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Hawaii lawmakers propose a fee for disposable bags

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- Lawmakers in both chambers of the Hawaii Legislature want to charge a 10-cent fee for paper and plastic shopping bags, and four representatives are sponsoring a bill to ban the so-called single-use checkout bags altogether.

All of Hawaii's counties already have their own bans on plastic shopping bags. But some of their ordinances have yet to take effect, and the proposals being considered at the state level would apply to paper bags, too.

Sen. Russell Ruderman, a Democrat, says the fee proposal is part of a worldwide movement toward reusable bags.

"I think it's important to encourage people to move away from the 'use it once and throw it away' mentality," Ruderman said.

He said the revenue will be dedicated to protecting the environment.

House Minority Whip Lauren Cheape is one of the lawmakers hoping to ban disposable bags. The newly elected Republican says a ban is a more straightforward way of addressing the issue than a fee.

She called the fee proposal a "tax under the guise of something that is supposed to be good for the environment."

A ban "forces us to make the difficult decisions" but is the best solution given Hawaii's high cost of living, Cheape said.

Rep. Sharon Har, the bill's author, agrees.

"The government needs the courage to do what is right for the environment without hurting consumers," Har said.

She said a disposable bag fee would be a tenuous revenue source and would disproportionally burden low and middle income people.

"At the end of the day, there is no need to tax and spend to do what is right," Har said.

Hawaii House Majority Leader Scott Saiki says he supports the idea of a fee, but says it might be better addressed at the county level. In May, Honolulu became the last county in the state to approve a ban on plastic shopping bags.

But unlike the bills being considered in the Legislature, the county ordinances apply to only to disposable plastic bags, not paper ones. And it could be a while before the county bans are all in effect; Honolulu's ordinance, for instance, won't be implemented until July 2015.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie advocated a fee for disposable bags during his State of the State address on Tuesday.

The Democratic governor says the revenue from the bags could help preserve Hawaii's watersheds.

The Hawaii Legislature considered a proposal to charge a fee for plastic shopping bags last year, but the bill was never passed.