Oconee County’s two members of the Georgia House of Representatives cast opposing votes again yesterday, this time on plastic bags.
Rep. Regina Quick voted with the House majority in turning down Senate Bill 139, which would have prohibited local communities from adopting ordinances to restrict use of plastic bags, boxes, foam cups and other related “one-time use” products.
Rep. Chuck Williams voted for the bill.
The Senate had passed the “auxiliary containers” bill–Senate Bill 139–by a 32-19 vote on Feb. 26, with Oconee County Sen. Bill Cowsert voting with the majority.
The House vote yesterday was 67 in favor and 85 against, with some Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. Quick and Williams are Republicans, as is Cowsert.
Spencer Frye, Athens-Clarke County’s third House member and a Democrat, also voted against SB 139.
The House vote was on a substitute to the Senate Bill.
Both versions argued that the legislation was needed because of “the potential for confusing and varying regulations which could lead to unnecessary increased costs for retail and food establishments” in the state.
To prevent that possibility, both versions of the bill said only the legislature could regulate the sale or taxation of “reusable bags, disposable bags, boxes, cups, and bottles which are made of cloth, paper, plastic, extruded polystyrene, or similar materials which are designed for one-time use or for transporting merchandise or food from food and retail facilities.”
The House version of the bill added the clarification that the bill did not restrict commercial recycling or apply to the use of auxiliary recycling containers on property owned by a county or municipality. The Senate version of the bill already had stated that the bill did not restrict county or municipal recycling programs.
Nature of Opposition
Opponents of the bill raised both environmental and home rule concerns.
The Georgia Water Coalition, for example, opposed the bill because “plastic bags end up in our state waters from the mountains to the coast.”
The Georgia Municipal Association, as well as the Georgia Water Coalition, opposed the bill as a preemption of the power of local governments.
Regulation of plastic bags and other similar containers has not been discussed before the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.
In Athens-Clarke County, however, the issue has come up, with Mayor Nancy Denson actually lobbying for SB 139 and several members of the Commission speaking against it.
Quick And Williams
Quick represents three precincts in Oconee County–Bogart, Malcom Bridge and Athens Academy–as well as small parts of Barrow and Jackson counties and much of western Clarke County.
Williams’ district is split about equally between Clarke and Oconee counties and includes much of the campus of the University of Georgia, where there is an aggressive campus recycling program.
Quick and Williams also cast opposing votes on March 5, when the House approved House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, by 123-46. Williams voted with the majority, while Quick opposed the bill.
The Senate passed a greatly revised version of HB 170 on March 20, by 29-25 margin, with Oconee County’s Cowsert in the majority.
That bill is now in conference committee, with a vote on a compromise bill expected in the remaining two days of the General Assembly this week.