COLUMBIA — Plastic bag bans passed by a number of local governments are safe for now as South Carolina lawmakers have decided to take more time to study a statewide solution.
A bill that would overturn existing bans on bags and other single-use plastics used by merchants — and would prevent any future prohibitions — will not get a major vote this year, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said. He spoke after a hearing Thursday when lawmakers heard from several ban advocates.
The proposal will not get a vote in the full Senate by the Wednesday deadline for consideration in the House before the session ends in May.
The bill, however, remains alive for the 2020 session.
A subcommittee approved the proposal by a 4-3 vote on Thursday, bringing it another step closer to reaching the Senate floor where the so-called "ban on bans" is expected to face resistance. A proposal to halt local plastic bag bans stalled in the Senate last year after passing in the House.
Massey said plastic waste needs addressing, stressing it was not about protecting the industry. But the Edgefield Republican wants to develop a compromise that works across the state. Like many other lawmakers, Massey does not want different rules in each city.
"I think we've got a statewide problem," he said. "Why don't we address it in that manner? ... I don't know how anybody can think having different rules for businesses in Charleston versus Mount Pleasant versus Summerville is a good thing."
Many of the bans in place have been approved along or near the coast. On Wednesday, two grocery chains operating in Mount Pleasant said they planned to do away with plastic bags ahead of that town's deadline this month.
Several pro-plastic bag ban advocates testified at the Senate hearing Thursday, including representatives of the state's river and water keepers, who talked about mounds of trash picked up each year. A manager with the South Carolina Aquarium shared how plastic debris has been ingested by rescued endangered sea turtles.
The number of plastic bags picked up by volunteers on Folly Beach dropped by 80 percent after the city passed its plastics ban last year, said Olivia Bueno with the Charleston chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
Many of those testifying asked legislators not to take away power from local governments.
"The people closest to the issues know best," said Kelly Thorvalson, the aquarium's conservation programs manager.
Mark Huguley, mayor of Arcadia Lakes outside Columbia, testified how his town became South Carolina's first inland community to pass a plastic bag ban.
“This is not just a coastal problem but a global problem,” he said.