State Representative Gina Hinojosa of Austin filed HB 514 in December, a bill which would restore the right of local governments to restrict single-use bag pollution in their communities. The Texas Supreme Court struck down at least 10 such ordinances in communities across the state in June 2018, HB 514 would undo the pre-emption they found in Texas law.
“Single use bags kill livestock and wildlife, ruin Texas agricultural products, damage stormwater and recycling infrastructure, and cause persistent blight and litter,” Robin Schneider, Executive Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment said. “Local ordinances were very successful in reducing this pollution and reducing these harms, so we are thrilled that Rep. Hinojosa has taken the lead on this crucial issue.”
Despite voting to strike down existing ordinances two Texas Supreme Court Justices--Justice Eva Guzman and Justice Debra Lehrmann--issued a concurring opinion which urged the Legislature to take action on this issue. Hinojosa’s bill addresses the concern the two Republican justices expressed in the opinion.
“Having expressly reserved the power to make such decisions, the ball is sequestered in the Legislature’s court,” Guzman wrote in the opinion Lehrmann also endorsed. “I urge the Legislature to take direct ameliorative action or… create a specific exception to preemption of local control. Standing idle in the face of an ongoing assault on our delicate ecosystem will not forestall a day of environmental reckoning—it will invite one.”
HB 514 would be the very sort of specific exception the Justices called for. Numerous business, cities, and community advocates filed briefs to the Supreme Court urging them to uphold single-use bag laws because of the negative impacts of bag pollution on their interests. These included:
Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association
Black Bass Unlimited
Bicycle Sport Shop
Bee County Judge and former State Representative Jose Aliseda (R)
Senator Judith Zaffirini (D)
City of Houston
City of Galveston
Texas Municipal League
Rio Grande International Study Center
Texans for Clean Water
Texas Campaign for the Environment
“Bag pollution is bad for Texas, and if the state government isn’t going to take action to eliminate it, then they need to stand out of the way of local governments ready to lead on the issue,” Andrew Dobbs, Legislative Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment said. “Texas businesses and taxpayers foot the bill for these unnecessary products, and HB 514 will help our local leaders save us those resources.”
A similar bill filed by Rep. Hinojosa in the 2017 session, HB 3482, passed out of committee and out of the House Calendars Committee on bipartisan votes. It did not get a House vote because of procedural deadlines.
Rep. Hinojosa also filed HB 856 in January that would remove the prohibition on Texas cities to address pollution problems from all containers and packaging. (This is the provision that the Texas Supreme Court relied upon to strike down single-use bag ordinances.)