Legislature(2019 - 2020)BARNES 124
04/04/2019 08:00 AM COMMUNITY & REGIONAL AFFAIRS
Note: the audio and video recordings are distinct records and are obtained from different sources. As such there may be key differences between the two. The audio recordings are captured by our records offices as the official record of the meeting and will have more accurate timestamps. Use the icons to switch between them.
Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as
Download Video part 1. <- Right click and save file as
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 81-PROHIBIT PLASTIC RETAIL BAGS 8:02:56 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 81, "An Act prohibiting disposable plastic shopping bags; and providing for an effective date." 8:03:38 AM REPRESENTATIVE ANDY JOSEPHSON, Alaska State Legislature, as prime sponsor, introduced HB 81. He said this legislation originally was filed in January 2018; it was modified and made it through two committees last year. He said the impetus for HB 81 is the scourge of plastic bags. He related there is a plastic bag in a tree across the street from the Capitol Building that has been there for a couple years now. He said some may ask the reason for "picking on this industry and not others," and he opined, "We have to have a starting place." Representative Josephson said that "this is a national movement." He said that when the committee hears public testimony, it would hear from people all over the state that "are willing to be inconvenienced for our environment." He said [plastic refuse] does not only have a [negative] visual impact; it also impacts waterways and wildlife. 8:05:55 AM ELISE SORUM-BIRK, Staff, Representative Andy Josephson, Alaska State Legislature, gave a PowerPoint presentation related to HB 81 on behalf of Representative Josephson, primer sponsor. She directed attention to slide 2, "Motivations," and she stated that plastics do not belong in nature. She echoed Representative Josephson's remark that plastic is harmful to wildlife and the marine environment. She said there have been multiple news stories in the last month related to whales dying as a result of ingesting massive amounts of plastics. In Alaska, there has been at least one recorded death of a Northern fur seal resulting from entanglement. MS. SORUM-BIRK shared that she used to be an early childhood educator working in an outdoor summer program. She said she is aware that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a curriculum completely based around marine debris and plastic issues; it's called, "Lose the Loop." She said, "It's a huge issue for this national agency." She stated that a plastic bag ban is "a small but significant step in addressing the global plastics problem and the issue of single-use plastics in general." 8:07:33 AM MS. SORUM-BIRK directed attention to slide 3, "Why Plastic Bags?" She noted that the sponsor of the bill is shown in a photo looking unpleased at having found a plastic bag while kayaking. As shown on the slide, she related that plastic bags are "a major plastic offender" because they are lightweight, thus they transport easily in wind and water. She said new habits are necessary and have already been adopted by communities worldwide. Ms. Sorum-Birk turned to slide 4, titled "Plastic Bags in the Environment," which displays a diagram depicting how plastic interacts with the ecosystem. She explained that [persistent] organic pollutants (POPs) accumulate in fatty tissue and [toxins increase in concentration up the food chain]. She said that makes her think of salmon and whales, both of which are depended upon as food resources by subsistence communities. MS. SORUM-BIRK moved on to slide 5, titled "Why a Ban?" She said in last year's related legislation, a fee for plastic bag use was proposed. She said bans are more common. She related that stores are already subsidizing for the cost of bags by charging more for goods purchased, with an estimated cost of $25-$50 per person each year. She pointed out the photo(s) of the aforementioned bag in the tree across the street. Focusing on slide 6, titled "International Policy Trends," she reported that there are more than 40 countries that have a plastic bag ban, and that number continues to rise: Bangladesh was the first in 2002; Kenya has the strictest ban. She said a reporter in The Guardian wrote that this ban has sparked interest in neighboring countries, and "the once ubiquitous issue of plastic bag litter is in decline in Kenya." She said there is less litter and fewer fishermen pulling up plastic bags in their nets on Lake Victoria. She said the bottom of slide 6 shows the many [countries] that will enact plastic bags in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. She noted that the European Union has gone further by banning many single-use plastic items; that ban will go into effect in 2021. MS. SORUM-BIRK