AUGUSTA, Maine — In the Maine Legislature, some issues never are finally settled.
Take the law passed two years ago to ban single-use plastic bags, the kind that has been common at supermarkets and other retail checkout counters.
The Legislature passed a law two years ago to ban the use of those bags, in order to protect the environment and reduce roadside litter. That law was supposed to take effect in April 2020, but COVID had other ideas.
Now it's supposed to take effect in July, but several Republican lawmakers are leading an effort to have the law repealed, claiming reusable bags pose too many health hazatrds but also arguing the bag ban is too much government control.
The ban was originally delayed early in the pandemic by Governor Mills because of worries that reusable bags could become contaminated and carry the virus home or into stores. The Maine CDC said Monday that guidance later in the year from the U.S. CDC shows there was little risk from the bags.
“The U.S. CDC guidance…states that the risk of transmission from surfaces, including bags, is low," the Maine CDC told NEWS CENTER Maine.
But Sen. Stacey Guerin (R-Glenburn), who is sponsoring one of three bills to repeal the law, said there are legitimate health concerns, and the single-use bags should not go away.
“The pandemic made it evident the germ and virus transfer to individuals through reusable plastic bags is a problem, and will continue to be a problem…if you look at it (in terms of) convenience and safety I think what you come up with right now is the plastic bags are the best alternative we have,” said Guerin, who also said she opposed the law two years ago.
A number of Maine retailers supported banning single-use plastic bags at the time the law passed because there had been so many towns and cities passing local plastic bag bans that it became confusing. The Retail Association of Maine still supports it, and for the same reason, according to president Curtis Picard.
“And prior to the statewide law, there were a number of communities had some kind of plastic bag ordinance…and you even had communities that touch each other, from Bath to Brunswick to Topsham to Freeport, all having different local ordinances so we reached a point where a statewide consistent solution made sense.”
Environmental groups are still strongly supporting the bag ban, too.
And Sen. Guerin said for Republicans there is also a more philosophical issue involved in their challenges to the plastic bag law. She said dislike for government mandates is another factor.
“I think when government gets in the way of freedom we often come up with the wrong solution. And in this case, we came up with an idea that’s unhealthy and not environmentally sound,” said Guerin.
The Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee will decide if the plastic bag ban should remain.