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Legislator calls for paper-bag fee

But Nassau Republicans says it’s dead on arrival

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County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, said on April 5 that she was disappointed that the Legislature’s Republican majority would not institute a 5-cent fee on paper bags, a move that she believes would benefit the environment.

“While the state’s ban on plastic bags is a step in the right direction,” Mulé said in a statement, “we must continue to encourage residents to embrace sustainable, environmentally friendly choices in their daily lives.”

The state budget, agreed to by lawmakers on April 1, banned plastic bags in all New York retail stores starting next March. The agreement made New York the second state to ban plastic bags — California was the first, and though Hawaii doesn’t have a statewide ban, all of its counties have prohibited the bags in stores. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the ban was passed to reduce the amount of plastic found in trees and waterways throughout New York.

Under the plan, counties can opt to levy a 5-cent fee on paper bags, with 3 cents going to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, which is used to expand New York’s Forest Preserve and restore historic sites. Two cents would go to counties to purchase and distribute reusable shopping bags. Last Friday, Richard Nicolello, the Legislature’s presiding officer, said the majority would not support such a measure and called it “dead on arrival in Nassau County.

“It will not be passed by this Legislature,” Nicolello, a Republican from New Hyde Park, told reporters, “and as long as the Republicans have the majority in Nassau County, there will be no paper bag tax.” Republicans, all of whom are up for re-election in November, hold 11 of the Legislature’s 19 seats. Nicolello said that the fee, called a tax by some, would be a financial hardship for Nassau residents.

“It’s difficult to survive here in Nassau, and to have another tax imposed on our residents is simply not tolerable,” he added. Mulé said that Nassau should follow Suffolk’s lead — last year the county enacted a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags. According to the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, a statewide trade association representing the grocery industry, the fee has led to an 80 percent reduction in the use of single-use bags in Suffolk stores.

“Experts agree Suffolk County’s 5-cent fee achieved the desired result — widespread changes in behavior that resulted in 1.1 billion fewer disposable paper and plastic bags being used by consumers last year,” Mulé said. County Executive Laura Curran said she was reviewing her options. “I would say anything we could do to encourage the use of reusable bags, I’m all for it,” Curran said.