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Paper or paper? Washington lawmakers ban plastic grocery bags, add 8-cent fee to paper ones
OLYMPIA, Wash. (From news reports) -- Grocery shoppers can expect to fork over a few more pennies at the checkout counter if the governor signs a bipartisan bill that bans plastic grocery bags and adds an 8-cent fee on paper bags.

The statewide plastic bag ban passed through the state Legislature on Monday with a 33-15 vote in the Senate.

Several conservative lawmakers supported the Democrat-sponsored legislation, hoping it will create demand for paper bags and "breathe new life" into Washington's pulp and paper industry.

Senate Bill 5323 targets plastic bags at grocery outlets, and exempts such items as garbage bags. If signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, Washington would be aligned with the 13 other states that have banned plastic grocery bags, including Oregon and California.

"I'm very excited to share that the pulp and paper industry, the environmental community, the large and small grocers, the labor industry ... have all come together to support this bill," bill sponsor Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, said Monday.

The legislation, which would go into effect 90 days after the legislative session adjourns, puts an 8-cent fee on paper bags. Jurisdictions that currently have 5-cent fees, including Seattle, will be superseded by the bill. Lawmakers hope the fee will dissuade customers from purchasing bags while using the revenue for "cost recovery" for retailers who have to transition away from cheaper plastic bags.

The law would allow the use of durable plastic bags that are thicker and designed to be reused, putting an 8-cent fee on them, which increases to 12-cents in 2026. Individuals reliant on food assistance programs would not have to pay the fees.

The bill has been championed by Democratic lawmakers and several environmental groups. But on Saturday the House saw bipartisan support in part due to last-minute negotiations between lawmakers, retailers and the pulp and paper industry.

The talks happened in the 72 hours leading up to floor debate, according to Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds.

"There are very few opportunities, Mr. Speaker, when you get those win-win-wins," Peterson said. "And this is one of them."

The bill passed the House on Saturday with a 67-29 vote, and was sent back to the Senate for confirmation Monday.

The revised bill requires the Department of Commerce to report to the Legislature in 2024 regarding the impact of the bill on customers and retailers, and to recommend revisions for the bill.

Several Republican lawmakers said the ban will benefit rural communities who may rely on the paper mills, an industry that has seen significant closings in past years.

Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, whose district includes a pulp plant, expressed support for the bill during the House's floor debate Saturday, arguing that it will help revive Washington's forestry industry.

"This gives us an opportunity to restart some of the things that we do the best," Dye said.

Rep. Richard Debolt, R-Chehalis, also voted for the bill, saying the legislation "puts people back to work" in the pulp and paper industry while helping the environment.

"At some point we have to acknowledge a change in behavior," Debolt said.

Other Republican lawmakers, however, argued that the legislation represents a regressive tax on Washingtonians, and strips business owners of autonomy.

Shopper Marie Vinton said she uses paper bags to collect her recycables.

"People are maxed out on paying more. I think a nickel is easier than a nickel and three pennies," said Vinton, of Olympia, adding that she will still use them and pay the extra cost.

Many shoppers bring their own bags to stores. For Josh Nicholas, the news of the possible ban was truly news. "Isn't there already a state ban? Jeez, I haven't bought paper bags in a long time," he said.

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