turned to slide 7, titled "Policy Trends - Lower 49." She said California was the first state to ban plastic bags; this past week New York became the second state to fully ban plastic bags; and all the municipalities in Hawai'i have banned plastic bags although there is no statewide law to that effect. She noted that the slide shows other states that have municipalities within them that have banned bags, and she observed that Alaska should have been included on that list. 8:11:15 AM MS. SORUM-BIRK moved on to slide 8, titled "Alaska." She stated that in Alaska 17 communities no longer allow plastic bags; Denali Borough and the City of Homer are considering a plastic bag ban; Homer has "gone back and forth for several years" but will have the issue on its ballot this year. She reported that Anchorage has a [plastic] bag ban in place that will go into effect in September 2019. She noted that those communities on slide 8 that are listed with an asterisk next to the name are communities that "voluntarily stopped using plastic bags out of concern for environmental health." MS. SORUM-BIRK directed attention to slide 9, titled "The Resource(ful) State." For example, some people have crocheted plastic bags into new, reusable plastic bags. Not on the list is "Boomerang Bags" - a national movement to make, provide, or share reusable bags. Another movement is called, "Take a Bag/Leave a Bag," where people donate their bags, which then get sterilized and put out at stores for use by people who have neglected to bring their own bags. She shared that her alma mater, Valdez High School, has a club that makes bags out of old tee shirts. She said, "So, these creative solutions show that you can reuse materials and get to the root of how a carbon footprint can be reduced ...." MS. SORUM-BIRK turned to slide 10, titled "Ruminant Ingestion of Plastic." She stated that this issue was a big motivation for the ban of plastic bags in the Matanuska-Susitna ("Mat-Su") Valley. She said the slide illustrates that the problem [with plastic bags] is not just a coastal problem. She talked about caribou that have had a hole cut in their sides and plastic was found in the digestive tracts of these caribou. She indicated that Carol Montgomery would testify later and talk about this subject. 8:13:48 AM MS. SORUM-BIRK proceeded to slide 11, titled "Section 1." She said the proposed legislation would add a new section to AS 46.06. AS 46.06.145(a) would establish a ban on retailers [providing disposable plastic shopping bags to customers]; [subsection](b) would provide exceptions to the bag ban, including bags that hold produce and meat, newspaper bags, and bags for flowers; [subsection](c) would establish fines of $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation, and $750 for each additional violation - these would be within a calendar year; [subsection](e) would provide definitions for "disposable [plastic] shopping bag," "retail seller," and "reusable bag." She said it is important to note that a reusable bag can be plastic, as long as it is at least 4 mils in thickness. As shown on slide 12, Ms. Sorum-Birk stated that Section 2 of the proposed legislation would provide an effective date of January , 2021, which would give retailers the time to adapt and use up the stock of plastic bags they already have. 8:15:18 AM REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN questioned why the state should take action when it seems an increasing number of local communities are taking action on their own to ban plastic bags. MS. SORUM-BIRK answered that many communities in Alaska lack municipal government because they are not incorporated, and HB 81 could benefit those communities. In response to a follow-up question, she reiterated that the effective date proposed under HB 81 should allow retailers to use up their existing stock of plastic bags before the ban takes effect. 8:16:47 AM REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON noted that when he was young, paper bag use was frowned upon because the use of paper bags meant trees were being cut down, and the use of plastic bags back then was encouraged. Now things have turned around. He indicated that he was confused as to how, under HB 81, allowed and nonallowed use would be separated. He further indicated that after the ban is in place, people who [reuse] existing plastic bags may be fined. 8:18:08 AM REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON speculated that "the difference between the types of bags is so readily apparent that it won't become an issue." MS. SORUM-BIRK advised that HB 81 clearly outlines [disposable] plastic shopping bags and lists exceptions [to the proposed prohibition]. She said the use of paper [bags] is "in no way environmentally benign," and many municipalities nationwide have imposed fees on the use of paper bags. Nevertheless, she pointed out that paper bags are biodegradable. 