Court Upholds Constitutionality Of Plastic Bag Fee
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina applauded the ruling by Judge James C. Chalfant in Los Angeles Superior Court, Department 85 upholding the constitutionality of the Los Angeles County’s plastic and paper carryout bag ordinance.
Petitioners in Schmeer vs. County of Los Angeles – who include Hilex Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer in South Carolina – claimed the ordinance was unconstitutional under Proposition 26; specifically, that the ordinance’s ten-cent charge per paper bag constituted an improper tax which should have been voted upon by the entire county electorate.
However, Judge Chalfant ruled that Proposition 26 was intended to apply to revenue generation measures—and that the county’s Plastic and Paper Carryout Bag Ordinance did not generate revenue for the county or meet the “special tax” definition since no portion of the ten-cent charge per paper bag is collected and spent by Los Angeles County to pay for any public program.
“I feel today’s ruling is a huge victory not just for Los Angeles County but for all jurisdictions waiting to see what happens in this case so they can implement similar laws,” Molina said. “At issue was the fundamental legality of Los Angeles County’s plastic bag ordinance, and I am very pleased Judge Chalfant decided in our favor. The purpose of the ten-cent charge was to incentivize consumers to shop with more environmental awareness while preventing merchants from having to take on yet another financial burden – particularly during rough economic times. We did not want to generate funds for the county – nor did we want to surreptitiously supplement the county’s coffers. I’m grateful Judge Chalfant understood this.”
Los Angeles County’s Plastic and Paper Carryout Bag Ordinance – which Molina authored – took effect on Friday, July 1, 2011 for larger stores and on Sunday, January 1, 2012 for smaller stores, and it affected only unincorporated regions. It banned stores from providing plastic carryout bags to customers and further required a ten-cent charge for each paper bag that customers chose to purchase. To help shoppers transition, Molina partnered with the county’s Department of Public Works on a reusable campaign and held free reusable bag giveaways at 28 different locations throughout June of 2011.
The giveaways marked the conclusion of Molina’s individual effort to promote reusable bags throughout the First Supervisorial District since plastic bags notoriously pollute county waterways, contribute to urban blight, and negatively impact the marine environment and wildlife. It started in the Summer of 2009, when Molina enlisted over 1,450 unincorporated Florence-Firestone students as “Earth Defenders” to reduce their families’ use of plastic bags.
Students received “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” prize cards. Those who amassed the most stickers on it over a two-month period each time they or their parent shopped with a reusable bag instead of a plastic bag received prizes, ranging from free bicycles to Dodgers baseball game tickets. Teachers representing classrooms with the top prize card utilization rate also received rewards – such as gift cards to local office supply stores. By the end of the summer, Florence-Firestone students prevented approximately 4,000 plastic bags from being used.
In the Fall of 2009, Molina enlisted 3,800 more Earth Defenders, this time from unincorporated Valinda. They saved close to 7,000 plastic bags from the trash. In the Spring of 2010, over 4,000 unincorporated East Los Angeles students joined the cause. They saved over 7,500 plastic bags from the garbage. In sum, First District youth prevented over 18,500 plastic bags from further filling up Los Angeles County’s landfills and waterways.
“Our reusable bag effort showed that, even on a small scale, the positive impact made on the environment was tremendous,” Molina said. “We want to replicate this success countywide and with this recent court ruling, I am confident that’s exactly what we will do.”