"Plastics!" might have been the career of the future for Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate," but Democratic lawmakers want to make them part of Colorado's past.
But the first of three bills intended to change state law around plastics failed to win support from state Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, who joined with the Senate Local Government Committee's two Republicans on Tuesday to shoot down Senate Bill 10.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, would strike a state law, known as preemption, that currently prohibits local governments from banning certain kinds of plastics in their communities.
Colorado cities and towns have gone around the law by requiring retailers to charge a fee of 10 to 20 cents. That began with Aspen in 2011 and has grown to include Avon, Boulder, Breckenridge, Carbondale, Crested Butte, Durango, Nederland, Telluride and Vail. Denver will begin the 10-cent-per-plastic bag fee on July 1.
Donovan's bill attempts keep the conversation about whether to ban plastics — or allow them — within local communities and under Colorado's laws around local control.
The times have changed since the preemption statute was passed in 1993, she told the Local Government Committee. "I have more faith in local communities," she said. "I'm convinced this is the right pathway forward" on the conversation around plastics.
Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, put Donovan on the spot on two other bills, both in the House, that would enact outright bans. She responded that those bills might be a bit of an overreach.
"I'm worried we would go down a line of one-off bills to micromanage" those materials, she said. "Other communities that aren't there, because of the culture of politics or economy, would better handle these kinds of laws."
Elected officials from several cities and counties backed Donovan's proposal. Commissioner Jeff Jensen of Larimer County told the committee that this is a separation of powers issue, a local issue and not a statewide one.
Denver City Councilwoman Kendra Black commented what's good for Denver is not necessarily good for the rest of the state, although Denver residents are clamoring for more limits on plastics. "Let Denver determine its own plastics future," asked Denver City Council President Jolon Clark.
The bill drew an interesting mix of opposition, from those who believe the bill doesn't go far enough and who want a statewide standard, to people who work in the medical and bioscience industries and fear that medical devices that use plastics, such as nose cannulas for oxygen, catheters or plastic pipettes used in sterile lab work could be banned. That was a problem for Bridges, who said he was "horrified by the potential impacts of an accidental ban" on certain kinds of medical devices.
The bill also drew opposition from the Colorado Retail Council and the Colorado Restaurant Association. "Patchwork" approaches like this don't work, said Nick Hoover of the restaurant association.
Donovan said eliminating the preemption doesn't dictate which plastics would be banned and that she didn't think medical plastic would be subject to a ban.
Williams staked out her opposition during the hearing, stating she would defend the industries that oppose the bill and dispute claims from those who blame industry for causing the problems. "There's a mindset" that either go for local control or do nothing, she said.
Donovan said the testimony was insightful, and how much she appreciated those who came from all over the state to testify, including from Telluride, Avon and Estes Park.
Colorado Communities for Climate Action, in a statement after the vote, said "local communities across Colorado are struggling with real costs and impacts, and state law has them handcuffed. The Legislature missed an opportunity today to solve this, but they still have three months in the session so we are hopeful they will step up and get it done."
Two other bills that would outright ban single-use plastics and/or Styrofoam — House Bill 1162 and House Bill 1163 — are scheduled for their first hearings later this month.