generic plastic bag

Northern Virginia officials long have coveted the power to regulate (and/or tax) single-use plastic bags, and with the 2020 General Assembly in the hands of Democrats, they may get that wish fulfilled.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington-Alexandria) has proposed legislation that would impose a 5-cent tax on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores, with 1 cent retained by the retailer.

Ebbin’s measure – similar to those that were rejected out of hand when Republicans controlled the legislature – contains a significant number of exceptions. Taxes wouldn’t be applied to bags carrying ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, produce, perishable food items, leftover restaurant food, newspapers, alcoholic beverages, dry cleaning and prescriptions.

(A cynic might suggest that retailers likely would rather just pay the tax, and pass it along to consumers, on all plastic bags, rather than try to keep records detailing which bags were used for which purposes.)

Ebbin’s bill was the first on the topic introduced in preparation for the 2020 legislative session, but others are in the pipeline.

A measure by state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax-Vienna) would limit the bag tax to localities within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which includes all of Northern Virginia. It also would tax bags at 5 cents (with 1 cent retained by retailers) and would include most, but not all, the exemptions included in Ebbin’s bill.

Both bills have been forwarded to the Senate Committee on Finance, a legendary graveyard for progressive legislation when Republicans controlled the Senate, but soon to be under the gavel of state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd).

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