Editor’s Note: This article went to print before the council meeting on May 1.
The Anne Arundel County Council has been discussing a bill that would ban most plastic bags at the point of sale in our county. Complete bag bans, fees on plastic bags, or hybrids of both, have been initiated in jurisdictions and states across the country. In Maryland, there is no statewide ban or fee structure for plastic bags.
Bill 19-23 is a hybrid model, banning most plastic bags, and requiring a 10-cent fee for each paper bag be charged to the consumer, in most situations. The bill has been amended several times since its original introduction, based on testimony from the public and industry input. Bag ban rollouts have been far from perfect in other jurisdictions. New Jersey implemented the most aggressive bag ban, neglecting to consider various circumstances like grocery delivery or curbside pickup, where the consumer is not present with a reusable bag or bags. California implemented legislation that banned plastic bags that are considered too thin for reuse and break easily. Those are bags that are less than 2.25 mils thick and cannot withstand 125 uses. Which begs this question: are all plastic bags “one use?”
Will a plastic bag ban eliminate plastic bags from our landfills and processing centers? In the numerous scenarios in which a plastic bag is reused, the answer is “no.” Consumers who use these bags for pet waste cleanup, liners for small trash cans, transporting of items, etc. will likely replace these with other plastic bags packaged and available in most retailers. Bill 19-23, as amended, does not ban plastic bags for food services within Anne Arundel County Public Schools, bags used for bakery goods, raw meat, seafood, newspapers, flowers, hanging garments or dry-cleaned clothes. Restaurants are exempt from the 10-cent paper bag fee.
The council continues to deliberate the plastic bag ban and special events permitting bill, which has also received a considerable amount of input from the public and stakeholders. Bill 13-23 will require any special event (athletic event, parade, concert, etc.) with 500 or more attendees — that is not regularly occurring, uses county roads, or right of ways, or uses county services and personnel — to go through a permitting process with the county. Detailed information from the event organizer will be required in advance of the special event and reviewed by the county for approval.
The county will be required to communicate, in a timely fashion, any matters that may be cause for a permit denial, but the county will have the final decision in allowing or prohibiting these types of events. The Anne Arundel County Fair, Maryland Renaissance Festival, special events held indoors, events at county parks, agritourism events and funeral processions have been exempted from the legislation.
Also in discussion by the council is Bill 24-23, which I introduced in early April. This is a follow-up piece of legislation, based on the overwhelming approval by county voters, to allow Anne Arundel County Council members to serve three terms. Prior to the 2022 ballot question, council members were limited to two terms, or eight consecutive years. Along with those two terms was a pension vesting requirement of 10 years, meaning a councilmember could not vest for pension benefits based on their elected time in office. With the potential of three terms, council members can now serve up to 12 consecutive years.
Bill 24-23 changes the vesting period for councilmembers from 10 years to 14 years, continuing the inability for councilmembers to receive a pension based on years in elected office. There is a fiscal impact for every employee in our pension system, and a pension system is important for our employees. A term-limited elected role is one of service to the community and should be structured in a way that has limited impacts on the taxpayer.
Taxes, fees and county spending will be at the forefront of council discussions for May. On May 1, County Executive Steuart Pittman presented his Fiscal Year 2024 budget, and it then moved to the council for a busy 45 days of discussion. Once the budget is introduced as a formal bill, the council will hear from each county department and residents as we work through the details of what is proposed.
The county council cannot add to the budget but is strictly limited to cutting the budget. If proposed cuts are adopted by a majority of the council, the budget will either be reduced by the proposed amount or the administration will reinvest the dollars into another area, with council approval, in a supplemental budget. The county council is set to “strike the budget” on June 14.
You can always reach out to me on these bills and any other piece of legislation or constituent needs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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