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Source: Queens Chronicle

State Senate vote imperils bag fees

Nickel on paper and plastic grocery sacks still slated for Feb. 15 start


Posted: January 20, 2017
Originally Published: January 19, 2017

The state Senate on Tuesday evening overwhelmingly approved a bill that would prevent New York City from placing a 5-cent fee on most plastic and paper grocery bags effective Feb. 15.

The bill, authored by Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), passed by a margin of 42-18.

It was not known as of Wednesday when or if the Assembly would vote on an identical bill sponsored by Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island). Queens Sens. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), a co-sponsor of the bill, and Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) issued statements backing their support of the measure.

Avella also released a statement saying the Senate also passed a bill of his that would encourage recycling without the fees.

“There is no question in my mind that we need to take action to end the proliferation of plastic bags that clog up our storm drains, drape our trees and otherwise degrade our environment and landscape,” Addabbo said. “However, I don’t think the law that was approved and then delayed last year by the City imposing a fee on shoppers who use plastic bags is the right solution, nor the best idea the city could come up with.”

Addabbo is willing to listen to solutions ranging from recycling to an outright ban.

“When it comes to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ we are supposed to be reducing our city’s waste, not our residents’ bank accounts,” Avella said. “Fees to use plastic bags would cost our city’s families, while failing to increase the recycling of those bags.” He said the state needs to increase awareness of plastic bag recycling programs already in place and encourage the return of all plastic bags, not just those used at grocery stores.”

Avella’s bill does not yet have companion legislation in the Assembly. Under his proposal, retailers with 10,000 square feet or chain stores with five or more franchises of 5,000 square feet must place a large collection bin in its store as part of its recycling program.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said her group is appalled in a statement.

“With all the challenges New York faces, it is extremely disturbing that the New York State Senate has passed an anti-environmental, anti-home rule bill as one of its first acts of 2017,” Esposito said. “We expected our senators to stand up for environment; instead, they voted against it.”

The most recent version of Cusick’s bill on the Assembly website lists seven Queens Democrats as co-sponsors, including David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing), Michael Den Dekker (D-East Elmhurst), Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) and Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria). Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, said members are still negotiating with the Council over the city bill’s language.

He cited as one example the wording that merchants would be required to charge at least 5 cents per bag — leaving it open, he said, to some charging much more.

“We understand the need to balance this with the needs of the environment,” the speaker said. “We’re still negotiating. We’re just not there yet.”

The Chronicle could not reach representatives of Mayor de Blasio or Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), both of whom support the fee. It also is not known if Gov. Cuomo would sign the state bills into law.

The city bag bill was approved last spring, with proponents saying it would reduce litter and reduce the cost of landfilling or incinerating the countless bags that enter the city’s waste stream each year. The nickel charges on every bag would be kept by the store.