Colorado to Become First State to Reverse Ban on City Plastic Bag Laws

By: - June 17, 2021 12:00 am

John Packer, owner of Fly Fishing Outfitters, grabs a plastic bag during the annual highway cleanup near Wolcott, Colorado, in May. Colorado’s legislature passed a bill that will not only ban single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam containers by 2023, it will also allow cities to act earlier and with stiffer laws. Chris Dillann/Vail Daily via The Associated Press

Colorado is poised to become the first state to repeal a state preemption of local laws, with the legislature sending the governor a bill that would scrap a ban on municipalities creating plastic bag and packaging ordinances.

The removal of the preemption was included in a bill that would ban single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers statewide beginning in July 2023. Advocates expect Democratic Gov. Jared Polis to sign it.

Several municipalities, including Denver, have wanted to move ahead more quickly with tough packaging laws of their own, but they have been thwarted by state law. This bill eliminates that state power.

Lately, the trend toward state preemption has been in the other direction, with more states moving to stop localities from imposing their own standards involving not just plastics, but everything from election laws to health and safety. The trend was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election, as mostly Democratic cities imposed stricter pandemic rules and more expansive voting regulations than Republican-led states.

Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG, a public interest group which backed the Colorado legislation, said the end to state preemption “is a groundbreaker. It sends a message that not only do we need to eliminate plastic, but we need to allow communities to go farther [than the state] to protect their residents.”

The preemption provision was controversial and was initially stripped from the bill, but legislators put it back in at the last minute. Business interests opposed the end to state preemption, including the Colorado Retail Council, The Denver Post reported.

Recently, many states around the country have strengthened state preemption laws, according to Ballotpedia, a nonprofit that keeps track of state ballot issues and bills around the country. For example, on June 1, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a law establishing penalties for cities that reduce their police department budgets. That law is aimed at preempting Austin’s recent public safety budget changes.

In May, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, signed a bill preempting local police department budget reductions after proposals do so failed in Athens-Clarke County and Atlanta.

And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, another Republican, signed a bill into law in May preempting local emergency regulations.

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.