HILO >> The Hawaii County Council advanced a bill prohibiting retailers from giving out plastic bags, but only after it softened rules on how the measure would be enforced.
The council passed the measure on a first reading with a 5-3 vote Wednesday, West Hawaii Today reported. Council Chairman Dominic Yagong recused himself because he works for a grocery chain that would be affected by the law.
The bill faces a second reading before it can be sent to the mayor.
The measure’s sponsor, Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann, amended the bill at the request of Mayor Billy Kenoi’s administration. Hoffman said he wanted to ensure the administration is on board, after earlier bills under the last mayor, Harry Kim, received enough council support to pass, but not enough to override a veto.
Instead of creating fines of $100 to $500 and having the police enforce the law, the amendment puts the county’s environmental management department in charge of education and enforcement. The department would define what bags are permissible and establish penalties.
Maui and Kauai counties already have adopted similar bans, which have been hailed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for helping reduce waste and preventing plastic from getting into the ocean and potentially harming turtles and other marine life.
County Environmental Management Director Frank DeMarco said he doesn’t know how much enforcement efforts will cost, but he thinks it will be minimal.
"Enforcement is likely limited to a small group of folks who either didn’t know or don’t care," DeMarco said. "It’s pretty likely you’ll get a high level of compliance."
North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago wanted reassurance that the administration will actually enforce the law.
The council received 200 e-mails from across the world favoring the ban. More than a dozen middle school students testified in support of the bill.
"Many people take plastic bags for granted," said 13-year-old Derek Larson of Honaunau. "People throw them away just like it is trash."
The 200-member Retail Merchants of Hawaii said it supports efforts to protect the environment but opposes the legislation.
"We absolutely support the broadest use of reusable tote bags as the ultimate solution," President Carol Pregill said in written testimony. "However, we do know that consumers’ acceptance and use of these bags will not be universal or practical at all times."