The Capitol's years-long debate over plastic grocery bags is heading to a TV set near you, as a plastic industry association launches an ad campaign Wednesday opposing the latest attempt to ban disposable plastic check-out bags in California.
Under Senate Bill 270, lightweight plastic bags would be banned from grocery stores and customers would pay at least a dime for a paper bag or a sturdier, reusable plastic bag. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, introduced the bill in January, framing it as a compromise that would satisfy the industry that makes plastic bags and the environmentalists who view them as excessive garbage harmful to wildlife.
The bill allows plastic companies to apply for grants from a $2 million state recycling fund to help re-engineer their operations and make the kind of reusable plastic bags permissible under the bill. Command Packaging, a plastic bag maker in the Los Angeles county city of Vernon, supports the measure.
But major bag makers nationwide remain opposed. Their new ad blasts Padilla for putting "powerful special interests before working families," describing his bill as a giveaway to the grocery stores that will get to keep the 10-cents consumers would have to pay for bags if they don't bring their own.
The ad targets Padilla as he is campaigning in a hotly-contested race for Secretary of State. It calls the bill "Padilla;'s dirty deal," says grocers have paid millions in campaign contributions to state legislators and that Padilla is "paying them back" with the bill to ban plastic bags.
"What's most cynical about this legislation is the massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to shareholders of the grocery industry association," said Steve Schmidt, vice chairman of public affairs with the Edelman public relations firm, which is representing the plastics industry group known as the American Progressive Bag Alliance.
The industry association has spent almost $646,000 lobbying the California Capitol since 2012, retaining both the Mercury Public Affairs firm and Sloat Higgins Jensen. It is launching an all-out fight against Padilla's bill, commissioning an economic analysis from Tim Gage, the former director of the state Department of Finance, and hiring Schmidt, a GOP political strategist who has worked for John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush.
Schmidt would not disclose how much the group is spending on the new advertising campaign. He said it is timed to begin Wednesday when the Assembly Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to vote on SB 270, and will continue airing for weeks or months depending on the fate of the bill. Sacramento will be the first market to see the ad.
Last year, a Padilla bill to ban plastic bags fell short in the Senate when some of his Democratic colleagues said it would eliminate too many industrial jobs in blue-collar parts of California. In the new version of the bill, Padilla worked to reduce potential job losses by creating the grant program for California factories to change their products and re-train workers.
The opposition that remains, Padilla said, comes largely from plastic bag companies based in other states. He denied the allegations in the ad.
"I don't agree, but I understand their economic interests," Padilla said.
"Just like Texas oil companies don't like our air-quality environmental protection laws in California, it's no surprise that out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers are not fans of this legislation as well."
Hilex Poly and Crown Poly are two of the plastic bag manufacturers opposed to Padilla's bill. Hilex is based in South Carolina, while Crown Poly is in Huntington Park, in Los Angeles County.
More than 90 California cities -- including Los Angeles and San Francisco -- have already banned plastic grocery bags. The grocery association supports Padilla's bill, arguing that stores would be better off working under one policy that is uniform across the state, rather than the mish-mash in effect now.
PHOTO: Courtesy clerks fill plastic bags with groceries at the Safeway store in midtown Sacramento on Monday June 11, 2007.The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton.