WOBURN - The City Council will not let the state Legislature's latest discourse over a statewide plastic bag ban interfere with the rollout of Woburn's own regulations later this spring.
During their most recent gathering in City Hall, the aldermen in an 8-to-1 vote rejected legislation proposed by Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco that would have pushed out the effective start date of Woburn's plastic bag restrictions until July 31, 2020.
The recent council denial safeguards the effective May 1 start of Woburn's bag ban. Under the city ordinance, all supermarkets and retailers in Woburn could face potential fines of up to $100 for packing up customers' purchases so-called "single-use" plastic bags.
Tedesco first pitched the three-month moratorium in late December after hearing the Massachusetts' Senate had passed a statewide version of a plastic bag ban that would supersede municipal bylaws and ordinances established by more than 100 communities across the state. He believes the Senate bill, if ultimately backed by House legislators in the coming months, could lead to confusion in Woburn, as the state's standards are more rigorous than the provisions of the local ban.
"We could at least have some common sense and give some continuity," remarked Tedesco, who last spring described Woburn's plastic bag ban as government overreach. "There are disconnects between what is being discussed [on Beacon Hill] and what will be allowed in the City of Woburn."
Outspoken critics of the North Woburn official's delaying measure, such as Ward 1 Alderman Joanne Campbell and Ward 5's Darlene Mercer-Bruen, contend that state politicians now have a years-long history of letting similar plastic bag ban campaigns die on the legislative vine.
Mercer-Bruen, pointing out that some city merchants have already decided to stop offering customers plastic bags, reminded her colleagues that all of Woburn's neighbors have enacted similar prohibitions. Like Woburn set to begin enforcement of new local restrictions on May 1, Stoneham is the only community in the immediate region that does not already prohibit retailers' use of plastic bags.
"The state has not done anything for six years now, and there's no indication it will happen this year," said Mercer-Bruen. "At the end of the day, there's no reason to put this off. It's the right thing to do."
"We don't even know when the state would adopt their [regulations]. Sometimes, these things are held-up for years," Campbell later reasoned.
Though the author of the proposed moratorium, Tedesco ultimately joined those voting against the initiative. However, the reason for that duplicitous stance was later revealed when the Ward 6 alderman — in a parliamentary maneuver — called to reconsider the vote.
With Higgins jokingly referring to the action as "parliamentary tricks", Tedesco later explained he could have used the tactic to tie-up debate on the council floor "until midnight". Instead, he conceded defeat, but promised to continue his efforts to overturn the bag ordinance as a whole.
"I could do another motion, but I won't," he said. "I was going to keep us here until midnight. I look forward to working to repeal our local ban."
Woburn's soon-to-be effective ban — passed largely due to concerns about the environmental hazards posed by the plastic waste — prohibits all business from offering customers plastic bags with a thickness of less than three millimeters.
The city will rely largely upon a system of fines to discourage retailers from violating the checkout prohibitions. Under the ordinance, merchants can decide whether to charge customers for the provision of paper or thicker-and-legally-complaint plastic bags.
By contrast, the proposed statewide regulations supported by the state Senate would ban all types of plastic bags, regardless of how thick they are.
The legislation also would require shopkeepers to charge its customers at least 10 cents for both paper or reusable cloth bags. Revenues collected from those fees would be split between municipal and state officials for other environmental causes and initiaitves.
Businesses would also be required to furnish free paper bags to customers paying for their purchases with state or federal assistance program funding.
Previous attempts on Beacon Hill to pass a statewide plastic bag ban, including a bill introduced during the 2018-2019 legislative session, were shelved due to disagreements over the imposition of mandatory fees.