California lawmakers passed a key hurdle Thursday in imposing the nation's first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.
The state Assembly approved SB270 on a 44-29 vote after rejecting the bill earlier in the week. It now heads to the Senate, where it must be approved by Sunday and has support from top Democrats who rejected a similar effort last year.
The new version won support from grocers by allowing them to charge 10 cents for paper and reusable bags, and from some manufacturers by including $2 million in loans to help shift production to reusable bags.
The bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, would prohibit single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and large pharmacies in 2015 and at convenience stores in 2016. It has sparked one of the most contentious debates in the last weeks of the legislative session, with aggressive lobbying by environmentalists and bag manufacturers.
For years, a statewide plastic bag ban has been an elusive goal for lawmakers trying to reduce the buildup of plastic waste in oceans and waterways that costs millions of dollars to cleanup. About 100 local jurisdictions in California already have adopted similar bans, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"We live in a throw-away society," said Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward. "What this bill does is to make an effort to do one little thing: Get people to use reusable bags."
Opposition to the bill has focused on the 10-cent fee, which legislators of both parties have called unfair to consumers.
"We're adding significantly to their costs," said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills. "This is a tax on our consumers."
The American Forest & Paper Association, representing paper bag makers, says SB270 unfairly treats their commonly recycled products like plastic, while holding reusable plastic bags to a lower standard for recyclable content.
The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a coalition of plastic bag manufacturers, released a statement calling on the Senate to reject a bill that "threatens 2,000 California manufacturing jobs, hurts consumers and puts billions of dollars into the pockets of grocers — without providing any benefit to the environment."
An influential grocer's union, which had withdrawn its support earlier, now backs the bill.