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Lawmakers Want to Reduce Scope of 'Overreaching' Bag Tax

Four Montgomery County Council members agreed that the one-year-old tax was not appropriate for non-food businesses.

A sweeping measure that aimed to reduce plastic bag consumption and litter in Montgomery County may see its days numbered, at least in the current iteration. 

County council members Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda), Craig Rice (D-Germantown) and Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) proposed Tuesday to limit the scope of the county's 5-cent bag tax to apply only to food stores, not retail businesses or take-out restaurants. 

Councilman George Leventhal (D-At Large) decided to co-sponsor the bill during the council meeting.

"There are things we need to clean up with this bill," Rice said, noting that he has heard the tax was challenging for clothing retailers. 

Since the bill went into effect last January, the county has raked in more than $2 million in bag taxes. (Retailers retain a penny from each bag.) 

Berliner, who was an ardent supporter of the bill after it was proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) in 2011, said he originally had reservations about including non-food stores. He said he was convinced by the executive's staff that it would be a mistake to not include those businesses, as the District of Columbia had elected not to do when it imposed a similar tax in 2010.

"I am concerned about charging a nickel for a bag when people go into a Sears or a Penney's or a Macy's—a department store—there really isn't the same expectation that people will be coming in with a reusable bag," Berliner said. 

He noted that the current law is "overreaching" and may "breed resentment" among the electorate.

"[It's important that we] save our political capital for when we really need it," Berliner told his colleagues. 

Bag tax revenue currently goes toward solid waste management, watershed restoration, litter pick-up and stormwater management.

A public hearing on scaling back the tax is tentatively scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18.

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