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California Plastic Bag Ban On Hold: Referendum Qualifies for 2016 Ballot

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California's plastic bag ban won't take effect until voters weigh in come 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Love it or hate it, you won't find California's new statewide ban on plastic bags taking effect this year ... or ever, unless voters endorse it in November 2016.

State elections officials announced Tuesday that plastic bag manufacturers have gathered enough voter signatures to force a statewide vote via referendum at the next general election.

"California voters will now have the chance to vote down a terrible law," said Lee Califf of the American Progressive Bag Alliance in a prepared statement.

The referendum, filed just days after Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 270 into law last Sept. 30, would give voters a chance to cancel the hotly debated law. The law would have gone into effect on July 1, and would have imposed a 10-cent fee on paper or other reusable bags. While the bill cleared a number of tricky political hurdles in making its way through the Legislature, the plastic bag industry never supported it.

In all, bag manufacturers spent more than $3.1 million to gather 809,810 signatures to force a vote on the ballot. Environmental and recycling groups lashed out Monday at the news that the referendum had qualified. Opponents argue the law is bad for the economy -- lost bag-manufacturing jobs -- and simply bad policy.


Supporters of the ban, not surprisingly, see things differently.

"The plastic bag industry has bought its way onto the California ballot to protect its profits," said Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste in a written statement.

The timing of the referendum and election are also worth noting. State law used to say that a qualified referendum would appear on the next ballot. That law was tweaked in 2011 by a new provision moving all initiatives and referenda to general election ballots.

Thus, even though California voters next go to the polls in June 2016, the referendum won't be considered until November ... and the plastic bag ban will sit in limbo an additional five months.

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