An Oklahoma Lawmaker Is Trying to Make Plastic Bag Bans and Taxes Illegal Across the State

It's a proposed ban on bans. Yup.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Mar. 11 2019, Updated 4:50 p.m. ET

plastic bag oklahoma
Source: Cate Gillon/Getty Images

A slew of countries, states, and cities around the world have lowered their environmental footprint by banning or taxing plastic bags and other single-use plastic items — but one state seems to be headed in the opposite direction. As reported by Tulsa World, a bill currently making its way through Oklahoma's legal system would prohibit any Oklahoma cities from banning or taxing single-use plastic, including plastic bags, containers, and more. That's right — it's a proposed ban on bans.

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Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, is responsible for the bill, known as Senate Bill 1001. As Tulsa World noted, the bill would ban Oklahoma cities from banning or taxing any sort of bags, containers, bottles, or packages made from plastic, as well as cardboard, paper, aluminum, and glass. 

OK, so why on earth would someone want to ban cities from reducing access to single-use plastics? As Tulsa World reported, Leewright said that the bill is "needed for uniformity of commerce across the state." Breea Clark, a current City Council member and the mayor-elect of Norman, Oklahoma, has a theory as to what Leewright means by that, as she told the Norman Transcript.

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"I believe Sen. Leewright is making the argument that businesses want consistency and they won't move to Oklahoma without a plastic bag ordinance, which is insane and a completely unreasonable argument," she said, as per the Norman Transcript. "Tell me one business that's not going to move here because we don't have a preemption bill in place. I'll listen, but I really don't think you're going to find one."

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However, Leewright's former career could also be a factor here. According to his campaign website, Leewright spent 10 years at a Fortune 500 company, working on a large trading floor in oil and natural gas derivatives.  Leewright did not immediately respond to Green Matters' request for comment. 

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Tulsa World spoke with Mike Fina, executive director of the Oklahoma Municipal League, an organization that acts as a voice for Oklahoma cities and towns. Fina pointed out that this bill is entirely preemptive, as no Oklahoma municipalities are even considering plastic bag bans at the moment. He believes passing this bill at the state level takes away control from the cities — something that Clark thinks is unjust. "I think that we have the right to make local decisions at the local level," Clark told the Norman Transcript. "I really wish that the state legislature would realize that."

Clark also clarified that this bill would not require citizens pay for plastic bags — a message she claims Leewright and the bill's allies falsely spread before the Senate vote. "All you have to do is bring a reusable bag or plastic bags you already have and there would be no fee whatsoever," she told the Norman Transcript.

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Last week, the bill passed in the Oklahoma Senate 35-9, as per the Norman Transcript. Next, the bill will go to the House, today, March, 11. As per the Oklahoma State Legislature's website, the calendar for today's proceedings was scheduled to discuss SB 1001, which the calendar defines as an "emergency" and described as dealing with "Environment and natural resources; defining auxiliary container; restricting issuance of certain ordinance relating to containers."

If the bill passes in the House, it will go to Governor Kevin Stitt; if he signs the bill, it will go into effect this November. Even though no cities currently have plans to ban plastic bags and the like, hopefully they will retain the option to do so in the future.

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