Mount Pleasant Paper Bags (copy) (copy)

Jeff McIntyer (from left) leaves a Publix grocery store with his daughters Aylene and Laurie on Friday, April 12, 2019. Publix, along with other Mount Pleasant stores and restaurants, have already switched to paper bags from the plastic ones. Brad Nettles/Staff

In a rebuke of lawmakers' efforts to wipe out plastic bag bans across South Carolina, most respondents in a new Winthrop University poll think cities and towns should be able to locally regulate the containers. 

Sixty percent of respondents said local governments should be able to ban single-use plastics, while 33 percent said they should not.

The poll of 942 adults from across the state was taken the first two weeks of April and has an approximate 3 percent margin of error.

The remaining 7 percent were unsure or didn't answer.

The results were released exclusively to The Post and Courier. The question was designed to test support for Home Rule, or cities' and towns' right to self-govern, said Winthrop political scientist and poll Director Scott Huffmon.

"Any time you endorse local government or any time you endorse small government, most people feel the government closest to the people ought to be making rules for those people," Huffmon said. "That’s why South Carolina in the past pushed for Home Rule."

The responses differed slightly when sorted by respondents' political affiliations: 65 percent of Democrats and left-leaning adults supported local bans, while only 57 percent of Republicans and right-leaning adults did. 

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, argued that breakdown showed that at least some of the respondents were assessing whether plastic bans were good policy, and not what powers should rest with local governments.

Bans on plastic grocery sacks and other packaging have been passed in 17 jurisdictions across the state, all but two of them are along the coast. The city of Isle of Palms led the way, followed by other cities and towns. Pollution and debris ending up in marshes, waterways or beaches was commonly cited as the motivation. 

Mount Pleasant's ban took effect earlier this month. It covers not only plastic bags but also plastic utensils, straws, foam containers and other items. 

Emily Cedzo, of the Coastal Conservation League, said the poll results were "not necessarily surprising to me, but I think it's heartening though that folks seem to agree this is something that should and can be managed on the local level." 

Some state legislators keep introducing bills that would curb those restrictions and stop cities, towns and counties from passing restrictions or fees on almost any type of container, plastic or not. The bill, which has stalled in the state Senate this year but may be taken up next year, also could strip the existing bans in place. 

Advocates of preempting the bans say that a patchwork of rules among many localities is confusing for consumers and burdensome for businesses. The better path, they say, would be to pass regulations that apply statewide. 

Massey said he sees the bag ban debate as a question of how much leeway municipalities should have, rather than a debate on plastic pollution. He introduced a last-ditch effort to scrap the local bans as a budget amendment last week, arguing that a statewide rule would be better policy. 

The proviso died in a 27-15 vote. The maring shows that any bill to stop the bans faces an uphill battle, Massey said. He added he was unsure if the Senate bill would even "come up again or not" next year.

"I think the vote last week was pretty telling," Massey said.

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Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.