The Portland City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee is recommending that the council repeal the state’s first disposable paper and plastic bag fee ordinance in order to comply with a new state law that will impose an outright ban on the use of single-use plastic bags next month.

Members of the committee voted 2-1 last week to repeal Portland’s ordinance, and the matter will now be brought before the nine-member City Council for final consideration.

Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon told the committee that a bill signed in July by Gov. Janet Mills will ban retail establishments from providing plastic bags to customers. Shoppers in Portland currently must pay 5 cents for each plastic bag they get at a store. Under the new state system, customers who do not bring a reusable bag with them will have the option of paying a 5-cent fee for a paper bag. The store that provides the paper bag gets to keep the fee.

Similar to the Portland ordinance, the new state law allows the distribution of plastic bags in certain circumstances, such as for dry cleaning, at pharmacies to hold prescription containers, and in grocery stores to contain loose produce, Moon said.

The state law contains pre-emption language that nullifies local ordinances regulating bags. Portland’s legal counsel recommended that city councilors vote to repeal the city’s bag ordinance.

On April 15, 2015, Portland became the first municipality in Maine to enact a 5-cent fee on disposable paper and plastic bags. Moon said that since then more than 20 municipalities enacted some type of ban on plastic bags or imposed a fee on their use.

“This created a patchwork of different regulations that some businesses argued made for a confusing regulatory landscape,” Moon wrote in a memo to the Sustainability Committee.

That confusion led to the passage of a bill that will take effect on Earth Day 2020, or April 22, according to Moon. It will create a single bag use policy for the entire state.

Councilor Jill Duson cast the lone dissenting vote, saying that instead of repealing Portland’s ordinance it should be revised to conform with the new state law. Spencer Thibodeau and Belinda Ray voted to recommend repeal of the ordinance.

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