A push by coastal communities across South Carolina to ban plastic bags hit a major roadblock on Wednesday. But Beaufort County, which quickly worked to pass its ban late last month, will be in clear.
The South Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit local governments from banning plastic bags in a 73-41 vote.
Rep. Michael Rivers was the only Beaufort County representative who voted in support of the bill.
Last month, Beaufort County, the City of Beaufort and the Town of Hilton Head Island passed plastic bag bans. Bluffton and Port Royal are expected to cast their final votes next week.
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An amendment added to the state bill on Wednesday will allow communities that approved bans before Jan. 31 to keep their bans. This will include Beaufort County and each of the four municipalities, if Bluffton and Port Royal pass their bans next week.
State Rep. Bill Herbkersman, who represents Bluffton, asked how the bill would affect Bluffton and Port Royal and was told that both municipalities would be protected since Beaufort County’s ordinance only becomes effective after all the municipalities in county pass it.
Those who oppose the bill argue it goes against home rule.
“Why are we getting away or trying to do away with home rule?” said Rep. Cezar McKnight, the representative from Williamsburg. “Because that’s effectively what we’re doing. And it won’t just be the plastic bag people who are here this time. It’ll be another special interest group that’s here another time and another time and a time after that, until we’ve effectively done away with our county councils and our municipalities.”
According to McKnight, representatives from the plastic bag industry vigorously lobbied state officials.
“We’ve had the plastic bag interests come up here to Columbia and rather than go to the local counties and municipalities that have enacted these ordinances prohibiting the bags and lobbying them to change, they’ve come up here to get us to just pass this bill that’s going to be on those local municipalities,” McKnight said.
Representatives from the plastic bag industry — American Progressive Bag Alliance and the South Carolina Retailers Association — did reach out to county officials and attend several public comment sessions held by the county. However, the groups did not attend any of the county or municipality meetings within the last couple of months.
The bill, which was killed in the House last year by only a single vote, was picked back up where it left off when the new session started last month.
Proponents of the bill, as well as restaurant and store owners, have voiced concerns about the costs of blocking plastic bags on manufacturers.
Rep. Garry Smith, the representative from Greenville, voted in support of the bill and argued that plastic bag bans violated the state constitution.
“When you look at what is allowed under the constitution — both federal and state constitutions — it definitely says interstate commerce is a federal issue and those issues of commerce (within a state) are the responsibility of the state,” he said.
Smith went on to say he believed plastic bag manufacturers had legal recourse to challenge municipalities and counties that have already passed plastic bag bans.
Aside from Beaufort County, three other coastal cities — Folly Beach, Isle of Palms and Surfside Beach — have implemented similar prohibitions of plastic bags. Like Beaufort County, Surfside Beach passed its ban at the end of January, just making the deadline.
Mount Pleasant also started considering a plastic bag ban recently, but the city would not make the cut-off if the bill is signed into law.
The bill still needs approval from the Senate, so it could be altered or blocked entirely.
State Sen. Tom Davis, who represents Beaufort County, said he is sure the bill will not pass the Senate.
“I feel so strongly that if it somehow makes it through subcommittee and committee, I’ll move to block the bill so that it will take two-thirds vote to override,” Davis said. “... and I’ve already polled the Senate. There are not two-thirds of senators who will be willing to take this bill up and strip away the authority of local governments.”