Lawmakers dump Prince George's plan for plastic bag tax
Delegation chairwoman says public hearing should be held first
A bill sought by the Prince George's County Council to charge shoppers who use plastic bags failed to clear the General Assembly, lawmakers said.
Senate Bill 721, which would have given the county permission to levy a five-cent "bag tax" on disposable bags at convenience and grocery stores, died after only 12 of 23 county delegates supported the measure in a vote April 5. Sixteen votes were needed for the measure to go for a full House vote.
"It's very disappointing to me, personally," said County Councilwoman Mary A. Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel, who had requested the legislation as a way to cut down on litter and encourage the use of reusable bags. "But good bills rarely pass the first time out."
A similar measure is on track to pass in the Montgomery County Council; Washington, D.C., officials began implementing a five-cents-per-bag tax last year and generated $2 million, according to legislative analysts.
The Prince George's bill, sponsored by state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Dist. 22) of University Park, had cleared the Senate, but delegates were concerned there was no public hearing on the proposal, said Delegation Chairwoman Melony G. Griffith (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro.
"My personal belief is that you don't impose a fee or a tax without a public hearing," Griffith said of the bill. "I'm not willing to remove public input in an era where everyone is calling for more transparency in our government."
The bill had support from the council and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).
"The vast majority of bags used in the county are not being recycled," Baker representative Lisa Jackson wrote in letters supporting the measure. "This presents a major environmental problem."
Bags for newspapers, fast food, flowers and fruit are exempted from the fee on all the versions of the bills.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett (D) has proposed a similar fee this year that passed a County Council committee vote April 6. Unlike the Montgomery council, which has general taxing authority, Prince George's must get permission before it can impose new fees under state law.
Lehman said she wished the state would have permitted the council to consider the bag tax, saying the county would have made sure the public was informed about the council vote.
Griffith said the bills were introduced in early February, more than two weeks after the deadline for the group's public hearing that month. She said the delay likely stems from inexperience with the process by the new council.
Griffith said the bill will likely get a full hearing next year.