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Plastic bags challenge the house rules more than the environment

By BILL FIANDER
Insight Kansas

As I recently drove my Silent Generation father-in-law along I-70 out of town, he made a curious observation. “I’ve never noticed it before, but there are plastic bags everywhere. My God. It looks terrible!”

Special because he is usually not a man in the passenger seat. Special because he is the last person I would expect to hear pseudo-environmentalist commentary from. But knowing that he is someone who takes seriously where his local tax dollars go and the image of his community, combined with a newfound passenger status, I have heeded a lesson in local self-determination enshrined in the Kansas Constitution, also known as ‘home rule’. ”

Simply put: its right to solve a local problem locally.

This session, the Kansas Legislature again tried to end home rule with House Bill 2446: a broad-based but simple one-page bill designed to ban cities and counties from regulating “auxiliary containers” – plastic straws, bags , cups, packages, bottles, etc. for the transportation, consumption or protection of food, beverages or merchandise.

Two weeks ago, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly vetoed the plastic bag bill without a single reference to environmental conservation, the deterioration of waterways, the toxicity of microplastics in our bloodstream, greenhouse gas emissions, or the Pacific garbage patch that has grown bigger than Kansas itself.

Instead, she reserved her 45-word veto to extol the virtues of local control and accountability enshrined in the 1961 constitutional amendment to the Kansas Constitution, where “powers and authority granted to cities under this section shall be liberal are interpreted with the aim of giving cities the greatest share of self-government.”

Cities no longer had to get state approval for their laws. Local government was given the power to reflect the needs and values ​​of their citizens, without state interference.

The logic of home rule assumes that a municipality is unique – what makes sense for Dodge City may not make sense for Manhattan – and will ultimately act in its own interests so that people don’t vote with their feet or for new representation.

The challenge of home rule is compliance.

Effective March 1, the City of Lawrence is determining their interest in implementing a ban on single-use plastic bags, the first of its kind in the state. They affirmed their desire to think globally and act locally against the 29 to 36 million discarded plastic bags that litter the nooks and crannies of their city every year.

Conversely, the passage of HB 2446 would have nullified the wishes of their residents and the wishes of the residents of other cities for self-government.

Slopes are slippery. When the legislature begins to assert its voice on local issues in one city, it becomes easier to assert its voice on a local issue important to your city the next day. Past or current shifts toward local control include smoking in public places, the age of tobacco purchasers, political board rules, zoning to increase housing supply, solar panels on roofs, homeless camping, and controlling pet populations.

Maybe some of this is getting through to lawmakers. Being the only state in the Great Plains not to ban plastic bags, the bill had a surprisingly comfortable veto-override margin in the House of Representatives (72-51) and the Senate (24-16).

Maybe they’ll realize that a statewide ban would eliminate enough discarded bags in Kansas every year to circle the Earth six times.

Or that it’s harder to escape the irony of condemning federal interference in state affairs when you do the same in local affairs.

Bill Fiander teaches university courses specializing in public administration, urban planning, and state/local government. He is the former director of planning and development for the city of Topeka and holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from George Washington University.