In a case out of Laredo, the border city’s ban on single use plastic bags was rejected in a unanimous decision from the Texas Supreme Court. The City of Laredo had been fighting merchants who said the bag ban was in violation of Texas state law. Lower courts had sided with the merchants, and earlier this year, an appeal was argued before the Texas Supreme Court.
Friday’s decision will affect cities and counties including Waco, Houston, Midland, Odessa, Austin and many more.
Jay Aiyer, a political science professor at Texas Southern University specializing in urban affairs, says the decision is significant.
“It touches on the issues related to the relationship between the state and local governments,” Aiyer says. “It’s really I think a larger blow to those who really have seen Texas as a state that has sided with local control and local initiatives.”
The argument has been made in places like Port Aransas, Austin and Fort Stockton that there are serious concerns about the impact of plastic bags on the environment. In beach communities, their livelihoods may even be affected if beaches are littered with white plastic bags. The court did acknowledge the importance of these issues, but ultimately decided that state law preempts local laws on this matter.
“Governor Abbott really wants to be mayor of Texas as opposed to governor of Texas,” Aiyer says. “Because essentially what’s happening over the last few years, you’ve seen sort of systematic erosion of local control and a consolidation at the state. And we’ve seen this with the fracking ban. We’ve seen this with now the issues related to plastic bags.”
The same tension also arose during last summer’s special session debate over local tree ordinances. Aiyer says that Texas’ traditional system of decentralized strong local government appears to be going away.
The Texas Supreme Court’s decision cannot be appealed and it will affect local laws throughout the state.
“Cities like Austin and others that have tried plastic bag bans are now on the clock,” Aiyer says, “and it’s problematic for them to be able to hold on to them.”
Written by Jen Rice.