Bag ban veto overturned

City Council’s unanimous vote paves way for ordinance amendment to take effect July 1, 2020

By DANIEL KITTREDGE
Posted 4/24/19

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Cranston has joined the growing ranks of communities across Rhode Island and beyond to ban single-use plastic bags for checkout purposes - and it was no mistake that the final step in the process took place on Earth Day. The City

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Bag ban veto overturned

City Council’s unanimous vote paves way for ordinance amendment to take effect July 1, 2020

Posted

Cranston has joined the growing ranks of communities across Rhode Island and beyond to ban single-use plastic bags for checkout purposes – and it was no mistake that the final step in the process took place on Earth Day.

The City Council on Monday voted 9-0 to override Mayor Allan Fung’s veto of what is officially titled the “Plastic Bag Reduction” ordinance amendment. The measure is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2020.

“Happy Earth Day, everybody,” Council President Michael Farina said following the vote.

“I’m glad that, on Earth Day no less, we were able to make a strong statement that protecting our local environment is a priority in Cranston,” said Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan, who introduced the bag ban along with Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas.

The measure was initially approved on a 6-1 vote at the council’s March 25 meeting. Fung, in his subsequent veto message, stated that while “reducing plastics is a noble goal to help our environment,” he believes the bag ban “presents some major concerns to our business community.”

A two-thirds vote of the council is needed to override a mayoral veto, so it had seemed nearly certain that supporters of the measure would have the needed votes during reconsideration.

Ultimately, the override vote was unanimous. Ward 4 Councilman Edward Brady, part owner of a restaurant group whose establishments include The Thirsty Beaver in Cranston, had abstained from the March 25 vote pending an advisory from the state Ethics Commission. On Monday, he said that advisory cleared him to take part in the vote.

During review of the bag ban at the committee level, Brady had raised concerns over the measure’s impact on local businesses, particularly those that purchase branded plastic bags and other items in large quantities to secure favorable pricing. To satisfy those concerns, the language of the ordinance amendment was changed to delay implementation from Jan. 1, 2020, to July 1, 2020.

“I understand many of the points the mayor makes … but I will be in support of this,” he said.

Farina had also abstained from prior discussion and votes on the bag ban proposal, citing his employment with CVS Health, which is a large-scale user of single-use plastic bags. On Monday, he said that based on Brady’s response from the Ethics Commission, he felt comfortable taking part in the vote.

“He owns the business and can vote. I just work for the business, so I’m going to vote,” he said.

Ward 6 Councilman Michael Favicchio had been the sole vote against the bag ban on March 25, but on Monday, he joined his colleagues in supporting the measure.

The bag ban will prohibit businesses from providing customers with single-use plastic bags – formally 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.

Under the terms of the ordinance amendment, establishments found to be in violation for the first time would receive a letter and be provided a 28-day window to correct the violation. Establishments could also dispute the violation before the City Council’s Safety Services and Licensing Committee.

A second violation would result in a $250 fine payable within 14 days. Subsequent violations would carry the same fine for each day. Businesses accused of multiple violations would have the same recourse before the Safety Services and Licensing Committee. The committee would also be empowered to call businesses accused of multiple violations to appear for a show cause hearing.

Plastic reduction has been the subject of discussion beyond Cranston this year.

Statewide bag ban proposals remain under consideration at the General Assembly, although it is unclear what their chances are at approval. Fung had pointed to the possible state action – which would supersede any local rules – in urging the council to hold off on the Cranston bag ban.

Additionally, the City Council in neighboring Providence approved a bag ban of its own Monday night. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, who vetoed a similar measure last year, has indicated he will sign this year’s measure. It is scheduled to take effect in roughly six months.

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