New Hampshire law generally does not allow for municipalities to pass local legislation. So when the New Hampshire Chapter formed a committee of Surfrider activists and other environmental nonprofits in the Portsmouth area to work on a Rise Above Plastics themed campaign to ban plastic bags in the city, they first sought a legal opinion.
Surfrider's legal team and an independent NH firm both issued memos stipulating to a clause in the State’s solid waste law, whereby towns across New Hampshire would most likely be allowed to regulate single-use bags.
The Chapter led a strong campaign in 2014 and 2015 to gain support and collect data reflecting public opinion on this issue; this included feedback from local businesses that would be affected by the ordinance. The Chapter then ushered an ordinance to the Portsmouth City Council in 2015.
While the Council largely favored the legislation, which would ban single-use plastic bags and add a fee on all paper bags disseminated at the point of sale for certain businesses, the City Attorney advised that the town seek enabling legislation from the State, to avoid any potential future challenges.
Our Northeast Regional Manager located a similar effort occurring in Virginia, and the Chapter then presented a draft ordinance for consideration to state electeds, based upon this existing effort in Virginia. NH State Senator Martha Fuller Clark introduced SB410, an act relative to an optional ban on plastic bags, on January 6th, 2016.
SB410 went to hearing before the NH General Court's Public and Municipal Affairs Committee on February 17. Our Northeast Regional Manager submitted testimony regarding the enabling legislation, and several NH chapter coalition partners and volunteers attended to testify about the need for better regulations for plastic bags.
Unfortunately, the committee voted 3 to 1 (with one senator absent) that the bill is Inexpedient to Legislate, meaning that when SB410 was brought to the Senate floor on March 3 for a vote, the Senate heard that the majority of committee members do not think SB410 should pass.
On March 3, 2016, SB410 was killed on the senate floor, but the campaign does not end here!
Because many Committee members stated they voted against the bill due to it being duplicative (because leading legal opinions state that the authority to regulate plastic bags already exists in the state's solid waste laws), the chapter regrouped to forge ahead to gain momentum again at the city level.
The Portsmouth City Council reintroduced the bag ban ordinance, which is set for a public hearing on January 23, 2017.
We urge YOU to testify, asking the council to maintain the fee on paper bags that is CRITICAL for this bill to be effective.
The chapter is working to craft testimony that speaks to why keeping a mandatory, uniform fee on paper is essential to properly incentivize the use of reusable bags and keep costs of paper consistent from big to small stores. Handing out paper bags for free costs businesses more money than plastic bags AND simply shifts the pollution problem from plastics to paper.
Concurrently, a group of ten NH State legislators introduced House Bill 481, AN ACT relative to the use of small capacity, light weight plastic bags by retailers, to the General Assembly in January 2017. This bill attempts again to clarify authority for municipalities to regulate plastic bags. This bill has implications for the Portsmouth bag ordinance, and councilors are deciding now whether to wait for explicit authority from the state or move ahead with legal opinions that the authority is already inherent in the solid waste regs. Stay tuned for hearing & other details - or reach out to learn more and get involved!
Find out how YOU can help by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!