Official discussions about Galveston’s proposed ban on single-use plastic bags won’t resume until the Supreme Court of Texas hears oral arguments over a similar ban in Laredo, City Councilman Craig Brown said.
Intense discussion about a Galveston “bag ban” picked up about November last year, but discussion stalled when city council cited uncertainties in state law. The council decided at the time that it would wait for an outcome of a bill in the state Legislature, which would have prohibited Texas cities from implementing plastic bag bans.
That bill didn’t pass in the Legislature, but litigation against Laredo’s plastic bag ban has now further stalled efforts to implement a Galveston ordinance, said Brown, who helped draft the original city document in 2016.
The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling on the Laredo case could have implications on how the city could implement its own plastic bag ban, Brown said.
“It is somewhat frustrating,” Brown said. “But, it’s important to understand where we stand.”
The Supreme Court case, which could validate a lower-court ruling against a Laredo bag ban, is set for oral arguments Jan. 11, according to court documents.
Now, the future of a plastic bag ban on the island hangs in the balance. The city’s proposed ordinance, which was drafted in consultation with local environmental groups, would have forbidden retail stores from using plastic bags for most purposes and would have authorized fines against businesses that didn’t comply.
The issue has been of such interest that the Galveston City Attorney’s office in August filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief in support of the city of Laredo, arguing that city ordinances preventing litter don’t threaten state rule.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued that managing municipal solid waste is a statewide issue, according to Texas Health and Safety Code.
“Cities across Texas are failing to respect the rule of law and unlawfully passing the burden of municipal solid waste management to residents and retailers through bag bans,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in June.
In Galveston’s brief, City Attorney Don Glywasky argued that a city ordinance shouldn’t be pre-empted just because the Legislature “has enacted a law addressing the same subject matter.”
A unanimous decision on the case would mean that Galveston could proceed more quickly after oral arguments, Glywasky said. If the decision isn’t unanimous, the case could take longer to wrap up, he said.
“The process can get lengthy, depending on whether there’s going to be a written dissent, how many written dissents there are,” Glywasky said.
Galveston’s ordinance, which would have had a six-month period before it went into effect, had a heavy focus on protecting wildlife, including birds and turtles.
Glywasky cited Galveston’s beaches and natural resources in the brief and said they give the city a valid interest in the Laredo case.
“Galveston, therefore, has a unique financial and environmental interest in the prevention of litter on its beaches, in its bayous and estuaries and in its streets,” the brief states.
Local environmental groups, such as the Galveston chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, have also gotten involved in bag ban efforts. Chapter Chairman Jeff Seinsheimer, who is known as the “Bag Monster” for testifying at governmental meetings while wearing plastic bags over his clothes, said he’s still trying to advocate for Galveston residents to use reusable bags in the meantime.
“We’re all just scratching our heads and waiting,” Seinsheimer said. “I’m just not even going to think about worst-case scenario.”
Brown said he believes the ordinance would pass, but could be subject to lawsuits at this point.
“I think the city of Galveston, the majority of citizens would be in support of this,” Brown said. “Let’s see how this moves forward at the state level first.”