DENVER - A proposal to ban plastic bags at supermarkets and other large stores by 2012 passed its first test at the state Capitol on Wednesday.
The Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee voted 4-3 to back the measure (Senate Bill 156).
The decision came after 2½ hours of testimony and debate about the harm caused by plastic bags versus paper bags and whether the government should step in with a ban as more people have begun to tote reusable bags when they shop.
The proposed ban is opposed by supermarkets, big-box stores and department stores. The bill would not apply to smaller stores and franchise operations.
Originally the bill would have also required that stores charge customers 6 cents for every plastic bag they use between now and 2012.
But the committee agreed to get rid of the fee at the request of bill sponsor Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver.
Republicans on the committee, who all voted against the ban, feared it could cause increased use of paper bags, which they said take more energy and water to make than plastic bags. Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said it would make more sense to ban both.
Veiga maintained that plastic bags made with petroleum were worse for the environment and said her intent was to shift people to using reusable bags, not paper.
Proponents, including students from Kent Denver School who proposed the ban, bombarded lawmakers with statistics throughout the hearing. They said that 90 percent of all grocery bags are plastic and it takes 1,000 years for those bags to decompose in landfills.
David Allen of Telluride brought to the witness table a crumpled King Soopers bag he said he found swirling around the Capitol steps. He helped organize a three-month contest challenging Telluride and Aspen residents to see who could use the most reusable bags. He said more than 140,000 plastic bags were saved but he still thinks a ban is needed to change people's habits.