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Texas Supreme Court Strikes Down Local Bag Ban

July 3, 2018

The Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled on June 22, 2018, that a state law on solid waste disposal pre-empts local ordinances banning single-use bags. The ruling strikes down the City of Laredo’s Plastic Bag Ordinance that bans single-use plastic and paper bags. (An amendment to the Ordinance included single-use paper bags in the definition of “checkout bag.”)

The Laredo Merchants Association initially sued the city in March 2015 claiming that the Laredo plastic bag ban was illegal because it is pre-empted by Texas Health & Safety Code Section 361.0961, which bans local ordinances that: 1) prohibit or restrict the sale or use of a “package” or “container”; 2) have “solid waste management purposes”; and 3) are not otherwise authorized by state law. The 341st Judicial District Court in Webb County sided with the city; however, on August, 16, 2016, the Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to overturn the lower Court’s ruling.

In City of Laredo v. Laredo Merchants Association (case number 16-0748), the City maintained that its ordinance to reduce litter from single-use bags was designed to beautify the city and reduce clogs in storm drains, not to manage solid waste. In the July 22, 2018 ruling, Judge Nathan Hecht wrote, “The Ordinance’s stated purposes are to reduce litter and eliminate trash—in sum, to manage solid waste, which the Act preempts. The Ordinance cannot fairly be read any other way.”

The Texas Supreme Court accepted this case, in part, because several Texas municipalities have enacted ordinances banning single-use bags. Responding to the Court’s decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a release in which he stated:

“I commend the Texas Supreme Court for upholding the principle that no one is exempted from the rule of law…Municipalities violate the law when they unlawfully pass the burden of solid waste management to citizens and retailers through illegal bag bans. I hope that Laredo, Austin, and any other jurisdictions that have enacted illegal bag bans will take note and voluntarily bring their ordinances into compliance with state law...”