The Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the city of Brownsville yesterday contending that its $1 environmental fee on plastic bags and other non-reusable types stands in violation of existing state law—an argument advanced by many, including then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, 20 current members of the Texas Legislature, the Fourth Court of Appeals, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Like others, the AG asserts that these kinds of policies violate Section 361.0961 of the Health and Safety Code which, rather straightforwardly, states that a local government may not “assess a fee or deposit on the sale or use of a container or package,” like plastic bags.
Interestingly, the lawsuit also contends that Brownsville’s bag fee is “an illegal sales tax” that was adopted without voter approval and has caused the local sales tax rate to exceed the statutory maximum of 2 percent. Given the nature of the fee, these are certainly persuasive arguments.
Considering how flawed Brownsville’s plastic bag policy is (and others like it), it may be somewhat surprising to recall that not long ago Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation honored the city with a rather ironically named Bright Ideas 2015 award. The award, granted by a program that boasts “a rigorous process of identification and evaluation,” was clearly given in error, seeing as it is never a bright idea for local governments to break the law.
To read the Attorney General’s lawsuit in full, click here.