What Banning Bag Bans Says About Our Misplaced Legislative Priorities

. January 11, 2017.
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Though it seems so far away now, 2016’s final affirmation that Michigan’s state government is in a regressive political vise: Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley signing a bill into law banning municipalities from enacting any restrictions on the use of disposable shopping bags, including outright municipal bans and/or fees for customers wishing to have their goods bagged at checkout.

While notably progressive-leaning state representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) spoke out against the bill, that wasn’t enough to curb a measure that implicitly encourages plastic bag use while undermining localities that defy the conservative anti-environmental narrative.

Back in June, the Washtenaw County Commissioners voted to institute a 10-cent tax on every disposable paper or plastic shopping bag used within the county proper beginning in 2017. Intended to reduce waste from notoriously difficult-to-recycle plastic bags in an effort to coax county residents’ environmental sympathies, at least the shopping bag tax constitutes a solution. Even if it’s only a small reminder, the tax encourages people to examine little ways they can mitigate their personal environmental impact.

The county commissioners passed the ordinance even while Senate Bill 853 was snaking its way through the state legislature. That bill, which became state law as Public Act 389 of 2016 on December 29, effectively neuters Washtenaw County (and any local government) from banning or taxing the disposable shopping bags used with exorbitant frequency at retail stores.

It’s no secret that Washtenaw County is one of the few progressive bastions in Michigan’s largely knuckle-dragging, red-washed political purview. While the County Commissioners may have known about the Senate Bill 853’s real potential for upending their own bag tax ordinance, voting to pass the ordinance in the face of the competing bill is at least a symbolic protest pivotal for drawing awareness to the issue.

Restricting localities from enacting their own victimless environmental measures is a troubling anti-environmental omen that citizens can continue to expect at both the state and national governmental levels for at least the next two years, until the Michigan governor’s race to succeed Rick Snyder in 2018.

Contrast the state government’s environmentally regressive move, one symptomatic of our legislative priorities, with those of a competing superpower. By 2020, China is investing over $300 billion into renewable energy infrastructure to curb pollution in its rapidly growing cities, an implicit acknowledgment that sustainability is the route forward. The plan is projected to create 13 million new jobs. China is planning for the future.

Our country’s misplaced political priorities – illustrated at the state level by the tautological reasoning behind the ban banning bag bans and fees – compounded with the lack of long term focus is a plan for ceding status as a world superpower. And though a majority of Americans are uneasy with the incoming national leadership, let’s remember that our collectively souring society takes its cues from statehouses, organs whose failure spells illness for the entire body politic.

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