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Paper bag fee 'dead on arrival' in Nassau, Republican leader says

Richard Nicolello, the Republican leader of the Nassau

Richard Nicolello, the Republican leader of the Nassau County Legislature, said Wednesday a 5 cent fee on paper shopping bags is "dead on arrival." Credit: Howard Schnapp

A 5-cent fee on paper shopping bags is "dead on arrival" in Nassau County, the county legislature's presiding officer said Wednesday.

Plastic carryout bags will be banned statewide beginning in March 2020, as part of the state budget deal approved Monday. But state lawmakers left it up to counties and cities to decide whether to impose a 5-cent fee on paper bags.

A paper bag fee is "dead on arrival in Nassau County; it will not be passed by this legislature, and as long as the Republicans have the majority in Nassau County, there will be no paper bag tax," said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park).

"Our residents already face some of the highest taxes in the country, highest cost of living," Nicolello said. "It is difficult to survive here in Nassau, and to have another tax imposed on our residents is simply not tolerable."

Republicans control the Nassau Legislature by an 11-8 margin. All 19 seats are up for re-election in November. 

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A ban on single-use plastic bags in New York will take effect in 2020. Counties and cities also have the option of imposing a 5 cent fee on paper bags. Enter the number of bags you use during a normal week to see how much the paper bag fee would cost in your area, if approved.

In a year, you’ll spend $26.00 on grocery bags

You’ll use 520 grocery bags

County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, said Wednesday, "We're reviewing all of our options. Anything that encourages people to bring their own reusable bags, I'm all for it."

Legis. Debra Mulé (D-Freeport) said she was "very disappointed" in Nicolello's stance and said she may introduce legislation to impose a 5-cent fee for paper bags in the county.

Mulé last year proposed a 5-cent fee on paper bags, similar to a Suffolk County law that took effect in 2018. Republicans in the Nassau Legislature refused to call her bill.

The state law will pre-empt Suffolk's 5-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags.

Lawmakers in Suffolk can choose to continue allowing the fee to go to retailers who distribute paper bags. The county also could choose to opt into the state law, under which 3 cents of the paper bag fee would go to a state environmental fund, and 2 cents to county programs to steer shoppers away from use of plastic and paper bags.

Suffolk Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), the presiding officer, said constituents frequently have asked, “why the fee would go to retailers." Asked about opting into the state-county split, he said, "I think it’s good, too, that part of the fee is going to encourage reusable bags — as long as there is not an ability for those funds to be used for any other purpose.”

Darren Suarez, director of government affairs with The Business Council of New York State, said if stores are using more paper bags and not seeing revenue for that, “it wouldn't be a surprise" to see them " ... looking to recoup those costs from other areas. So it could lead to higher prices."

Nicolello said, "Stores that want to charge for paper bags can do so; nothing in the law prevents them from doing so. What we're saying is the government should not be coercing them to make that charge."

A Suffolk spokeswoman said, "Suffolk County led the way in protecting our environment with a 5 cent fee on carryout bags that are provided at retail stores in 2018. We are currently reviewing the legislation recently passed at the state level to determine what effect the state actions have on the county’s law."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone originally considered a veto of the county's disposable bag bill, his spokeswoman said at the time, due to concern stores would keep the fees. Bellone allowed the bill to become law without his signature, but pressed for the county to keep a portion of the fee for environmental protection.

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