FREEPORT — A ban on disposable plastic bags and changes to the town’s charter allowing residents to freely gather petition signatures will be sent to voters on the June 14 ballot.

The proposed bag ban ordinance applies to thin, disposable plastic shopping bags used at supermarkets and food stores. Thicker, reusable bags, like those used by the town’s many retailers, would not be included in the ban. The ordinance includes a 5-cent fee on paper bags.

Organizers gathered more than 860 signatures to put the ban on the ballot as a citizen referendum. The June ballot initially had a non-binding question on whether the town should put a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags, but Town Councilors voted to remove the question after petitioners got the ban on the ballot.

Town Council Chairwoman Melanie Sachs said Tuesday the council decided having two very similar questions on the ballot could cause too much confusion for voters.

Voters will also be asked whether they approve of changing the town’s charter to allow the free circulation of petitions. As currently written, residents who want to sign a petition for a local citizens initiative can only do so in the town office under the supervision of the town clerk.

Town officials have said that conflicts with state law, which allows people to freely circulate and sign petitions without supervision of election officials. The proposed charter amendment would bring Freeport into conformance with state law.

Freeport has been debating a ban on disposable plastic bags for two years, and there appears to be significant support for eliminating bags in town. Environmental groups argue the bags harm the environment, create litter and can hurt ocean life, an important issue in a coastal community like Freeport.

There appears to be substantial support in town for banning disposable bags. In a 2014 survey of almost 800 voters, 69 percent said they support a ban, and Bow Street Market, one of the town’s two grocery stores, stopped offering plastic shopping bags last year. Residents at a public hearing last month overwhelmingly spoke in support of the ban and of putting the question to voters in a June referendum.

A number of Maine communities, including Portland, South Portland and Falmouth, have imposed 5-cent fees for plastic and paper bags. Last year, York became the first town in the state to ban disposable bags entirely, and Kennebunk voters also will consider a referendum in June to ban bags.


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