Paper, Plastic or Freedom

Paper, Plastic or Freedom

There is almost nothing that surprises me in California politics anymore. When State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) presented a bill to ban “single-use” plastic bags at an Assembly hearing this week, I couldn’t believe he could do it with a straight face.  

During debate, it struck me that this issue isn’t about bags or jobs or litter–it’s about freedom. The real question isn’t which kind of bag to use at the grocery store, but the right to choose it in a marketplace controlled by the consumer, not the government.  

This plastic bag ban is simply a way to increase government control over our lives, by supplanting the right to choose with a ban on everyone.

This is the plan to ban plastic bags, as outlined in Senate Bill 270:

Step 1: Ban thin, useful, inexpensive plastic bags that you get for free at every grocery and convenience store by labeling them “single-use.”

Step 2: Levy a statewide 10 cent per bag charge on all paper bags, to be collected at the point of sale and for the benefit of the store owner.

Step 3: Prohibit stores from offering so-called “re-useable” bags unless they are independently certified by a government agency using a process not yet invented. That enables big competitors to use this same process in an attempt to disqualify a smaller competitor’s product.

Step 4: Spend $2 million of our tax dollars to create government jobs to oversee the whole process, and subsidize the manufacture of expensive, heavy-duty plastic bags, which no one wants, at prices no rational person would pay.
It is difficult to understand why someone from the Democratic Party, which claims to represent and help the “little guy,” would do something that will hurt the working poor, and those who have the least among us. Whether they opt to buy paper bags at a price set by the government, or they buy the more expensive heavier plastic bags, this bill will tax their ability to put food on the table.

Moreover, the bags we currently enjoy using should never be described as “single use.” Most people use them multiple times–for trash, lunches, gym clothes, doggie poop cleanup bags, and for carrying kids’ items. And many shoppers already reuse plastic bags for groceries.  

I shared my concerns and questions with Sen. Padilla at the hearing:

“Senator Padilla, let me get this straight. What you are trying to do here is regulate is personal responsibility, not bags, and yet, you’re, prejudiced against a certain type of plastic bag that you describe as ‘single use,’ instead of changing the behavior of those who litter. I can tell you that most people use those bags over and over for a bathroom trash ban liner, or a lunch bag, so it’s not accurate to call them ‘single use.’ You say the new plastic bags will need to be certified, right?”

“Yes,” Sen. Padilla said.

“Could you please explain to me, what is the process for getting a bag certified?”

“Well, that process has not yet been developed, but it will be overseen by the same agency in charge of recycling…” Padilla said.

“Will there be a charge to have your bag certified?”

“Oh yes…” said Padilla.

“So, you are going to use those fees to hire regulators to oversee the process and in the end, grow government…”

“Uh No, they are already overseeing the recycling…” Padilla answered.

“But you just admitted that you will require that every bag design be certified and someone will have to do that, so you will need to hire more government workers to do this added task, correct?”

“Correct, but….” said Padilla.

“Now, Senator, please tell me something. Given that you are deeply concerned about litter, why not attempt to do something to educate the public about litter, rather than banning plastic bags.  Wouldn’t that be more productive? Because, who is going to determine if a ‘re-useable’ plastic bag of the heavy gauge type has been used enough to discard? How will you know if it’s been used one time, ten times or a hundred times? So how much more of a burden will it be if our society does not change its behavior and simply discards these new bags whether on the streets or in the trash?”

It’s hard to dream up a worse idea than banning a product that is useful, versatile and inexpensive, and already a recycled product.  

And that’s when it hit me: that what this bill seeks to do is create a new revenue source for the state. What will start out as a fee for new plastic bags, will eventually be confiscated from the store owners and become a “bag tax” to support the army of government “plastic bag” police. The “plastic bag” police will eventually form or join a public sector union, so they can legally bribe politicians to grow their fiefdom and pass more laws like this so that they can grow their numbers and their power. 

And that is why government has become the fastest growing industry in our state, and why it is the greatest threat to your future, your finances and your freedom.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, represents the 33rd Assembly District


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