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State lawmakers tackle plastic bag reduction


State lawmakers this session are once again considering legislation aimed at reducing the amount of plastic bags used in Hawaii stores.

One bill would implement a total ban of single-use plastic bags in certain businesses, while the other two would require a small fee, paid by customers, for each single-use plastic checkout bag.

The bills alive and going through the legislative process are:

* HB998 – Requires businesses in the State to collect a 5-cent fee for each single-use checkout bag provided to a customer. The fees collected will be deposited in the general fund. The bill in its current form will allow exemptions and also require fees to be collected on paper bags in counties that currently have ordinances banning plastic bags. Introduced by Rep. Mark Nakashima.

* SB1059 – Prohibits certain businesses in the State from distributing single-use plastic checkout bags, which was introduced by Sen. Clayton Hee.

* SB1363 – Requires business to collect a 25 cent offset fee for distribution of every non-reusable checkout bag. The bill in its current form would allow exemptions for certain uses and for beneficiaries of the women, infants, and children program and the supplemental nutrition assistance program. It also allows the Department of Health to collect 75 percent of offset fee to be used for administration and enforcement, and allow businesses to retain 25 percent of the offset fee as taxable income, while exempting the offset fee from general excise tax. Introduced by Sen. Mike Gabbard.

In August 2008, Maui County banned plastic bags, and Kauai County followed suit in October 2009. Both ordinances went into effect January 2011. The Big Island County Council currently is hearing a similar bill.

With the law just taking effect, and stores and the public adjusting to life without plastic, the impact of it is still unknown, but the Star Advertiser recently reported that food service industries are taking issue with the law.

They are “complaining that other alternatives such as paper and cloth bags do not work as well, especially when food spills from containers.”

A Kauai council member is considering introducing an amendment exempting food establishments from the law.

What’s next for the bills alive at the Legislature?

* HB998 passed second reading and is now awaiting a hearing in the House Finance Committee.
* SB1059 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Feb. 22 and it will now go to the Senate floor for third reading.
*The Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold decision making on SB1363 9 a.m. Friday, Feb. 25.

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