TOPEKA — Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce consultant Jason Watkins wants the state to sack ordinances floated in several Kansas cities to discourage use of thin plastic shopping bags.
He loathes what appears to be growing interest in developing a hodgepodge of local government restrictions on single-use plastic sacks and other products that frequently wind up as roadside garbage. The 2020 Legislature should pass a law to undermine authority of city and county governments to invoke rules on plastics, he said.
“If the state Legislature thinks that banning bags is a good idea, then folks can come up here and have that conversation, and the Legislature can take that action,” he said.
So far, actvists in Wichita, Lawrence, Prairie Village and Salina have to some degree raised questions about use of throw-away bags.
In Topeka, the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club is pushing back against House Bill 2625. It would pre-empt power of cities and counties to regulate paper or plastic bags and other single-use plastic.
Sierra Club representative Zach Pistoria said he counted 72 pieces of plastic trash on 10 miles of highway between his home in Linwood and the Capitol. Lack of state action on plastic trash is compelling local municipalities to consider remedies, he said.
“Our home on the range is trashed with plastic,” Pistoria said. “It tarnishes our great landscape. It’s just a disgrace we’re filling it up with plastic trash.
Kristi Brown, a lobbyist with the Kansas Chamber, said local ordinances that impose fees on use of plastic bags were a tax on consumers. Opposition to plastic bags is driven by environmental myths, she said.
“We’re looking for consistency,” said Tom Palace, executive director of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association of Kansas.
Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, said skeptics of local control on the trash issue were looking at it wrong. He said he understood cost concerns of business owners but was convinced policies adopted elsewhere could be adapted to fit Kansas communities.
“I worry though we take things from a position of fear instead of opportunity,” he said.
Dodge City Rep. Brad Ralph, a Republican, said the House bill would inhibit a city council member from responding to complaints from constituents about discarded plastic bags blowing in the wind.
“You’re putting my city commissioners in a bind,” he said.