8:19:40 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND opened invited testimony. 8:19:57 AM CAROL MONTGOMERY, Mat-Su Zero Waste Coalition Plastic Bag Committee, reported that a student visiting the recycling center talked about having seen Dr. Collins, of the Matanuska Experiment Farm, pull plastic bags out of a research moose fitted with a fistula. Ms. Montgomery said she then talked to Dr. Collins, who told her he had lost a couple of caribou before figuring out "what was going on." She said one time Dr. Collins pulled a wedge of plastic bags as big as a football out of a caribou. She said a video was taken showing Dr. Collins removing plastic from the stomach of a moose. She said the coalition found out that the Williams Reindeer Farm and the Agate Inn have lost many reindeer as a result of plastic bag obstruction. She said those were deaths confirmed through necropsy. She pointed out that it is rare for wild animals to necropsied, because it is an expensive procedure. Ms. Montgomery said she called Kimberly Beckman, a [veterinarian] for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G), in Fairbanks, and she confirmed a musk ox calf had asphyxiated on a plastic bag and a turtle from the Alaska SeaLife Center [in Seward] had died from plastic bag consumption. MS. MONTGOMERY said the coalition started outreach to community groups to spread awareness "about what was going on," and people were receptive to learning about the issue. The coalition approached the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce, and people donated money, which the coalition used to run some radio spots and buy [reusable] bags to be handed out in grocery stores. She said Mayor Bert Cottle took on the issue in Wasilla, where the public testimony was overwhelmingly in favor: 47 to 1 in written testimony, 2 to 1 in public testimony, and 5 to 1 by vote of the city council. She reported that Channel 11 News conducted a survey that showed "75 percent were in favor of extending the bag ban to Anchorage." She said [the plastic bag ban] in Wasilla has been in effect almost a year and in Palmer three months, and already the area is cleaner; a windstorm currently in effect has resulted in far fewer plastic bags "stuck" in parking lots of grocery stores. She noted that tourists who rode the Alaska Railroad used to complain about the amount of trash, but that area is "already much better." Ms. Montgomery emphasized the bottom line is that [adjusting to a plastic ban] is "no big deal." 8:24:05 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND asked for definition of fistula, as used in ruminants. MS. MONTGOMERY answered that it is a devise [that can be implanted in the side of ruminates] that allows for a person to reach in to [the rumen] and extract its contents. She indicated that many reindeer on farms have died because "they don't have that option." She said the owners of Agate Inn, in Wasilla, reported one of their reindeer suffered a heart attack after consuming plastic bags; there were so many bags in the reindeer's rumen that they put pressure on his heart. She said reindeer forage for food by pawing the ground, and despite efforts to keep the area clean, the reindeer still consume plastic bags. 8:25:52 AM EVE DOWNING, Alaska Youth Environmental Action, stated that the plastic bag ban in Soldotna, Alaska, has positively impacted her community. She said most community members have gotten into the habit of bringing reusable bags to the store when they shop, and many of them have said they just needed "a push" to remember to bring reusable bags. She said there are no longer plastic bags floating through the streets or getting caught in trees. She said she is always surprised to visit communities that still allow plastic bags, because such bags are "a tool of the past." She said her community caters to tourism, and plastic bags are a detriment to the beauty of Soldotna. She said single-use plastic bags are detrimental to the wildlife surrounding her community; many animals have died from consuming plastic bags. She stated that fishing is also an important economy of Soldotna, but when single-use plastic bags float into streams and other waterways, they are consumed by fish and other marine creatures, which can block the digestive tracks of those animals and cause them to starve to death. She indicated that plastic consumed by salmon, for example, can end up consumed by humans. She opined that banning [plastic] bags is a step toward "being conscious of the impact that we have on the environment around us, as well as a step toward a sustainable future for Alaska." Ms. Downing concluded by expressing support for HB 81. In response to Co-Chair Drummond, she confirmed that the plastic bag ban to which she had referred applies only to Soldotna. 8:29:07 AM CO-CHAIR DRUMMOND announced that HB 81 was held over.