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Anne Arundel County approves plastic bag ban, public campaign finance system

Jun 15, 2023Jun 15, 2023

The Anne Arundel County Council passed legislation Monday night limiting the use of plastic bags in the county and approving a public campaign finance option for local candidates.

The plastic bag legislation will restrict certain retailers from offering plastic bags and require them to charge 10 cents a piece for paper bags. Democratic sponsors Lisa Rodvien, of Annapolis, Julie Hummer, of Laurel, and Allison Pickard, of Glen Burnie, said the goal is to limit the amount of plastic in county waterways that threaten wildlife and get broken down into microplastics that wind up in humans’ digestive systems.

The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2024.

A series of amendments were attached to the bill earlier, most of which exempted certain retailers who don't have a viable alternative to plastic bags. Live fish, dry cleaning and loose tobacco will be able to be sold in plastic bags.

The council's four-Democrat majority voted for the measure along with two Republicans, Nathan Volke, of Pasadena, and Amanda Fiedler, of Arnold. The only member to vote no was Shannon Leadbetter, a Crofton Republican, who said she thought the legislation was too strict a way to remedy the use of plastic bags.

"I don't know that a government mandate, a requirement, the way this is structured is the right answer," Leadbetter said.

In the final moments before the vote, Gabrielle Sanchez, a spokesperson for the environmental group Clean Water Action, argued that those enrolled in federal nutrition programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants and Children, should be exempt from paying the 10-cent paper-bag fee since these subsidies won't cover the fee.

"We shouldn't be placing a higher burden on those complying with the bill who use SNAP and WIC as opposed to those customers who are not relying on those programs," Sanchez said.

However, Sarah Price, of the Maryland Retailers Association, explained it is illegal for retailers to ask customers if they are using benefits to pay for their purchase. As a result, retailers would have no way of knowing if the fee should be waived.

An amendment on the issue was not heard during the meeting. The bill would have expired if not voted on at the Monday night session and a bill cannot be voted on the night an amendment is passed.

Fiedler said she has concerns about the bill's costs to consumers but believes it will be a good way to begin addressing plastic bag litter.

"I think our law enforcement agency, our police department, has more pressing issues right now than going after litter violations," she said. "Plastic bags either end up in the trash or the landfill or in a tree or in our waterways."

Also Monday night, public campaign finance legislation passed along party lines, with the four Democrats — Smith, Pickard, Hummer and Rodvien — voting in favor. The new law authorizes the use of county money to help fund local campaigns.

This is County Executive's Steuart Pittman's third attempt to get public campaign financing approved in the county. Pittman failed last year to get a supermajority of five County Council members to approve putting the program on the ballot and then failed to collect enough petition signatures to get the proposal on the ballot. This bill was sponsored by Smith, the council chair, on behalf of the county executive. Its passage makes Anne Arundel the sixth Maryland jurisdiction to have a public campaign finance option.

Local candidates may participate in the program and have their donations matched with taxpayer money if they agree not to take donations over $250 or accept money from political action committees or other special interest groups.

To qualify for the program, candidates for county executive need to receive at least 500 individual contributions of $250 or less and a total of $40,000 in donations. County Council candidates need at least 75 individual contributions of $250 or less and a total of $7,500. Each small donation would get matched by county funds. County executive candidates can receive up to $750,000 in public contributions per election cycle, based on how much they raise in donations, while council candidates can get up to $125,000.

Peter Baron, director of government relations for the Office of the County Executive, said at a previous meeting the administration hopes the program will allow a more diverse pool of candidates to run viable campaigns. The county's budget office estimates the program will cost around $3 million in the upcoming election cycle.