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Bag Tax Rollback Considered In Montgomery County

Plastic bags may not come with the 5-cent tax if they're not used for food shopping.
Trisha Weir: http://www.flickr.com/photos/novembering/2681270515/
Plastic bags may not come with the 5-cent tax if they're not used for food shopping.

Lawmakers in Montgomery County are considering the possibility of modifying the county's nearly two-year-old bag tax.

The five-cent excise tax on plastic bags given out at stores in the county is designed to reduce the volume of plastic bag litter found in area waterways. Department store owners argue that their customers rarely throw bags in the trash, and almost never bring reusable bags into a department store.

On Monday the Montgomery County Council's transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment committee held a hearing on a bill that would limit the five-cent fee to plastic bags distributed at stores where food makes up more than two percent of the gross sales.

"I don't believe it's reasonable to expect people to bring a reusable bag to a hair salon, into a jewelry store or into a department store. This tax was intended to change people's behavior, and if we're not going to change people's behavior in a positive way but in a negative way and in fact just create resentment, then that's a negative. So I don't think it doesn't work in some stores, but I do think it works in grocery stores and I think we are seeing a change in behavior there," said Councilman Roger Berliner.

Council members admit there is no hard data to support the claims by department store retailers about the use of plastic bags in their stores. Julie Lawson, director of the Maryland Trash Free Alliance, says the bill's dependence on anecdotal information is troubling.

"This bill is being pushed forward by two or three counselors based on their own personal experience, not getting the opinions of 900,000 other residents of the county that they represent," Lawson says.

The bill now heads to the full Council for consideration.

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