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Suffolk lawmakers to weigh 5-cent fee for plastic, paper bags

Suffolk lawmakers on Wednesday will consider a five-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at store checkouts to encourage the use of reusable bags.

The legislature’s Health Committee on Thursday unanimously advanced the bill, which would go into effect at the start of 2018.

“It’s brave, it’s bold, it’s well thought out,” said bill sponsor Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who complained the plastic bags litter highways and waterways, endanger marine life and gum up recycling systems.

He also acknowledged it was a compromise. Earlier this year he abandoned an outright ban on thin single-use plastic bags after it drew opposition from bag manufacturers and grocery store owners. They complained the ban could cost manufacturing jobs and increase costs to consumers.

No one spoke in opposition to the fee on Thursday. The nickel per bag, similar to what the New York City Council passed earlier this year, would be kept by the retailers.

Bans on single-use plastic bags in places such as the village of Patchogue and town of Southampton would still apply.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, whom Spencer credited for pushing the issue, called it a “great step in the right direction.”

The final vote on the bag ban is at the Riverhead County Center on Wednesday. The meeting starts at 4 p.m.

Lawmakers also will establish a task force to educate the public and track the effectiveness of the five-cent fee, with a goal of reducing plastic bag usage by 70 percent. The Guardian newspaper reported in July that early figures suggest a 5 pence charge on plastic bags in England has reduced usage by 85 percent.

In other action on Thursday, the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee approved a $1 million settlement to Noelle Edmonds of Ronkonkoma. In 2009, her car hydroplaned on Ocean Avenue near Selden and went into oncoming traffic, giving her multiple fractures and sending her into a coma. She sued the county for poor road drainage that caused the flooding. The case went to a mediator who recommended the settlement, said Edmonds’ attorney, Steven Ferber of Islandia-based Davis & Ferber.

Lawmakers approved the settlement 3-2, with Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley) dissenting. Trotta said the county attorney’s office regularly fails to provide sufficient information to lawmakers justifying large settlements.

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