What to Know
Lawmakers in New Jersey approved a bill Thursday that would slap a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags
The bill comes at a time when local communities and states are looking to impose bans on single-use plastic bags to reduce plastic waste
The bill says it will use money generated for lead abatement in schools and communities; Opponents are skeptical
Lawmakers in New Jersey approved a bill Thursday that would slap a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags.
State lawmakers say it is a bill that both attempts to reduce waste, while bringing in revenue to the tackle specific environmental cleanup.
According to Northjersey.com, the A-3267/S-2600 bill, was first considered by legislative committees on Tuesday and approved by the full Senate and Assembly on Thursday. The votes were 23-16 in the Senate and 41-32 in the Assembly.
The New Jersey measure would impose a nickel fee on single-use plastic and paper bags at supermarkets, pharmacies, large retailers and chain restaurants. However, individuals who are over 65 years old or are using government assistance to pay for groceries are exempted from paying the fee.
The bill looks to use the money generated from the fee to go into the “Healthy Schools and Community Lead Abatement Fund.” Money in the fund will be used by the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Education, Department of Community Affairs, and the Department of Health, solely for lead abatement in schools and communities, including the “removal and replacement of water fountains; plumbing and pipes that contain lead; stripping lead paint from schools and residential dwellings; and other lead abatement programs.”
The bill calls for retailers to keep 1 cent per bag and the rest of the fee would go toward a special fund to remove lead plumbing fixtures and lead paint from schools, water fountains and residences.
However, broad language in the New Jersey budget proposal would allow the $23 million expected to be raised in the 2019 fiscal year to be diverted for general state spending, according to Northjersey.com.
A portion of the proposed budget lists that major taxes, miscellaneous taxes, fees and revenues as well as interfund transfers all form part of the general fund.
The major taxes category is defined as being “composed of fourteen taxes or fees, which are levied within the State and deposited in the General Fund. The majority of this revenue is generated from the sale and use of goods and services, general business taxes, motor vehicle fees and other excise taxes.”
Additionally, the miscellaneous taxes, fees and revenues category “includes various revenues received by State agencies. Typical items include license and inspection fees, recreation and boating fees, institutional and patient fees, investment earnings and other similar items.”
The bill also prevents municipalities and counties from enacting their own ordinances in regards to plastic bag bans or charge fees on bags. However, those that already have laws in place by the date of enactment will be grandfathered in.
State Senate Majority Leader Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who co-sponsored the bill, said the proposed measure is not only "good for the environment," but also a great way to "produce extra money for environmental cleanups."
Weinberg explained that the bill decided to tackle paper bags as well in order to further encourage people to use either bags they already have at home or invest in reusable cloth bags.
Additionally, she said, imposing the fee on paper bags will also be welcomed revenue.
NBC 4 attempted to reach Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, D-Englewood, another co-sponsor of the bill, but Huttle did not immediately respond to request for comment.
However, according to Northjersey.com, Huttle said the local preemption is a "fair way" to balance both environmental concerns while also having consistent regulations through the state.
“There needs to be a sense of uniformity,” Huttle said, according to reports.
The bill is also supported by the New Jersey Food Council — an organization that represents food retailers.
"We continue to see movement in municipalities toward disposable bag bans and fees, creating an unworkable patchwork of local ordinances. This bill provides for a statewide solution by levying a five cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags," according to NJFC.
However, opponents of the bill say that the fee is just a means to divert the money that will be collected through the fee into the general state spending fund.
“It’s just a way for them plug holes in their budget,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
Tittel said he hopes for an outright plastic-bag ban statewide, calling the bill "regressive" since it prohibits towns from having stronger plastic bag laws.
Tittel asserted the measure was a bad bill and hopes Gov. Phil Murphy will veto it, since it is now up to Murphy, a Democrat, whether to sign it into law.
The approval of the bill by the legislature comes at a time when local communities and states are looking to impose bans on single-use plastic bags to reduce plastic waste or have already banned the bags.