Many shoppers at Sherm’s Thunderbird Market Tuesday said they were happy to collect their groceries in reusable or paper bags on the eve of a new law banning plastic checkout bags.
The plastic bag ban is one of a host of new laws taking effect today, on the first day of 2020. Sherm’s planned ahead, running out of plastic bags about two weeks before the law took effect and not reordering, said Sherm’s Thunderbird Market General Manager Bob Ames.
Grocery stores and other retail establishments can no longer provide single-use checkout bags to customers. They can offer recycled paper bags and reusable bags made of either cloth or plastic, but they have to charge at least five cents for them. Stores breaking the law can be fined $250 per violation.
George Leveque, of Roseburg, said the new law won’t be a change for him since he’s been using reusable bags for years.
“I leave mine in the car and I find them easier to use because you can carry them easier, easier than paper or plastic. You can put more in a bag,” he said.
He’s glad to get rid of plastic bags.
“You see ’em everywhere, on the coast or out in the woods, every place,” he said.
Amber Wenzl, of Roseburg, said she thinks it’s about time to make the conversion. She brought four of her own bags and wound up using a paper bag to fit the rest of her groceries.
Wenzl said she often brings her reusable bags but then forgets them in her car. She thinks the new paper bag charge will help her remember to bring the bags into the store.
She thinks the new law is worth the trouble.
“We actually just got back from the beach and it was really sad to see almost everywhere you looked there was a piece of plastic, some plastic bags, just little fine particles that most people aren’t going to pick up and that’s just getting worse and worse. It’s a big problem,” she said.
Moriah Carnes, of Days Creek, doesn’t own any reusable bags, so she was filling up her cart with paper bags. She said she was pleasantly surprised when she came into the store last week and found no plastic bags at the checkout.
“I have a huge amount of them in my house, so I can’t imagine how it looks at the dump, you know,” she said.
Not everyone was thrilled by the change, though. One woman declined an interview saying she had nothing nice to say about it.
George Sheppard, of Roseburg, wasn’t happy about it either. He had a cart full of groceries in the paper bags that will cost him 5 cents a pop in 2020, the charge being another mandate under the new law.
“I see it as one more thing to add to the cost, the everyday cost for Oregonians to live,” Sheppard said.
He noted gas prices are going up too, and the state’s also going to charge more to register fuel-efficient vehicles because it’s not getting as much in gas taxes from those cars. He’s not sure yet whether he’ll keep paying for paper bags or shell out the money for reusable bags.
“I don’t know, I’ve thought about maybe I’ll just bring me a big black trash bag and just load up all my stuff in that,” he said.
There are a few exceptions to the ban. Stores can offer plastic bags to package bulk items like vegetables or small hardware pieces. And they can offer plastic bags to wrap frozen foods, meat, flowers and other items that could be damp or contaminate other items.
Ames, the Sherm’s manager, said he has mixed feelings about the new law. He’s glad it will help the environment, but the store also will lose some money if customers use the paper bags. While plastic bags cost the store just 2.2 cents apiece, paper bags are four times that and the law only allows for a nickel charge to customers for the paper bags.
Ames said they are selling a lot of reusable bags, though, which could be good for everyone. So far, he said, most customers seem supportive of the change.
“We just want to provide the best service we can to our customers and we’re encouraged that it’s leading people to reuse their own stuff. In the long run, it will save all of us money and keep our land a little more clean,” Ames said.
The New Year also marks the beginning of lots of other new laws. Here’s a rundown of some other new laws taking effect Jan. 1:
- What’s been called the “boyfriend loophole” will close. Previous law defined more narrowly the relationships that qualified under a ban that prevents domestic violence perpetrators from possessing guns if there’s a restraining order against them or a conviction for that behavior. The law has been expanded to ban gun possession by convicted stalkers or by domestic violence perpetrators who dated the victims but never lived with or married them. The Oregon Department of Justice favored the new law, citing statistics that abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if he owns a firearm. But some gun rights advocates argued it would violate people’s right to bear arms under the Second Amendment and the Oregon constitution.
- Bicyclists can now yield rather than stop at intersections with stop signs or flashing red lights, thanks to passage of Senate Bill 998. They still have to stop at intersections with a full traffic signal. The new law was inspired by the 1982 Idaho stop bill, which allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign. Oregon’s version was supported by cycling advocates who said yielding is actually safer than stopping due to the time it takes a cyclist to get started again after a full stop. A 2010 University of California, Berkley study found the Idaho law reduced injury bicycle accidents by 14%.
- Community colleges can offer four year applied bachelor’s degrees if they get the OK from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission first. Half the states already allowed community colleges to do this, typically in areas like information technology, applied management, health sciences and elementary or early childhood education, according to testimony submitted by Patrick Crane, director of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to the Senate Education Committee. This new law, SB 3, passed with unanimous bipartisan support.
- Nonprofit hospitals must establish financial assistance for low-income patients receiving treatment there. HB 3076 provides that the hospital should cover the cost for people whose income is 200% or less of the federal poverty rate, and offer a sliding scale for patients earning between 200% and 400% of the federal poverty rate. Based on the 2019 poverty rates, that would mean patients earning up to about $24,980 for an individual, $33,820 for a couple or $51,500 for a family of four, for example, could obtain treatment for free. And a sliding scale would be applied to individuals earning up to $49,960 for an individual, $67,640 for a couple or up to $103,000 for a family of four.
- Under SB 420, people who were convicted for possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana before its July 2015 legalization can now apply to have that conviction set aside. The new law was passed with some bipartisan support and was championed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which argued that forcing people to bear consequences of a conviction for something that’s no longer considered a crime was unjust.
- Veterans must now be informed about assistance available to them when they’re being evicted from their homes. HB 2530 mandates that notices of foreclosures or evictions must include information about veteran benefits and housing assistance programs.
Pregnant and nursing women will have additional protections from employer discrimination. HB 2341 requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for these women and forbids retaliation against them for seeking such accommodations. The state Bureau of Labor and Industries lists examples such as modifying equipment, offering longer breaks or periodic rest, assistance with manual labor and modification of work schedules. Accommodations do not have to be made that the employer proves would create an undue hardship for the business, either in difficulty or expense.