Council Asks City’s Lawyer for Draft Ordinance to Ban Single-use Plastic Bags

(File photograph.)

After a debate over rules that lasted longer than the discussion of the issue, city councilors voted, 8-1, to begin the process banning single-use plastic shopping bags.

Councilor Melinda E. Barrett won support of her motion to ask City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. to draft an ordinance, which would take effect six months after passage, to end the use of the thin plastic bags most stores use to pack customers’ purchases.

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly-O’Brien celebrated Barrett’s motion.

“I can’t put enough support behind it,” she said of the plastic-bag ban. “I believe the time has come. I don’t want to see us dragging our feet on this like we did on recycling.” 

Daly-O’Brien stressed that paper bags (pictured) and multi-use plastic bags would still be allowed.

Councilor Colin F. LePage also urged his colleagues to maintain the momentum on the proposal.

“This isn’t going to happen overnight,” LePage said. “We all know how government works.”

If it had been up to Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, however, any action on the ordinance would have been put on hold for two weeks, because he believed the discussion violated state law, local ordinances and City Council rules for proper notification.

In the midst of the discussion on Barrett’s motion, Bevilacqua asked that it be withdrawn.

“I don’t see where this is on the agenda for discussion tonight,” Bevilacqua said. “I’m not sure we can talk about it tonight.”

While not listed as a discussion item, the minutes from the council’s Citizen Outreach Committee meeting of Jan. 29 were scheduled for review and a vote.

Watching the meeting from home, Cox texted City Hall to weigh in on the side of allowing discussion to continue. Council rules say the chairman of a sub-committee may make motions or suggest actions as a result of the events of subcommittee meetings.

Councilor William J. Macek said the most important factor is that any ordinance be designed for the needs of Haverhill residents.

“If we do it right, I’m all for it,” Macek said, but recoiled at asking Cox to use the ordinances written for other communities as the template for Haverhill.  “It’s usually the council that creates the framework.”

LePage, however, pointed out that the council has used other communities’ ordinances as models for handling double utility poles, zoning for medical marijuana and the recently passed moratorium on recreational marijuana.

If using a template helps kickstart the process, LePage said he supports the move.

In the end, Bevilacqua cast the lone “no” vote on asking Cox to draft an ordinance, and he then opposed a subsequent vote to send a letter to the city’s legislative delegation in favor of state action on banning Styrofoam.