Baltimore County Council chair Julian Jones wants to exempt liquor stores from a forthcoming prohibition on single-use carryout bags that will apply to grocery markets, pharmacies and most other retailers.

Two other council members have proposed changes, too — County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. says his administration is against all of them.

“These bills will weaken the existing law, create confusion for consumers and businesses, and result in more plastic materials ending up in our landfill and in our environment,” Olszewski wrote in an Oct. 10 opposition letter.

“I oppose all of these bills and urge the council to vote them down,” he wrote.

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Jones is proposing the must substantial change to the Bring Your Own Bag Act, which passed 5-2 in February. The Woodstock Democrat says the law puts an undue burden on shoppers and small business owners, who come November must charge customers 5 cents for a reusable or paper bag at checkout in lieu of landfill-clogging plastic bags.

During Tuesday’s work session, county liquor store owners said the issue is one of “fairness” — licenses to operate liquor stores are limited by Maryland jurisdictions, and in Baltimore County, a business owner may only open one liquor store at any given time. Liquor stores were considered small businesses, which are exempt from the law, in draft legislation — but after a slew of last-minute amendments, they were removed from the classification, they said.

“By state law, I’m only allowed to own one [liquor store],” said Jack Milani, legislative chairman for the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association.

“What’s smaller than that?” he asked.

Two of Jones’ counterparts are seeking their own changes to clarify the law.

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Republican Councilman David Marks of Perry Hall, who co-sponsored the Bring Your Own Bag Act, wants to sharpen the definition of the paper carryout bags sold for 5 cents, which auditors’ notes say was broadly construed in the law’s original language. The change is meant to ensure customers don’t pay for certain paper bags, like those used to package bulk items or prescription medications, according to fiscal notes.

Jennifer Aiosa, the county’s chief sustainability officer, said the current law sufficiently defines which bags are considered reusable.

“The administration does not support any effort to weaken the current law — period,” Aiosa told the council.

A third bill, introduced by first-term Democrat Councilman Patrick “Pat” Young of Catonsville, would broaden the definition of what’s considered a reusable carryout bag to include thinner plastic bags and bags without stitched handles, which amendment opponents said effectively would allow businesses subject to the ban to dole out bags that aren’t practically reusable.

Young’s amendment would reduce the thickness of which plastic bags are considered reusable, matching the 2.25-millimeter standard that California, and many other bag ban policies impose.

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“Some people may claim that these bags are reusable,” said Robert Frier, vice chair of the executive committee for the Sierra Club’s Greater Baltimore Group. “Theoretically, that might be true — just like a plastic straw is reusable, or a plastic cup from Starbucks.”

But “in general, these bags are going to the landfill and incineration,” or littered — and Baltimore County’s recycling processing facility isn’t able to recycle them, Frier added.

The bipartisan Bring Your Own Bag Act is the most significant step the county has taken in recent years to reduce trash at its only remaining public dump, the Eastern Sanitary Landfill, is expected to reach capacity in 2027. But council members have been at odds over it since it was passed 5-2 in February.

Jones and Republican Councilman Todd Crandell of Dundalk voted against the bag prohibition on the basis that it put an undue burden on shoppers and small business owners. His proposal is similar to changes Crandell brought to the table in August, but the legislation was shelved after Olszewski threatened to veto any amendments the council may have passed. Council members who voted to table Crandell’s proposal said they wanted time to consider their own amendments to the law.

The original draft of the Bring Your Bag Act would have exempted shoppers who rely on federal assistance for food, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, from paying 5 cents for a paper bag, but the council voted to remove the exemption.

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County permits director Pete Gutwald told the council his department has already created rules surrounding “internal enforcement proceedings” and has been working to educate business owners about the ban before it takes effect Nov. 1.

“I have a concern of creating some confusion,” Gutwald told the council. “I’m sort of just asking you to pump the breaks on legislative changes to the law” before the county can assess its effectiveness.

In six months, Gutwald offered, he could return to the council with a report.

The council is expected to vote on the bills during its Oct. 16 work session.

Taylor DeVille covered Baltimore County government for The Baltimore Banner with a focus on the County Executive, County Council, accountability and quality of life issues affecting suburban residents. Before joining The Banner, Taylor covered Baltimore County government and breaking news for The Baltimore Sun.

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