A new bill that would prohibit a tax, fee or charge on any paper, plastic, or other merchandise bags was passed by the Senate and saw movement in the Assembly late in the session. The bill is seen as a reaction to a controversial New York City law that places a five-cent fee on most paper and plastic bags provided by retailers and grocers.
Specifically, the bill would prevent the taxation of bags that customers normally get for free with their groceries or other merchandise.
The goal of bill (S.7336/A.9904), sponsored by Sen. Simcha Felder, D–Brooklyn, and Assemblyman Michael Cusick, D-Staten Island, is to prevent what they call a costly burden to shoppers and to prevent public health risks such as food contamination and the spreading of disease through reusable bags carrying food-borne bacteria and viruses.
The New York City Council recently enacted legislation that requires customers to pay a five-cent tax for the use of the store’s disposable bags to encourage the use of reusable ones. The fee is scheduled to go into effect in February, unless the City Council and the state Assembly reach a compromise to reverse it.
The idea of taxing shopping bags has been a contentious issue this past session. Environmentalists and their allies say the fee will greatly reduce the number of plastic bags that litter sidewalks, streets and parks. Opponents say it will be an extra financial burden on the poor and a potential health hazard as well.
The bill language states that “reusable bags will undoubtedly present a serious public health issue” because they could potentially contaminate grocery stores with food-based disease and bacteria, such as salmonella, from food previously carried in the reusable bag.
“The last thing New Yorkers need is another regressive tax. I’ve been disgusted every time I’ve heard the absurd plastic bag tax legislation introduced,” Sen. Felder said in an e-mail statement to The Legislative Gazette. “This tax places an undue financial burden on countless low- and middle-income residents who already struggle. I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for passing his bill, but I wasn’t surprised by the outcome because my colleagues have followed this issue closely and heard the concerns of New Yorkers far and wide.”
The Assembly bill moved from the Cities Committee to the Ways and Means Committee on June 1.
The state legislation could overturn the new New York City law and have far–reaching effects on similar laws in cities across the state.
Both the Senate and Assembly bills are sponsored in large part by New York City lawmakers and will likely be taken up again in January.
“Everyone agrees that these bags are an environmental hazard, but the bag tax is not an effective way to reduce their impact on our communities,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “Our city needs to consider more creative ways to reduce litter and pollution, as well as more creative ways to spend any funding derived through such efforts. We cannot place a new tax on the backs of the poor and call it progressive government.”