By DANIEL KITTREDGE After months of debate, it may be in the bag. The City Council on Monday approved a proposed ban on single-use plastics bags for retail checkout purposes on a 6-1 vote, sending the measure to the desk of Mayor Allan Fung. Citywide
After months of debate, it may be in the bag.
The City Council on Monday approved a proposed ban on single-use plastics bags for retail checkout purposes on a 6-1 vote, sending the measure to the desk of Mayor Allan Fung.
Citywide councilmen Ken Hopkins and Steven Stycos joined Lammis Vargas of Ward 1, Paul McAuley of Ward 2, John Donegan of Ward 3 and Chris Paplauskas of Ward 5 in voting in favor of the ordinance amendment, titled “Plastic Bag Reduction.”
Council President Michael Farina – who abstained from discussion of the measure at the Ordinance Committee level on March 14, citing his employment at CVS Health – was traveling for business and absent from Monday’s meeting. Ward 4 Councilman Edward Brady, who voted to advance the proposal to the full council in committee, abstained from Monday’s vote. As part-owner of a restaurant group that includes The Thirsty Beaver locations in Cranston and Smithfield, Milk Money in Providence and the Pink Pig in Jamestown, he said had consulted the state’s Ethics Commission regarding his participating in the vote but did not expect to hear back until April 9.
Ward 6 Councilman Michael Favicchio, who also voted to advance the proposal at the committee level, was the sole vote against passage on Monday.
Fung has previously said he harbors concerns about the bag ban in terms of its effect on local businesses.
On Tuesday, Director of Administration Daniel Parrillo said no final decision has been made on whether the mayor will sign or veto the bag ban ordinance.
“We’ll definitely be having that discussion,” he said.
City Clerk Maria Wall on Tuesday confirmed that if the measure is vetoed, it will be sent back to the council under the terms of the city’s code. A two-thirds vote – or six of the council’s nine members – would be needed to override the veto.
The ordinance amendment would prohibit businesses from providing customers with single-use plastic bags – referred to as “plastic carryout bags” – at the point of a sales transaction, for a fee or otherwise. The amendment allows for the use of reusable bags or recyclable paper bags.
Exemptions are provided for “double-opening” plastic bags, such as those used to protect dry cleaned items during transport, and for “plastic barrier” bags, such as those used to transport fruits and vegetables, fresh or frozen meat, baked goods, flowers and plants, hardware items or newspapers.
At the Ordinance Committee’s March 14, the bag ban proposal was amended to delay its effective date from Jan. 1, 2020, to July 1, 2020. Paplauskas – one of the original sponsors of the measure along with Donegan – proposed that amendment following concerns from Brady over the effect the ban would have on establishments that purchase branded bags and other items in large quantities to secure favorable pricing.
“I’m glad we can do this in a bipartisan measure,” Donegan said before the council’s vote. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Brady said he was “very happy and fortunate” that his concerns were heard at the committee level. Echoing Donegan, he said the vote presented an “amazing opportunity as council to continue this bipartisan effort.”
He also thanked members of the community who have been present at various public meetings to advocate for the bag ban.
“I’m a new councilman … Your feedback is crucial,” he said. “I’m listening to everything that’s said. And my opinion sometimes is swayed.”
Still, Brady said he sought the ethics opinion because of his professional role, and for that reason opted against taking part in Monday’s vote.
“Although I don’t use plastics in my restaurants, I’d rather be safe than sorry,” he said.
Hopkins said the bag ban had been a “tough back-and-forth type of ordinance,” and he spoke highly of its original sponsors while urging his fellow council members to support the measure.
“We’ve been on a roll,” he said. “We’ve been voting 8-0 or 9-0 for about three meetings in a row, and I would hope that would continue and we’d support this.”
McAuley also spoke of the bipartisan approach of late among council members.
“It’s truly a joy to work with these folks so far, and I hope this dream ride doesn’t end,” he said.
Favicchio noted that statewide plastic bag ban measures are currently being considered by the General Assembly. He said he wanted to delay action until Brady received an ethics opinion, and that he would favor expanding the ordinance amendment’s reach to find additional ways to incentivize recycling.
“I’m not in favor of it tonight. I’d like to see if go further … Either way, I think we’re going to be addressing this again very soon,” he said.
As has been the case at other meetings, public comment was overwhelmingly in favor of the bag ban.
“I think that this is just a common-sense ordinance,” Jeff Gale said. “This is a really great step forward for Rhode Island.”
“There’s a lot of energy and there’s a lot of pride in Cranston … We feel good about this,” Tom Wojick said. “Why not take the initiative?”