Laredo Bag Ordinance: Oral Arguments at the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio
On June 28, RGISC attended Oral Arguments at the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio on the Laredo plastic bag ordinance.
RGISC worked with hundreds of Laredoans from all walks of life for nearly 10 years to help get this Checkout Bag Reduction ordinance passed.
Its simple purposes are clearly stated in the ordinance: beautification efforts by controlling plastic bag litter, controlling costs associated with the maintenance of storm drains, and protecting life and property from flooding that occurs when these storm drains are obstructed by plastic bags.
But the Laredo Downtown Merchants remain opposed to it and have distorted its purposes by trying to make the twisted argument that the ordinance is preempted (or prohibited) by a statewide solid waste management law that was passed in the early 1990's.
We vehemently disagree.
The ordinance is very clear in its goals and purpose, none of which have to do with solid waste management, or controlling what enters into city landfills. There is much more at stake than meets the eye in this battle that now fits the parable of David and Goliath. It is about the steady push to take power away from cities, and prevent them from passing laws that would protect their citizens, for the interest of Big Business and industry-funded groups that have a stranglehold on the Texas Legislature.
As we speak, there is a group of Texas legislators, none from Laredo, who are working to protect Big Business interests in Texas by removing powers from municipalities and home rule cities like Laredo, and prohibit them from passing laws that would protect the lives, property, environment and taxpayer money within their own community.
This must be stopped.
In Laredo, the hard-fought 10 year campaign included nearly 80 public hearings and led to a 6-1 City Council vote on June 2, 2014. The ordinance took effect on April 30, 2015, and in that time, Laredo has drastically reduced the 120 million single-use plastic bags that it once consumed each and every year.
Our landscape and environment are no longer distorted by these lightweight, airborne, petroleum-based plastic bags that were once so prevalent throughout our City.
New Laredo Plastic Bag Ordinance
In 2014, RGISC secured a significant victory in its 10 year battle to limit the use of plastic bags by grocery stores and retail merchants. The City Council approved an ordinance that will limit the 120 million plastic bags that are used each year in Laredo.
Plastic Bag Timeline
RGISC surveyed TAMIU and heads of households throughout all 8 Laredo City Council districts. In the end, we had 827 completed surveys with 81% of respondents saying they favored an ordinance to reduce plastic bags.
August 5, 2013 City Council voted 5-3 to pass a plastic bag ordinance with a fee (undertermined), and a certain thickness (undetermined), set to take effect in January 2015.
April 21, 2014 City Council voted 7-0 to pass a $1 fee on bags, and reduce thickness to 2 mils.
May 19, 2014 City Council reversed their previous position on the $1 fee for every retail transaction, and reducing the thickness of the plastic bags from 4 mils to 2 mils.
The decision was to do a ban, with no fee, and to include exemptions (i.e.restaurants, meat, produce, florists, veterinarians, pharmacists, cold and hot food, nonprofits).
June 2, 2014 This was the final vote on the ordinance. It was 6-1 with Councilmen Liendo voting against, and Councilmen San Miguel absent.
March 27, 2015 Merchants file TRO and Lawsuit
April 10, 2015 First Court Hearing
April 20, 2015 The San Antonio law firm Denton, Navarro argued the ordinance during a cross-exam of Les Norton. They stated that any retail store could sell the plastic bags for whatever amount, even if it’s 1 cent, with the existing ordinance.
With the help of new Councilman Roberto Balli, a meeting was convened at City Hall with city management, city attorney, Xochitl, Balli and a few other council members. They decided to fire the law firm, and do the legal work in-house, and also tighten up the ordinance with better language.
April 27, 2015 A special city council meeting was called. They took formal action and said that no plastic bags, less than 4 mils, could be sold or distributed in a Laredo retail store.
April 30, 2015 Ordinance Takes Effect but is not enforceable
June 29, 2015 This is the final ruling in District Court. Beckie Palomo rules in favor of the City.
Merchants state that they will appeal her ruling with the 4th Court of Appeals.
Laredo ordinance is now in full effect, and fully enforceable.
In recognition of these individuals who played a key role in passage of this ordinance:
Dr. Jim Earhart, Rukmani Kuppuswami, & Birdie Torres RGISC’s visionary leaders, who a decade ago began calling attention to this serious problem in Laredo.
Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee& City Environmental staff: Riazul Mia and John Porter They did much of the legwork and research into crafting this ordinance, and held between 30-40 public hearings over the years with retailers and the community.
Councilman Alex Perez. Sister Rosemary Welsh and Sister Maria Luisa Vera of the Sisters of Mercy The new leadership during Round 2.
TAMIU professors Dr. Lynne Manganaro and Dr. John C. Kilburn They helped us design and carry out a Laredo household survey.
Board Member Juan Livas & More Than 50 RGISC Volunteers They conducted more than 800 door-to-door surveys throughout all of Laredo in the 8 City Council districts to get public opinion on the issue of plastic bags.
Mall del Norte General Manager Ken Beckmann He gave his generous and unfailing support on this issue. Ken spoke so eloquently and powerfully at the council meeting that his speech may have turned the tide on the Council.
CY Benavides III He opened the doors to the City Council to RGISC. It has been CY’s tenacity, persistence, and strategic mind that helped us during Round 2.
Webb County Economic Director Juan Vargas and his staffer Melissa Ortega They helped us obtain a state grant last year, that provided critical seed money for us to begin our community-wide awareness and outreach program.
Robert Hachar This business leader, along with Ken Beckmann, worked with us to get our “No Plastic Is Fantastic/Sin Plastico Es Fantastico” ads up on El Metro buses and at the Mall.
Candy Hein, CY Benavides III, La Posada Hotel, and George Beckelhymer Their generous sponsorship of our first batch of 10,000+ Loving Laredo reusable bags were distributed throughout the city.
RGISC Staffer Diana Garcia With her creativity, she designed many of the ads and logos for our plastic bag campaign.
Last But Not Least… Our extraordinary group of volunteers and Eco-Ambassadors who have conducted plastic bag and recycling outreach to thousands of youth at all city recreation centers and all Boys and Girls Clubs. This includes Chief David Gonzalez, Isela Ramirez, Lysa Rodriguez, Santiago Santos, Santos Jimenez, Clarissa Cardenas, Patsy Reyes-Morales and many others.
And of course the ever present RGISC staff and board.
Rio Grande International Study Center 1 West End Washington St. Bldg P-11, Laredo, Texas