Engel Focuses On Banning Bags As Small Businesses Go Begging

“This is not a business friendly bill.”

Arizona’s legislators have a lot on their plates with this week’s start of the new session. Yet while many are focused on financially strapped small businesses, election integrity issues, and getting schools reopened, Senator Kirsten Engel is concerned about paper and plastic bags.

At issue are the kind of bags used by thousands of people every day along with other types of “auxiliary containers” such as cans, bottles, boxes, and cups to take merchandise or food from a business. But those businesses could be forced to come up with new options if a bill introduced by Engel, a Democrat from Tucson, passes.

Engel is the sponsor of SB1132, which seeks to repeal ARS § 9-500.38, the state law which prohibits cities and towns from regulating auxiliary containers. The bill has not yet had its First Read during the new legislative session.

In 2016, the Arizona Legislature deemed the regulation of the use and disposition of auxiliary containers to be a matter of statewide concern. There is nothing on Engel’s website explaining why she believes it is important to allow every city or town to set its own container rules.

But the result, especially for companies with stores or restaurants in multiple cities or towns across Arizona, would likely be chaos, as well as higher costs. For instance, without ARS § 9-500.38, it would be possible for a Target store in Tucson to be prohibited from utilizing single-use plastic bags, while the Target store in Sierra Vista has no such restriction.

Or a grocery store in Florence could be forced to use paper bags constructed of a certain percentage of recycled products while a store for the same chain in Flagstaff could be required to use bags with a different percent.

The owner of several restaurant franchises in Pima County was surprised to find a Tucson-area senator pushing for the change.

“This is not a business friendly bill,” he said. “It seems like someone hasn’t thought this through very well, or just doesn’t want Arizona to be business-friendly.”

Despite ARS § 9-500.38, the City of Bisbee changed its city code in 2016 to ban retail businesses from utilizing single-use plastic bags. The city code included a fine of up to $500 per violation.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich was asked at the time by Sen. Warren Petersen to investigate the city’s code. In October 2017, Brnovich issued an opinion that the code conflicted with -and thus violated- state law, the same law Engel now seeks to do away with.