Kansas lawmakers voted on a bill Thursday that would have banned local governments from regulating single-use plastic bags in grocery stores and other commercial establishments.
The bill also would have banned city and county regulations on straws and other packaging provided in stores. The Senate Commerce Committee voted against.
The failure of the bill could mean a Wichita task force can move forward with its recommendation to ban plastic bags from stores.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce requested the bill be introduced in January because it hoped to discourage government regulation of businesses.
“When you start dealing with cities and counties that ban certain products…you are putting businesses at a competitive disadvantage to competing businesses that may be outside the city limits and not subject to those restrictions,” Eric Stafford, a lobbyist of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, he said at a meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee.
The Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association and Fuel True Independent Energy & Convenience, an association of Kansas-based gas stations and convenience store owners, also testified in favor of the bill.
But some lawmakers said the legislation overstepped the rights of cities and counties to govern themselves.
“It is disheartening, to say the least, the lack of respect we show to the ability of county and city governments to be able to make decisions that best serve their particular communities,” said Republican State Senator John Doll of Garden City in a Senate House. Commerce committee hearing this week.
Zach Pistora, a lobbyist for the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the organization also opposed the legislation because it would limit how Kansas communities could respond to plastic pollution.
“We see too much plastic in the Kansas landscape — in our drains, along our roads, polluting our cities and towns,” Pistora said. “We feel strongly that we have to do something about it. And many communities want to do something about it.”
Pistora said that although the bill failed in committee, the bill’s argument could be brought up as an amendment on the floor in the Senate.
Wichita established a plastic bag task force in 2020 to consider banning or charging for single-use plastic bags in grocery and retail stores.
In January, task force member Brett Prather announced at a Wichita sustainability mainstreaming meeting that the task force would recommend instituting a ban on plastic bags for anywhere from one year to 18 months.
Prather said this could reduce waste, offer health benefits and save taxpayers money on plastic bag cleaning costs and waste treatment costs.
A 2021 Wichita trash study found that 47 percent of the collected trash data was plastic.
The City of Wichita is currently conducting a survey of residents’ opinions about plastic bags. Another University of Kansas School of Medicine poll in 2021 found that 71 percent of respondents agreed with a plastic bag ban, although the sample was not representative of the Wichita population.