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Utah Lawmaker Resurrects Attempt To Prohibit Cities From Banning Plastic Bags

Melissa Allison

After failing in the final days of the 2018 legislative session, a state lawmaker is bringing new life to an attempt to prevent cities from banning plastic bags. 

House Bill 320, sponsored by Spanish Fork Republican Rep. Mike McKell, would prohibit local governments from regulating or imposing fees upon the use of “auxiliary containers,” meaning a bag, cup or other sort of packaging—unless it’s on government property. McKell was the sponsor of the same bill last year that would have restricted cities and counties from instituting bans on single use plastic bags. The session ended before a vote could be taken in the Senate.

In 2017, Park City became the first town in Utah to ban single-use plastic bags from being distributed by the city’s largest producers of them, including the supermarkets and pharmacy. Since then, Moab has enacted a similar resolution, and the Logan City Council has scheduled a vote on their own ordinance in March.

Assistant Park City Manager Matt Dias says the city is working with local legislators and Summit County to represent Park City’s interest in this issue. Should the bill pass, it would negate the city’s ordinance and efforts to reduce that type of plastic waste.

“So, it would basically prevent cities and towns from either charging a fee for use of a plastic bag or from banning the use of certain types of plastics in their communities," Dias said.

Republican Rep. Tim Quinn, who represents parts of Summit and Wasatch Counties in District 54, voted against last year’s attempt. He considered it a matter of local control, though he didn’t necessarily support Park City’s action in banning the bags. As for this session, Quinn says principles don’t change.

“If we can’t allow a city to make a decision on something that’s fairly insignificant in the big scheme of things, then why do we have cities," Quinn said. "So, the principle is this is a local issue, and the locals ought to be the ones deciding it, not the state of Utah."

The bill has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.