Just two weeks before a ban on plastic bags is due to go into effect in Baltimore County, County Council members voted Monday to scale back the measure — under a veto threat from the county executive.

The Baltimore County Council voted to exempt liquor stores from the ban, to allow thinner plastic bags — 2.25 mils, instead of 2.6 mils — to count as “reusable” bags and to clarify the definition of paper bags that can be given for free to customers.

Under the Nov. 1 bag ban, most stores will be required to charge customers 5 cents for a reusable bag or paper bag at checkout instead of giving out free plastic bags. Council members officially titled it the “Bring Your Own Bag Act.”

Plastic bags are still allowed to be used for meat and seafood, produce, dry cleaning, bakery items, plants and flowers and to comply with food safety guidelines. And under Monday’s revisions, paper bags also could be used for those purposes.

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Monday’s votes came following very little discussion among council members.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. vowed to veto all three measures, saying the council voted to “significantly walk back” the important law that they already passed.

“I have made it abundantly clear that I oppose any effort to weaken the existing law and undermine the public education and implementation efforts already underway,” said Olszewski, a Democrat, in a statement immediately after Monday’s votes. “Collectively, these bills are a clear step backwards for Baltimore County and I will veto them.”

The County Council has enough votes to override the county executive’s promised veto, though they don’t meet again until Nov. 6 — after the bag ban goes into effect.

Baltimore County has been slower than some of its neighbors in approving and implementing bans or limits on plastic carryout bags.

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The county bag bill was approved by the council and signed into law by Olszewski back in February. Olszewski has been a supporter of the measure, and recently passed out reusable bags at farmers markets.

Baltimore City already bans most plastic bags and charges a 5-cent tax on paper bags. Howard County levies a 5-cent tax on plastic bags.

Anne Arundel County’s measure goes into effect Jan. 1 banning most plastic bags and charging 10 cents per paper bag.

Studying a bigger council

Council members also voted to create a work group to study whether to expand the council, which currently has seven members.

The resolution approved on Monday noted that the growing county’s diverse population is not reflected on the council. The council is comprised of six white men and one Black man.

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The resolution also noted that other large counties, such as Montgomery and Prince George’s, have larger councils that include both members from geographic districts and at-large members.

The work group’s recommendations will be due in March. Any changes to the size or composition of the council would need to be approved by voters as an amendment to the county’s charter.

pamela.wood@thebaltimorebanner.com

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County. 

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