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 is planning to regroup and forge ahead to gain momentum again at the city level.
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