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Missouri lawmaker wants local communities to regulate plastic bag use 

The Missouri Times is previewing pre-filed legislation during the month of December, bringing you an insider’s look at bills that could potentially drive session next year. Follow along with our Legislative Preview series here.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — While much of the political conversation this year focused on local control in regards to COVID-19, one lawmaker is hoping to give communities authority over another controversial decision — the use of plastic bags. 

HB 227, filed by Rep. Ingrid Burnett this week, would repeal Missouri’s plastic pre-emption law. Current statutes prohibit local governments from regulating the use of single-use bags in their communities under Chapter 260 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, which deals with environmental control. The provision was added through a House bill passed in 2015. 

“This change would give local municipalities the ability to manage their trash in the way the public wants it done,” Burnett told The Missouri Times. “Where I live, it costs to separate the trash and the recycling. It seems to me that if you have a community that’s taking proactive measures to manage their trash, and they have identified that there is an item that is making it more difficult, and that community votes to prohibit plastic use, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do that?”

Burnett, a Democrat who represents a district in northeast Kansas City, was first made aware of the issue while serving on the Local Government Committee early in her legislative career when a similar bill on plastic straws came before the committee. She said she was approached by constituents about the plastic bag issue recently and decided to sponsor the bill again after first proposing it during this year’s abbreviated session.

Burnett said the current law restricted local governments’ ability to make decisions on their trash management and stressed the bill itself would not prohibit the use of plastic bags. 

“There could be an argument from across the aisle talking about the free market,” she said. “The language we have now essentially makes plastic bags a protected item — that’s not a free market. My bill would not prohibit plastic bags; it just repeals the language and lets the people decide how to keep their communities clean.”

Burnett’s bill quickly garnered the praise of Environment Missouri, Missouri’s section of nation-wide advocacy group Environment America.

“Environment Missouri is pleased to see the introduction of this bill by Rep. Ingrid Burnett,” Director Bridget Sanderson said in a statement. “In order to reduce our plastic waste, Missouri must return control over the vital issue of plastic regulations to local authorities. This is an important step in protecting our clean water and wildlife across the state, and we look forward to working with Rep. Burnett on getting this bill passed. After all, nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our rivers and threaten our wildlife for centuries.” 

Burnett said she was thankful for the group’s attention and hoped for further conversation on the issue.

“I filed this because of the people who notice,” she said. “I think we should be talking about these things. It’s such a simple change that doesn’t add restrictions; it takes them away. It’s an issue of local control, and I think it’s important to talk about.” 

Tuesday was the first day for legislators to pre-file bills for the 2021 session