New panel to draft law banning plastic bags

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard will appoint a five-member committee to draft a local ordinance banning single-use plastic bags used in retail transactions.
Officials said the panel, to be chaired by Selectman Victor Nuovo, will be appointed in a manner that will ensure both environmental and business interests are represented in the crafting of a plastic bags ordinance that a sizable majority of Middlebury residents have indicated they want. Residents on Town Meeting Day Middlebury voted 838-211 in favor of a resolution urging their selectboard to adopt such a law.
The selectboard initially asked the town’s Policy Review Committee to lead the plastic bags ordinance effort. But officials on Tuesday decided to alter that strategy for a couple of reasons.
First, Policy Review Committee members don’t have special expertise in the environmental and economic issues associated with single-use plastic bags; their main mission is to recommend changes or updates to longstanding town ordinances and policies.
Second, the state Legislature is currently considering a bill (S.113) that would among other things prohibit food service businesses from providing plastic carryout bags, expanded polystyrene food service products, and plastic straws to customers (unless a straw is requested). The law would take effect on July 1, 2020.
Selectboard members considered the option of postponing work on a local ordinance until the Legislature had voted on S.113. The Senate has already passed the proposed law has, which as of Wednesday was being discussed by the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee, chaired by Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury. Sheldon has indicated strong support for S.113 in the House, according to selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter.
Middlebury officials on Tuesday decided the town should move to lay a foundation for its own plastics ordinance and not wait for legislative action on S.113.
“I believe we should establish a committee so at least the work can begin,” Carpenter said. “It would be next year before we could do anything, and by then we would already know what’s come out of this legislative session.”
He explained Middlebury could adopt a more stringent plastics ban than that which might be handed down from the state, but the community can’t adopt a more lenient plastics law than what the state might impose.
The selectboard will find no shortage of people willing to serve on the new panel. Hundreds of people signed a citizens petition to get the plastic bags resolution on the 2019 town meeting warning, and advocates have regularly shared their views at recent board meetings.
“There’s a high degree of public support behind the crafting of an ordinance,” said Chris English, assistant town manager and member of the Policy Review Committee.
“It just made sense to us that we should do what we can to harness the enthusiasm, energy and knowledge that’s already in the community to get this work done,” he added.
Selectwoman Laura Asermily agreed.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for this, and we want to reflect that,” Selectwoman Laura Asermily said. “Having sustained community engagement is an important part of success for this.”
Once formed (by mid-May), the new ad hoc committee will work on a first draft of a plastic bags ordinance and then present it to the selectboard for review and possible approval.
Town officials will clarify whether a local plastic bags law would require a change in Middlebury’s town charter. Nuovo said he believes the selectboard has the power to unilaterally pass new ordinances, while Carpenter said a charter change will be necessary because the issue involves solid waste policy.
A charter change would have to be endorsed by Middlebury voters and the Legislature. Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay suggested residents could vote on a charter change this November and then refer it to the 2020 Legislature. This would mean a Middlebury plastics ban ordinance would not take effect until next year.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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