Last year, I stopped a bill in Judiciary Subcommittee that would have prevented any local jurisdiction from passing or implementing any measure dealing with banning or restricting plastic grocery bags.
My initial objection was that it was an attack on home rule. It prevented the local jurisdictions from dealing with local issues.
To become smarter about the substance of the bill, I reached out to my friend Dr. Chris Marsh, executive director of the Lowcountry Institute. Dr. Marsh was good enough to send me several abstracts of peer-reviewed and published studies on the affects of the astounding concentrations of plastics in our oceanic and estuarine environments, such as our precious May River.
They were more than a little concerning.
At this time, few local jurisdictions have this threat on their radar, but that is no reason to prevent them from taking meaningful action when presented with this powerful information. Not only are we seeing plastic bags as a prominent feature of turtle and whale necropsies as they wash up on our beaches, we are also seeing microparticles of various plastics in the zooplanktons which form the basis of life in the aquatic food chain.
At the top of that food chain, we need to be very concerned, as the endocrine disruptors and many other poisons in plastic tend to concentrate as they move up the food chain.
An essential feature of my conservative political philosophy is that the level of government closest to a problem should be the primary, or at least the first, jurisdiction to address that problem. This accounts, in my view, for the remarkable success and wide popularity of home rule.
It is also why this year’s version of the plastic-bag bill was assigned to a different Judiciary Subcommittee rather than mine.
They want to pre-empt the locals from having a real voice when this does become an issue. I prefer to leave it to the local folks who will understand and feel the impacts of this toxic chemistry, rather than give the lobbyists a chance to silence that local voice.
In another recent Statehouse matter, I presented my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) bill to my Judiciary Subcommittee. We got a favorable report, and the bill will be taken up by full Judiciary Committee for debate.
It is hard for me personally to fathom why there would be such an apparent reluctance among the various levels of government for the average citizen to access documents created by public officials or pertaining to the activities of those officials as they do the people’s business.
Friends, the linkage between the plastic-bag bill and the FOIA bill is indirect, but illuminating, nonetheless. This legislator is in good company when I say that the success of our representative democracy is almost entirely dependent on an informed electorate.
The intent of FOIA is to allow reasonable disclosure of what we as public servants are doing in the name of the people we represent. The intent of the plastic-bag bill, and similar measures, is to make public disclosure not only difficult and costly, but also largely moot.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.