- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Cities and counties in Idaho would need state approval to enforce plastic bag bans under a new proposal currently making its way through the Idaho Statehouse, even though no such restriction currently exist in the state.

The Idaho House voted 52-17 on Wednesday to make it illegal for cities to impose bag bans, restrictions on Styrofoam containers and other disposable products. If approved, local officials would need permission from the Idaho Legislature to enact the restrictions.

“Remember, cities and counties are creatures of the state,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. “They’re not independent bodies. They’re creatures of the state.”

The proposal irked minority Democratic members, who argued that their conservative colleagues will scoff at any federal government involvement but impose the same heavy handiness on cities and towns - especially those known for leaning liberal.

“So this would mean if a city had problems with a surplus of plastic bags that were choking the water, the drainage water system, or they had a problem with the landfill, they would have to come to the Legislature to allow for special legislation so they could deal with their own problem?” asked House Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston.

Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, countered that states have pre-empted a variety of local policies for decades. He says that Idaho has already barred local municipalities from setting their own regulations on water quality, tax policy and timber.

“There’s certain things that we believe should happen at the state level,” said Kauffman, the bill’s sponsor and whose legislative district includes bag manufacturer Hilex Poly Co.

Currently, no cities enforce plastic bag bans in Idaho, but such efforts have been made in the past. In April, the Blackfoot City Council in eastern Idaho rejected banning plastic bags, citing such actions as government overreach, after a high school student proposed the idea as part a senior project. In central Idaho, Hailey voters rejected a citywide ban on using plastic grocery bags in 2011. The proposal would have slapped retailers who ignored the ban with a $50 daily fine.

“I think there’s a lot of concern out there,” said Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls. “People need to know what kind of bags they’re going to need when they walk into a store.”

Nationwide, banning plastic has resulted in mixed reactions from states. Florida has outlawed local municipalities from banning plastic bags, and lawmakers in Missouri and Texas attempted to pass similar legislation last year.

Meanwhile, California passed the first-ever statewide plastic bag ban, but enforcement was delayed when the trade group placed the issue before voters on the November 2016 ballot. Hawaii operates under a de facto statewide ban, with all counties approving prohibitions.

Kauffman’s bill now moves to the Senate for approval.

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