Bainbridge council members wary of public vote on plastic bag ban

A request this week for a public vote on the proposed plastic bag ban is getting a tepid response at Bainbridge Island City Hall.

Email activist Gary Tripp sent an email to the Bainbridge city council Monday calling for a public vote.

Tripp said the cost of the election would be about $10,000, but worth it.

"On a politically charged issue, like banning plastic bags, the responsible thing to do is to let the people decide," he wrote.

Council members are not embracing the idea, however.

Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos, the sponsor of the ban, said a public vote didn't make sense.

"As a general rule, legislative bodies do not put their policy decisions up for a vote, and for good reason: It's costly, inefficient and most importantly, it is abdicating the fundamental role of those elected to make decisions," Hytopoulos said.

"This isn't the first time that the city of Bainbridge Island has chosen to regulate the use of disposable plastic products," she added. "We have had a prohibition on polystyrene carry-out containers for more than 20 years, and that was not put to a popular vote."

"It costs a lot of money to put it up for a vote," added Councilman Steve Bonkowski.

"From my perspective, I support the bag ordinance, although it is not as comprehensive as I would have liked," he added.

"As a lot of the supporters have stated, I think it's a start in the right direction," Bonkowski said.

The Bainbridge council gave the proposal a unanimous first approval in March. A final vote will be taken April 11.

Bainbridge's new rules were modeled after regulations adopted in the city of Seattle.

A petition drive that would have forced a public vote on the ban in Seattle, led by Republican activist Craig Keller, fell far short of the number of signatures needed to qualify for the measure for the August ballot. Keller needed to collect 16,000 signatures, but reportedly gathered less than 3,000.

The Bainbridge ban has wide public support.

Most of those who commented on the plastic carryout bag ban at the March 14 council meeting enthusiastically supported the proposed regulations.

The new rules also impose a pass-through, 5-cent charge on paper bags that retailers will use to cover the costs of the change.

The plastic bag ban does not cover bags that are used for bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, candy, bakery goods and other items, or those used for frozen foods, meat and fish. The ban also does not include bags for prescription drugs, take-out foods,  newspaper bags, dry-cleaning bags and garbage bags.

Thicker and stronger plastic bags that are used by the many boutique stores on the island are also not included in the ban.

If approved by the council Wednesday, the ban will take effect Nov. 1.

The council's business meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. April 11 in council chambers.

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