COLUMBIA — Legislation barring local governments from banning plastic bags, foam containers or any other type of single-use packaging advanced Thursday to the Senate floor where there could be a showdown next year split along geographic lines.
The 12-3 vote by the Senate Labor Commerce and Industry Committee came after the Legislature's calendar deadline for moving bills from one chamber to the other had passed, meaning it has no chance of becoming law this year.
But the highly divisive effort between the coast and inland parts of the state is expected to resume when legislators return in January for the second of the two-year session.
The bill would void 15 local bans enacted since 2015, beginning with the Isle of Palms and including one taking effect Tuesday in Mount Pleasant — South Carolina's fourth-largest city.
Unlike the previous version of the bill that failed, this one does not grandfather in any existing ordinances, no matter when they were enacted, meaning none of the municipalities with bans would be able to enforce their local wishes.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said that was intentional.
Since the effort died last year without a vote by the full Senate, 10 more municipalities have passed a ban, including two located hours inland: Arcadia Lakes in Richland County and Camden.
"We started off talking about plastic bags. It's extended to straws, to (plastic foam) containers. If we don’t address it at some point, the local governments are going to ban all sorts of stuff," said Massey, an Edgefield Republican.
"The proliferation of local bans are going to continue without statewide action," he added. "I believe we need consistent rules on that."
Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, tried to grandfather in all local bans passed by January 2020. When that failed, she attempted — also unsuccessfully — to turn the bill into a straight-up, statewide ban on plastic bags, contending the existing bans show it's not a hardship for businesses.
"Everyone is raving about it from an area that has embraced the change and is seeing a reduction of plastic bags floating around in marshes and waterways," she said.
Senn was among three coastal Republicans who voted against sending the bill to the floor. The others were Sens. Tom Davis of Beaufort and Sean Bennett of Summerville.
Massey said he agrees the state has a significant problem with litter, particularly plastic litter, but there are other ways to address that than just banning a product. How to tackle that should be part of the debate, he said.
"The problem is really not plastic, it's litter," said Sen. John Scott, D-Columbia. "I remember when paper was an issue, and that's how we got to plastic. What do we do to reduce the litter? Until the state takes a stronger approach on recycling, we'll be back here again."
While the bill would preempt local laws that ban businesses from selling or giving customers single-use containers of any kind, it lets local governments ban people from bringing them to a public beach or lake- or river-side park. It allows fines of up to $1,000.