New York City Council Approves 5-Cent Fee on Plastic Bags

The New York City Council typically approves legislation by wide measures with paltry debate.

A dramatic exception to the rule played out Thursday as the council considered the adoption of a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at most stores. The 28-20 vote to approve the bill came only after a fierce debate centering on lofty themes of regressive taxation, income inequality and environmental policy.

“This is a very, very expensive place where people are struggling to survive,” Councilman Mathieu Eugene, a Brooklyn Democrat whose district includes parts of Crown Heights and Flatbush.

Councilman Barry Grodenchik, a Queens Democrat, called it “one of the most regressive pieces of legislation to ever come before this council.”

The council’s three Republicans all voted no. To them, the fee amounts to another tax.

“Quite frankly, I’m tired of my constituents being nickel and dimed,” said Councilman Steven Matteo of Staten Island.

Many said they backed the fee to advance the cause of environmental consciousness. “We’re never going to be able to change our habits unless the price New Yorkers pay reflects the true cost, and that’s an environmental cost,” said Councilman Mark Levine, a Manhattan Democrat.

The legislation, which Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated Thursday that he would sign, requires stores to charge customers at least 5 cents for single-use plastic and paper bags, a fee businesses would be allowed to keep. Stores that don’t comply would pay a $250 fee for a first offense and $500 for any additional offense.

The measure would go into effect Oct. 1, but fines wouldn’t start until April 1, 2017.
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