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In its first test since a deal brought formerly opposed lawmakers on board, a bill banning single-use plastic bags in California passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

The Legislature has discarded the last few attempts to cut down on waste by banning single-use plastic bags. The most recent failure came last year on the Senate floor, where Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, was unable to muster enough votes as fellow Democrats balked.

Since then some of those Democrats have come around to support Padilla's new Senate Bill 270, encouraged by a deal offering $2 million to retrain displaced factory workers. Bag manufacturing plants are major employers in the districts of Sens. Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara, both of whom voted against last year's measure but are co-authors of the latest iteration.

"It is my strong belief that we can find a way to balance the health of our planet with the preservation of peoples' livelihoods," de León testified, adding that the bill "moves the economy forward into a green future."

Representatives of major corporations like RiteAid and Target lined up to voice support for the legislation. The California Grocers Association also backed the bill, saying a single statewide standard is preferable to a bewildering garden of different municipal ordinances. There are currently over 100. Padilla pointed to that proliferation as a sign the policy's time has come.

"Opponents of the bill have tried for years, successfully here in the Legislature, to block this bill, to block this proposal," Padilla said. "But what we have seen at a local level is success in advancing this concept."

The plastic bag industry has assailed the legislation and launched a campaign to kill it. A new industry-funded television ad airing starting today depicts the bill as a giveaway to grocers, who will pocket the ten cents consumers would need to pay for paper or reusable plastic bags.

"We see this revenue as serving no public purpose but going to the shareholders of these companies offering bags," said Paul Bauer, a Mercury Public Affairs lobbyist representing the American Progressive Bag Alliance.

Similar criticisms came from the paper bag industry. Kathy Lynch, a lobbyist for the American Forest and Paper Association, called the ten-cent minimum fee "excessive."

"The formula's been the same: Ban plastic, tax paper and leave the money at the retail level," Lynch said.

SB 270 heads next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

PHOTO: Two clerks fill plastic bags with groceries at the Safeway store in midtown Sacramento on Monday, June 11, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.


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