The Austin Chronicle

State Supremes Consider Bag Ban

Laredo law banning single-use bags goes to court

By Michael King, January 12, 2018, News

The Texas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this morning (Thu., Jan. 11) in the case styled City of Laredo v. Laredo Merchants Association. In brief, the city of Laredo enacted a partial ban on single-use bags in 2015. (Austin enacted a similar law in 2013.) The Merchants Association sued, unsuccessfully at trial court, but the law was overturned by the Court of Appeals, on the grounds that the ban violated a state law pre-empting such local ordinances passed for "solid-waste purposes." Laredo is arguing that its ordinance is intended to address litter control, protect the utility system, reduce flooding, and protect wildlife and rivers, and thus does not conflict with the state law.

Austin obviously has a vested interest in the outcome of the case, and Robin Schneider of Texas Campaign for the Environment (which advocated strongly for the city's adoption) said TCE will hold a press conference at the court on Thursday prior to the hearing (expected to begin just before 10am). There are now 10 Texas cities that have enacted some form of bag ban, and the campaign has also drawn a range of allies, among them expected environmental groups – Rio Grande International Study Center, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Bag-Free Bayous (Houston) – but also the Texas Cotton Ginners Association and Texas Black Bass Unlimited.

Representatives of each group will be available at the court on Thursday. Schneid­er told me that the case rests not only on the merits of reducing bag litter and environmental pollution, but on the standards for state pre-emption of local ordinances. In a press release, Tony Wil­liams of the Cotton Ginners Assoc. said the bags foul ginners and contaminate the cotton, and "We urge our Supreme Court to let our local governments lead in dealing with this harm to crucial Texas industries." Some retailers also object to the argument that the bags are beneficial. "Although it's retailers in Laredo who are suing to erase this protection," said Hill Abell of Austin's Bicycle Sport Shop, "as a retailer with five Central Texas stores I know for a fact that not only are single-use bags not necessary for my business, they cost retailers a ton."

Schneider invited concerned Austinites to attend the press conference and arguments, promising TCE's traditional complement of enthusiastic props. She noted that many cities and at least two states (California, and via local initiatives, Hawaii) have enacted bans, and defended the ordinance on both environmental and local government grounds. "The ban has worked in Austin," she said, "and the bag pollution and bags in the recycling stream are way down." The press conference will take place outside the Supreme Court building, 201 W. 14th (at 14th & Colorado), and the oral arguments on the first floor. Parking is available in the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage at 1201 San Jacinto, across the street from the Texas State Library and Archives.

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