Bans or taxes on plastic bags have increasingly become the norm in California’s cities and counties over the last decade. More than 50 local ordinances limiting bag use are already in place, including a San Mateo County ban that went into effect last month.
But similar bills have continually failed to gain traction at the state level. The latest defeat for environmentalists hoping to reduce pollution by banning plastic bags came on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, when a ban sponsored by Southern California Democrat Alex Padilla failed to win enough votes to pass.
Floor defeats are rare in the Senate, where Democrats control more than two-thirds of the seats. The vast majority of bills never become law, but legislation is typically blocked in committees or simply never called for a final vote.
The Senate vote on the plastic bag ban was a stark reminder that all politics is local, and no local issue is more important to politicians than jobs within their districts. “I consider myself an environmentalist,” said Los Angeles Democrat Kevin de Leon, who said 500 people within his district work at a bag manufacturing plant. “But this is not an abstract concept to me. These are real jobs. These are real lives. These are real human beings who have to put food on the table for their children.”
Another Southern California Democrat, Ricardo Lara, warned that a bag ban would kill 700 jobs in the district he represents. “These are hard-working immigrant families who are under-educated, monolingual and are not going to have an opportunity to find another type of employment.”
Responding to the economic criticism, Padilla grew emotional. “It’s like arguing that we shouldn’t reduce tobacco consumption in the state because of the impact on cigarette manufacturers, or wholesalers and distributors,” he said. “It’s like arguing that we shouldn’t fight the obesity crisis because [of] what it would mean for a company like Coke or Pepsi.”
Bills that don’t pass either the Assembly or Senate by June 1 cannot become law, so a statewide ban on plastic bags is dead until at least 2014.