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Ban On Plastic Bags In California To Go Before Voters

Photo by Associated Press

A plastic shopping bag litters the roadside in Sacramento, Oct. 25, 2013.

A trade group has turned in enough signatures to qualify a referendum on California's plastic bag ban law, suspending implementation of the nation's first statewide ban until voters weigh in on the November 2016 ballot, state elections officials said Tuesday.

The plastic bag manufacturing trade group American Progressive Bag Alliance had 555,000 of the roughly 505,000 valid signatures needed to qualify the referendum after a random sample of the signatures, said Bill Mabie, chief deputy for Secretary of State Alex Padilla. The group had submitted more than 800,000 at the end of last year.

After one of the fiercest legislative battles of the year, pitting bag-makers against environmentalists, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill last fall. It was scheduled to be phased in starting in July at large grocery stores and supermarkets as a way to cut down on litter and protect marine life.

But the American Progressive Bag Alliance said the ban amounts to a cash giveaway to grocers that would lead to a loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs. The alliance says Californians now have a chance to weigh in.

Supporters of the statewide ban criticized manufacturers for spending millions on the referendum campaign in order to continue selling plastic bags. "This is a cynical ploy by out-of-state interests desperate to delay a ban already adopted in more than 100 communities across California," Brown's spokesman Evan Westrup said.

Mark Murray, a spokesman for Californians vs. Big Plastic, said the coalition of environmental, labor, and business groups is confident that Californians will uphold the existing statewide ban. "It's not surprising that after spending more than $3.2 million, 98 percent of which is from out of state, the plastic bag industry has bought its way onto the California ballot to protect its profits," Murray said.

Under SB270 by then-state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, California was to begin pulling plastic bags out of checkout counters at large grocery stores such as Wal-Mart and Target this summer. The ban was scheduled to expand to convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016.

Padilla was elected in November as California secretary of state, whose office oversees the process to qualify initiatives for the ballot.

In San Diego, environmentalists said it's time for Mayor Kevin Faulconer to revive the local ban. The City Council approved the measure last fall but it was set aside when the statewide ban passed.

San Diego Coastkeeper Matt O'Malley says this is an opportunity for Faulconer.

""This referendum sets things back and that's unfortunate, but it gives San Diego an opportunity to move forward on a local level with the bag ban," O'Malley said. "We're hopeful that Mayor Faulconer and City Council will reinitiate that process."

The issue is expected to come up when San Diego Surfrider Foundation officials meet with the Faulconer on Wednesday. That group has long advocated for the ban as a way to keep the ocean clean.

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