The Vermont Senate has backed away from a ban on plastic bags and has decided not to expand the state’s bottle bill.
The votes came after the Senate engaged in a lengthy debate that touched on the power of beverage industry lobbyists and the benefits of universal recycling.
The plastic prohibition has foes in high places. Governor Peter Shumlin is not a fan of the bag ban, which was a surprise amendment to a solid waste bill. Shumlin made his displeasure known at his weekly news conference. The governor said the move against disposable grocery bags was un needed legislative activism.
"I think that bill’s an indication it’s time for the Legislature to finish up their work and go home," he said.
The Senate appeared ready to bag the ban, but then it got caught up in a lengthy debate over expanding the state’s bottle bill.
Orange Democrat Mark MacDonald did a little trash talking to make his point that the bottle bill should be extended to include beverages besides beer and soda. He rattled a bag of aluminum cans to show they were all exempt from the state’s bottle deposit law.
Grand Isle Senator Dick Mazza objected to the show and tell.
"Point of order! I didn’t think there was a recycling center in the Senate," Mazza shouted.
But Mazza’s objection was overruled. Then other senators weighed in. Caledonia Republican Joe Benning said he frequently picks up arm loads of bottles and cans on his daily walk. He urged the Senate to expand the bottle bill as a way to eliminate road side litter.
"My wife and I could walk the distance of less than 100 yards and come up right away with 31 bottles and cans that were not beer and soda bottles," he said. "This is what’s lining our roadsides. This is what’s filling up our landfills."
But other Senators said the issue had not been studied in depth. Franklin Republic Randy Brock said the Senate was rushing to a vote without enough information.
"This amendment regarding the bottle bill and the other portion of the amendment regarding the plastic bags were things that were added to the Natural Resources Committee at the 23rd and a half hour," he said. "We didn’t study them. We didn’t really take testimony on them; they just appeared and we voted."
In the end, Senators voted against both the bottle bill expansion and the bag ban. They then gave preliminary approval to the underlying legislation. The bill sets broad recycling goals for the state to meet over the next five years.