UPDATED 6:23 p.m. with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's comment.
"Paper or plastic?" could soon be a question of the past in California.
The Assembly approved a bill today that would ban single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and liquor stores.
AB 1998, which would take effect for some stores as soon as January 2012, bans single-use plastic bags in hopes that consumers bring or buy their own reusable bags. Stores could also provide paper bags made of at least 40 percent recycled materials at a charge of 5 to 8 cents per bag.
The measure squeaked through the lower house with the bare minimum of 41 votes it needed to pass. It now heads to the Senate.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement after the vote Wednesday praising the effort and pointing out that it would make California the first state in the nation to enact such a ban. Several cities -- including Malibu, San Francisco and Palo Alto -- have passed their own bag bans.
The bill's author, Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Santa Monica, called the measure "an effective policy approach that will move customers to use more sustainable alternative."
"Keeping California's oceans, beaches and parks pristine is vital to protect our marine life, our tourist industry and our fisheries," she said in a statement. "Single-use carryout bags pollute our waterways and injure or kill marine life."
But Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine said on the floor that forcing consumers to use specific products wasn't the job of the state, adding that he was worried about the spread of E.Coli, salmonella and other food-borne illnesses through reusable totes if single-use plastic bags are scrapped.
"We continue to go down the road of making more and more instructive laws, prescribing and dictating to the people of California precisely how they are to live their lives," DeVore said. "I believe in these tough economic times, we should be focused on the basics."
Several members, including Republican Assemblyman Jeff Miller of Corona, said they were concerned about pushing the cost of reusable and paper bags under the bill on to consumers.
"Hard-working families are struggling just to pay for their groceries, not bag them," he said.
The bill is backed by retailers and environmental groups, among others, who argue that Californians already foot the bill through higher prices for generation and disposal of the more than 19 billion plastic grocery bags distributed annually in the state.
Opposition comes largely from the plastics industry and business groups, which say the ban would eliminate manufacturing jobs, raise consumer costs and put an extra burden on smaller stores.
Tim Shestek, director of state affairs for the American Chemistry Council, cautioned that the bill would create a "bag bureaucracy," costing consumers $1 billion annually with the paper bag fee and stripping the state of $1.5 million in implementation costs.