Lobbyists battle bill that would outlaw plastic grocery bags

By Jessica Calefati / San Jose Mercury News

Published Aug 21, 2014 at 12:02AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Lobbyists have launched a frenzied 11th-hour effort to kill a bill that would make California the first state to outlaw flimsy plastic grocery bags, delaying a key vote and setting up one of the fiercest legislative battles of the year.

Last week, the bill seemed in the bag after it cleared a tough committee vote. But in recent days, industry lobbyists, who have squashed more than a dozen other proposed bag bans over the last few years, have renewed their effort by targeting moderate Democrats.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to educate legislators on the facts,” said Mark Daniels, a senior vice president at Hilex Poly, an East Coast company that is the largest producer of single-use plastic grocery bags in North America.

Opponents, led by the company, have spent more than half a million dollars in lobbying fees and campaign donations, painting the proposal as a job killer.

But environmentalists are also expressing confidence as they dig in for an epic battle similar to their ultimately successful fight to pass California’s “bottle bill” in the 1980s.

Supporters say a statewide bag ban is needed to wipe out a particularly noxious form of litter that kills marine life in the Pacific Ocean and costs Californians $25 million a year to collect and bury.

“Single-use plastic bags blow out of garbage trucks and landfills all the time. They become litter even after they’ve been properly disposed of,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, which championed the beverage container deposit law three decades ago.

The latest lobbying push helped stall an Assembly floor vote on the bill that had been scheduled for Wednesday. Three of the Assembly members being courted by the industry to vote no on the bill — Democrats Henry Perea, Susan Talamantes Eggman and Adam Gray — received campaign contributions from Hilex Poly in 2013.

None returned phone calls on Wednesday.

If Senate Bill 270 clears the Assembly, the state Senate must also pass the measure before Aug. 31, the end of the legislative session.