Single-Use Bag Bill in Political Death Throes

Honolulu Civil Beat - April 18, 2012
Sophie Cocke

Once touted as one the biggest environmental measures of the year, a bill that would charge consumers for single-use bags at the check-out counter appears to be on its deathbed.

House Speaker Calvin Say has elected not to assign House Bill 2483 to conference committee, effectively killing it, according to Sen. Mike Gabbard who sponsored the legislation.

Gabbard said he "had no idea" why Say wouldn't send it on to conference committee and Say didn't return a call for comment.

But a coalition of environmental groups is holding a press conference Thursday in support of the measure in a last-ditch effort to save it.
The Sierra Club Hawaii, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Council of Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation will be rallying support for the bill at 10 a.m. in front of Iolani Palace. They have enlisted the help of the governor's wife, Nancie Caraway, who will be speaking at the event.

"There is still some hope there," said Robert Harris, executive director of the Sierra Club, who made the bill a major focus of the environmental group's agenda this year. He said he hopes that the press conference will help put political pressure on Say to assign conference committee members to the bill, which must happen by next week. The bill started off with much promise at the beginning of the legislative session, attracting broad support among lawmakers, supermarkets and the Girl Scouts. But it's had a torturous path.

In the beginning, there was a House version of the bill and a Senate version. The Senate version sailed through several committees and was passed on to the House.

But the House version never made it through the process. After passing three committees, the full House voted unanimously to kill the bill โ€” by mistake.

Members had convened to deal with more than a hundred bills that had passed at least one committee. The votes were mere formalities. The House bag bill was supposed to be sent on to the Finance Committee where it would have a final vote before it could be sent over to the Senate. But instead it was sent to the bottom of the agenda where Rep. Pono Chong motioned to have it re-committed to the Economic Revitalization and Business Committee where it had just passed. It's a rare move, and members of the House unwittingly voted in favor of the motion.

Chong said afterward that it was a mistake.

With only one bill still alive โ€” the Senate version โ€” the measure's chance of passing was reduced. The Senate version still passed easily through three House committees but it died when the House Finance Committee wouldn't hear it. It's supporters couldn't say why and members of the committee didn't return Civil Beat's calls at the time.

But Gabbard rescued it. He took House Bill 2483, which dealt with climate change, gutted it, and inserted the single-use bag bill into. It was a way of keeping the legislation alive.

But now it looks like that tactic may also fail.

"Now it gets depressing," said Gabbard when Civil Beat asked him on Wednesday for an update on the single-use bag legislation, noting Say's decision not to send it to conference committee.

"Without a change in mind, the bill is dead. It doesn't make sense for this to die given all the support from retailers, environmentalists, kids in elementary and intermediate school. I mean, come on."