Assembly Debating Whether to Pass Bill Overturning City's Five-Cent Grocery Bag Fee

The state legislature is debating overturning a five-cent grocery bag fee passed by the City Council last year. A bill has already passed the state Senate, but the state Assembly is more reluctant. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

Last year, the City Council voted to impose a five-cent fee on plastic and paper grocery bags. The idea was to target non-biodegradable bags in order to help the environment and cut down on litter.

But last week, the state Senate voted to overturn the Council and eliminate the fee.

The effort is being led by Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucuses with Senate Republicans. Felder is confident the Assembly will follow suit.

"I can't tell you what the chances are, but I do know that they had the votes last time, and it was more complicated then because it applied to the entire state. Now, it only applies to New York City," Felder said.

Last year, the Senate voted to overturn the fee, but the Assembly stopped short after a deal was cut between the Assembly speaker and the City Council speaker to delay implementation for one year.

But that February 15 date is now fast approaching. And without a resolution, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is unhappy the Assembly is still considering overturning the council.

"I mean, I think it's unfortunate that New York City is being specifically targeted with the bill that is being presented and that is being discussed, that the Senate voted on," she said last week. "We've been very clear about our position in this Council and what we believe in. We are the legislative body for the city of New York."

"I've had conversations with Speaker Viverito. Our staff has had conversations with them. We continue to discuss our concerns, and hopefully, we can come to a place where everybody is comfortable. But we are not there yet," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

The bill would apply only to New York City. Its lead sponsor in the Assembly, Michael Cusick of Staten Island, says he is confident he has enough support to change the Council's law.

"It is my opinion that in the conference, there is a consensus to do something different when it comes to the issue of plastic bag and the plastic bag tax that was initiated by the City Council," he said.

There are a number of ideas being considered to replace or alter the structure of the bag fee, including making the five cents redeemable at stores, much like aluminum cans. 

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