Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. made good on his promise to veto County Council amendments to the coming single-use plastic bag ban, including an allowance for businesses to sell thinner plastic bags for 5 cents and a change that struck liquor stores from the list of businesses that must charge customers for reusable or paper bags starting next week.
Olszewski vetoed those changes — sponsored by three councilmen in separate bills — Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement, he said “now is not the time to undo” progress months after the council voted 5-2 in February to approve the law; the council voted unanimously last week to include liquor stores among the small businesses — including convenience stores and businesses with fewer than four locations — exempt from the law which goes into effect Nov. 1.
In particular, the county executive said, the amendment proposed by Democratic Councilman Patrick “Pat” Young to allow thinner plastic bags — ones with a thickness of 2.25 mils, instead of 2.6 mils — to be sold at the 5-cent fee “represents the biggest step backwards in our sustainability efforts.”
“By amending the definition of a reusable bag to include thinner plastic film bags, and removing the stitched handle requirement, this bill opens the door for all retailers” to distribute plastic bags that may be thicker than typical carryout bags, “but aren’t truly reusable,” Olszewski, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Those bags, according to environmental advocates, are often thrown in the trash anyway.
“These two bills will unnecessarily allow more plastic bags to end up in our landfill and in our environment,” Olszewski said. The National Aquarium, the Greater Baltimore Sierra Club and Blue Water Baltimore backed the veto in a county news release.
Democratic council Chair Julian Jones, who represents the 4th District and sponsored the liquor store exemption, said Wednesday he plans to poll his council counterparts on whether they’ll override the county executive’s veto. He would propose to do so if the votes are there, he said.
Olszewski allowed a third amendment to continue, but said it will be enacted without his signature.
That change clarifies the definition of “paper carryout bag,” which its sponsor, 5th District Republican Councilman David Marks, said is meant to prevent businesses from levying a charge on paper bags that, along with single-use plastic bags, may be used to package meat and seafood, produce, dry cleaning, bakery items, plants and flowers, and to comply with food safety guidelines.
The council and county executive’s office have volleyed over changes to the bipartisan “Bring Your Own Bag Act,” which was sponsored by four members, since it was passed 5-2 and signed into law in February. Jones and Republican 7th District Councilman Todd Crandell voted against it, calling the 5-cent fee a tax on customers and a burden on business owners. Olszewski has enthusiastically supported it.
Some council members’ positions have oscillated since February, when just Jones and Crandell voted against the law. At the time, the council voted 4-3 against the proposal by 3rd District Councilman Wade Kach, a Republican, to exempt liquor stores. Crandell revived that amendment back in August, but his colleagues voted to table it before Jones, Marks and Young, who represents the 1st District, came back with their own amendments and unanimously approved exempting liquor stores.
With limited permits enabling them to sell alcohol, liquor store owners said they were unfairly singled out. In an earlier version of the bill, they were counted as “small businesses” exempt from the ban before last-minute changes to the law.
“Many of them [liquor store owners] have one location,” Jones said in an interview. “I always thought in this way we were discriminating against the liquor store establishments.”
There’s a time crunch should the council seek to override Olszewski’s veto. Their next meeting is Nov. 6, days after the bag ban goes into effect, and Jones doesn’t expect to convene a special session if they choose to do so.