The state Senate approved a measure banning most Styrofoam, as well as plastic and paper bags, but the bill will not be heard in the Assembly and ultimately not make it onto the governor’s desk before the current voting session ends on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 2776 passed out of the Senate Monday afternoon in a 21-14 vote, though it was not posted in the Assembly at its Jan. 13 session, the last such gathering of lawmakers before the session ends on Tuesday at noon.
Sen. Bob Smith, D-17th District, the bill’s main sponsor, said that the main focus would be to push the bill forward in committee – bills that are not signed by the governor by Jan. 14 must be reintroduced regardless of their progress in the Legislature.
The measure would have implemented a ban on Styrofoam, paper bags and plastic two years after its enactment. It would have still allowed single-use plastic straws, but only at the request of a customer.
“Every time you made one little shift” to the bill, “then somebody else fell out,” said the sponsor of the lower house version, Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, D-18th District, who chairs the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. “Every time you make a little tweak, then something else came out.”
Smith said that environmentalists, advocates and lawmakers would work to encourage local towns to pass their own ordinances restricting paper bags, single-use plastic bags and Styrofoams. To date, 38 towns have such restrictions.
“We’re passing our bill and while we’re fighting about it, let’s have every town ban plastic,” added Smith, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee.
Proponents of the proposal argue that it would make New Jersey a national trailblazer in environmental protection.
“If we get rid of single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam, Woah,” Smith added. “Plastics are killing us.”
Businesses contend that the ban would hurt their bottom line, increase costs to consumers and lead many establishments to shut down.
There are several carve-outs, Smith highlighted – for example, plastic wrapping for newspapers, as well as fish and poultry products – that would win over otherwise uneasy lawmakers. And the two-year enactment should give the many surrounding industries time to adapt to the ban, Smith said.
According to NorthJersey.com, Gov. Phil Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, worried that the paper bag ban could hurt lower-income shoppers.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, meanwhile, told reporters that he wanted to avoid any sort of fees on paper bags.
“We wanted to make our position clear in the Senate, where we stand on the bill,” he said Monday evening following the Senate voting session, calling the measure a “compromise bill.”
On Monday, Coughlin did not schedule two key environmental measures, both of which were approved by the state Senate.
One measure would heavily curtail the types of redevelopment that could be done on Liberty State Park in Jersey City, so as to prevent private development on the prime waterfront real estate.
Another bill would require railroads to develop an oil spill response plan in case of derailments, and make publicly available their plans about how they ship flammable liquids through the state.
The governor’s office declined to comment, while Coughlin could not be immediately reached for comment.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:54 a.m. EST on Jan. 14, 2020 to include comments from Senate President Stephen Sweeney.