In one vote, House Bill 558 was killed. It would have prevented restaurants and other food vendors from providing plastic straws unless asked by customers. That bill would have applied to vendors ranging from restaurants to food trucks to movie theaters to cafeterias, making exceptions for certain health care facilities.

Soon after, Senate Democrats stripped bare House Bill 560, a bill to ban plastic bags from distribution at groceries and other businesses. An amendment by Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes gutted the original bill and replaced it with a mandate that towns compile annual reports on their waste management practices.

The votes represented significant reversals for the legislation, which had been championed by advocates as key to reducing ocean pollution. Both bills sailed through the House on partisan votes led by Democrats, following growing national interest in cutting down on “single-use” plastics – products like iced coffee cups and plastic utensils that are thrown away after use.

But the bills had been strongly opposed by restaurant and grocer’s associations, convenience store associations, and even Theater Owners of New England, all of whom argued that businesses in their industry were already adapting to demand to curb plastic use and that the restrictions were not needed.

That was a common argument on the Senate floor Wednesday. Speaking on the proposed plastic straw restrictions, Manchester Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, a Democrat, said the work was already being done. “Citizens and businesses are already controlling use of plastic straws, whether it be (banning them) altogether or using resuable alternatives,” Cavanaugh said, calling the language “unnecessary.” Cavanaugh added the straw bill didn’t carry any clear penalties for businesses in violation, raising concerns about its effectiveness.

That bill was killed by voice vote; no senators spoke in favor of it. The second bill, restricting plastic bag usage, attracted more debate.

HB 560 would prohibit “single-use carryout bags” – which could include plastic grocery or takeout food bags – from being distributed at all, a higher level of regulation than the straw bill. But the bill would impose a four-month grace period where bags could be distributed at 10 cents each until the ban went fully into effect.

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