Texas Supreme Court: Cities Can't Outlaw Plastic Bags

Saying the Texas Constitution states that city ordinances cannot conflict with state law, the Texas Supreme Court today prohibited cities from banning plastic grocery and merchandise bags in the name of protecting the environment, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

The court upheld a lower court ruling in a case filed by the Laredo Merchants Association against the City of Laredo, which enacted a plastic bag ban in 2016.

The court cited the Texas Health and Safety Code, approved by the Legislature, which states:

(a) A local government or other political subdivision may not adopt an ordinance, rule, or regulation

to: (1) prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law; 

(2) prohibit or restrict the processing of solid waste by a solid waste facility, except for a solid waste facility owned by the local government, permitted by the commission for that purpose in a manner not authorized by state law;

 or(3) assess a fee or deposit on the sale or use of a container or package.

Luke Metzger, who heads Environment Texas, says the battle now moves to the Legislature."This really puts us back a decade now in the fight to protect wildlife and stop litter," Metzger told News Radio 1200 WOAI.

The Laredo law made it a misdemeanor offense for any store to provide plastic bags to customers.

"The Ordinance declares that its purpose is to “reduce litter from discarded plastic bags” in order to “help bring the City one step closer to being a trash-free city," the Court wrote in its majority opinion.   "The Ordinance, in its words, “is not a ban on plastic bags, but an incremental implementation plan towards a cleaner city."

"We are definitely disappointed with this, and this now goes to the Legislature to decide whether they will support this," Metzger said.

He said this is a defeat for 'local control.'

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded the Supreme Court's decision.

“I commend the Texas Supreme Court for upholding the principle that no one is exempted from the rule of law. This ruling sends the unambiguous message to all local jurisdictions in Texas that they do not get to simply ignore laws they don’t agree with,” Paxton said. “Municipalities violate the law when they unlawfully pass the burden of solid waste management to citizens and retailers through illegal bag bans. I hope that Laredo, Austin, and any other jurisdictions that have enacted illegal bag bans will take note and voluntarily bring their ordinances into compliance with state law. Should they decline to do so, I expect the ruling will be used to invalidate any other illegal bag bans statewide.”

Several cities say they should have the right to decide what is best for their own environmental needs, and not have to rely on the state for action.

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