NEWTOWN — The Legislative Council, meeting Wednesday, June 5, hosted a public hearing to gather input on two ordinances before approving the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance and the Board of Education Election Ordinance.
Jennifer Heaton-Jones, executive director with the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority, the regional municipal solid waste and recycling management organization, alerted the council to the fact that the state is working on a ban to stop Connecticut stores from giving customers single-use plastic bags starting in January 2020.
She added that there is nothing stopping a municipality from enacting an ordinance that is stronger than this ban before explaining that HRRA is interested in removing the bags from the waste stream because they can wrap around equipment used in recycling, which increases processing costs and fees passed on to towns and cities.
The HRRA supports the statewide ban and is encouraging citizens to consider habits when dealing with single-use disposable items because removal costs have increased significantly over the last few years.
Ms. Heaton-Jones also offered her services as a resource to the town when dealing with waste materials.
Prior to opening the floor to members of the public, Chair Paul Lundquist said he was happy to see a full council chamber and wished that there would be such interest during the budget season.
He took a quick poll to note that almost everyone was in favor of the ban and asked that those present be respectful of anyone with an opposing view.
Most residents asked the council to vote in favor of the ordinance, expressing support for the 10 cents fee on paper bags when a shopper needs a bag, which will go to the store to offset the cost of bags that are more expensive than plastic.
Several speakers emphasized the need for a fee component to ensure the success of the ordinance, referring to ordinances without a fee and the lack of behavior change in the community when those ordinances were implemented.
A few residents spoke against the ordinance, one citing resentment of a rule that impinges on personal freedom and opinions against the fee for paper bags.
Two residents said they would prefer the issue of a bag ordinance be addressed at the state level rather than municipal.
No one spoke regarding the Board of Education Election Ordinance.
As the council debated the ordinances prior to voting, council member Judit DeStefano pointed out that the ordinance committee was hoping to encourage reusable bags versus paper.
Council member Jay Mattegat asked for research on town costs associated with enforcing the ordinance before suggesting the ordinance be added to the ballot in November.
Members noted the matter has been in front of the public for some time and those who might have been reluctant to speak in the public hearing could have shared their thoughts in writing.
They also noted that the online comment system could be updated to capture addresses to discover if non-residents were sharing input. First Selectman Dan Rosenthal pointed out that the town cannot force anyone to identify themselves as part of the Freedom of Information Act.
Member Ryan Knapp expressed frustration that the ordinance was considered without an educational component and was opposed to the idea of telling stores how to conduct business through the paper bag fee.
He moved to strike those references in the ordinance, but the amendment failed by a vote of 8 to 4 with Mr. Knapp, Dan Wiedemann, Phil Carroll and Mr. Mattegat against.
The vote to approve the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance was also 8 to 4 with the same council members against.
The vote to approve the Board of Education Election Ordinance, pertains to the election of Board of Education members, providing that each political party shall have the right to nominate a number of candidates equal to the number of board vacancies and limiting the maximum number of candidates for each political party, was unanimous.