A trade group has turned in enough signatures to qualify a referendum on California's plastic bag ban law, suspending implementation of the nation's first statewide ban until voters weigh in on the November 2016 ballot, state elections officials said Tuesday.
The plastic bag manufacturing trade group American Progressive Bag Alliance had 555,000 of the roughly 505,000 valid signatures needed to qualify the referendum after a random sample of the signatures, said Bill Mabie, chief deputy for Secretary of State Alex Padilla. The group had submitted more than 800,000 at the end of last year.
After one of the fiercest legislative battles of 2014, pitting bag-makers against environmentalists, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill last fall. It was scheduled to be phased in starting in July at large grocery stores and supermarkets as a way to cut down on litter and protect marine life.
But the American Progressive Bag Alliance said the ban amounts to a cash giveaway to grocers that would lead to a loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs. The alliance had no immediate comment Tuesday, but previously said the ballot measure gives Californians a chance to weigh in.
Supporters of the statewide ban criticized manufacturers for spending millions on the referendum campaign in order to continue selling single-use plastic bags. "This is a cynical ploy by out-of-state interests desperate to delay a ban already adopted in more than 100 communities across California," Brown's spokesman Evan Westrup said.
Mark Murray, a spokesman for Californians vs. Big Plastic, said the coalition of environmental, labor, and business groups is confident that Californians will uphold the existing statewide ban. "It's not surprising that after spending more than $3.2 million, 98 percent of which is from out of state, the plastic bag industry has bought its way onto the California ballot to protect its profits," Murray said.
Under SB270 by Padilla, who was then a state senator from Los Angeles, California was to begin pulling plastic bags out of checkout counters at large grocery stores such as Wal-Mart and Target this summer. The ban was scheduled to expand to convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016.
Padilla was elected in November as California secretary of state, whose office oversees the process to qualify initiatives for the ballot.
The law does not apply to bags used for fruits, vegetables or meats, or to shopping bags used at other retailers. It allows grocers to charge a fee of at least 10 cents for using paper bags.
To address concerns about job losses, the bill included $2 million in loans for plastic bag manufacturers to shift their operations to making reusable bags.
Environmental activists have successfully pushed plastic bag bans in cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Seattle. Hawaii also is on track to have a de facto statewide ban, with all counties approving prohibitions.
More than 100 cities and counties in California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, already have such bans. Several other California local governments plan to move forward with their own bans as a result of the referendum, including San Diego, Santa Barbara County, Sacramento, Oceanside and American Canyon.