legislation earlier this month.
"This act is just the latest example of government elites trying to step between the business and consumer in an attempt to push forward a misguided nanny-state agenda," Springer said in the release. "It is all for show, plastic bags make up just .6% of Austin's litter and in San Francisco, litter from bags actually increased after enacting their ban."
Austin's ban sparked controversy well before finally taking effect at the beginning of March, and local shoppers have voiced a wide variety of opinions following its local implementation. 
"The options that are left are much more expensive to make and provide," Ronnie Volkening with the Texas Retailers Association told KVUE in a February interview. The group filed a lawsuit in February challenging the ban under existing law. 
"It came to our attention by another attorney researching another issue and said, 'Hey by the way, have you seen this section?'" Volkening said. "And we said, 'Son of a gun!' It strikes me that this is four-square on point about what the city's authority is." 
"I took this off of a mesquite bush," said Ector County Health Department Director Gino Solla, holding up a thorny branch with a dusty plastic bag wound around it. Emptying a box of bags and related refuse he says was collected around the city of Odessa as part of Wednesday's demonstration, Solla argues single-use bags are a major cause of roadside litter and a deterrent to economic growth.
"I don't know that if you looked around and you saw all this that it would be conducive to allowing you to move in," said Solla, who also understands the criticisms that reusable bags are more expensive and less convenient. "I think they are valid arguments, however it's just as costly for someone to go out and pick the litter back up, maybe even more so."
A hearing on HB 2416 was scheduled before the House Urban Affairs Committee Wednesday evening. It will have to pass through the committee in order to come up for a floor vote in the House.

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