Lawrence City Commission votes down single-use plastic bag ban

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On a 2-2 tie, Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday voted down an ordinance that would have banned the use of single-use plastic bags in city limits.

The proposed ordinance has been in discussion for years, and the Sustainability Advisory Board has suggested multiple versions of it. It aimed to reduce the use of plastics in the city, which in turn could help reduce the city’s dependence on fossil fuels and prevent some pollution from the bags, contamination through microplastics from bags’ degradation, and animal deaths from eating the bags, among other concerns.


The most recent version of the ordinance would have banned commercial establishments from giving customers single-use plastic bags.

“It shall be unlawful for any person, who owns, manages, operates, or otherwise controls an Establishment, to provide or permit to be provided to any Consumer, at a check-out stand, cash register, point of sale or distribution, or other point of departure, any Single-use Disposable Plastic Bag, for the purpose of enabling the Consumer to transport from the Establishment food, beverages, goods, or merchandise,” the draft ordinance stated.

Commissioners had indicated at their last meeting that they’d likely support the ordinance with a few tweaks.

However, “I’m still concerned about the impact on the small businesses or restaurants or small retailers, and so I’m going to vote against it,” said Commissioner Brad Finkeldei, who had said during the June 6 meeting that he still wasn’t sure how he would vote and pulled the draft ordinance from the consent agenda for discussion Tuesday.

Enforcement of the ordinance would essentially rely on commissioners later approving another full-time position, according to staff. That would be a full-time code compliance officer with a salary of $94,000. They would spend about one-third of their time on enforcement of the bag ban and two-thirds of their time on other code enforcement work, according to a memo in the last meeting agenda.

Lawrence City Commissioner Amber Sellers (left) and Sustainability Director Kathy Richardson discuss the plastic bag ordinance, June 20, 2023. (Screenshot / City of Lawrence YouTube)

“We tell Topeka not to give us unfunded mandates, and this is essentially an unfunded mandate,” Commissioner Amber Sellers said Tuesday. “We’re putting the cart before the horse and say we want to pass an ordinance that is – enforcement is predicated on us approving an FTE to enforce it.”

Chris Flowers, a frequent public commenter and current candidate for Lawrence City Commission, had asked commissioners to delay the vote until Mayor Lisa Larsen could be there, because of her environmentalist background.

Finkeldei and Sellers voted against the ordinance; Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn and Commissioner Courtney Shipley voted in favor. Larsen was not present to break the tie, and the ordinance failed.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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