Council might suspend 5-cent carryout bag tax during pandemic

Council might suspend 5-cent carryout bag tax during pandemic

Expedited bill would remove tax until after state of emergency ends

| Published:
Will Jawando

Montgomery County Council Member Will Jawando proposed a bill that would suspend the 5-cent carryout bag tax during the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo from Montgomery County

The Montgomery County Council might suspend the county’s carryout bag tax to help slow the spread of the coronavirus during the pandemic,

The 5-cent tax is paid on every paper or plastic bag that consumers use at grocery and retail stores.

Many stores in the county are banning customers from using personal reusable bags, Council Member Will Jawando said, to help prevent potential transmission of the coronavirus between employees and customers.

Jawando, the lead sponsor of the proposed legislation, introduced the expedited bill at a council meeting on Tuesday.

“We’re in unprecedented waters where we’re forced to take precautions that we never considered before, particularly those that can prevent the spread of this disease in public settings,” he said.

Illinois, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have temporarily suspended carryout bag taxes during the pandemic, Jawando said.

Under the bill, grocery and retail stores could not collect the tax until 15 days after the state of emergency ends.

The county would be required to notify the community that the taxes would start being collected again within seven days after the state of emergency ends.

The tax revenue goes in the county’s Water Quality Protection Charge fund, which is used for litter cleanup costs. The county approved the tax in May 2011.

Council Member Craig Rice said he would introducing an amendment to the bill when the council is set to vote on the legislation on April 14. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. the same day.

Rice’s amendment would ensure that stores can refuse to handle customers’ reusable bags in to keep employees safe.

“They’re also on the frontlines. It’s not just our health care workers, “ he said. “They’re the ones who also need to be protected.”

Rice said his office received calls and emails with concerns from stores and employees. He said he heard of a recent situation in which a customer “insisted” that the cashier use her reusable bags instead of putting groceries into paper bags, even though the cashier didn’t want to handle the reusable bags.

Council Member Hans Riemer charging for the use of new plastic or paper bags “seemed out of step with all the other measures we were taking” during the pandemic.

“I think people should wash their bags before they bring them into the store and it’s perfectly fine to use [new] paper or plastic bags during a time like this,” he said.

Council Member Nancy Navarro said it was a “pivotal issue” and people must once again change their behaviors.

“We have all changed our behaviors so nicely to use reusable bags in consideration for the environment,” she said. “But at this point in time, I think it is critical that we do eliminate whatever kind of possibility of transmission there might be.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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