Bag Fee, Ban or Both? City Council Picks Wednesday

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A ban on plastic bags. A fee on plastic bags paid by businesses. A ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper bags paid by customers. Or none of the above.

It's rare that a bill just days from a final vote by the Honolulu City Council would have so many potential outcomes. Usually, members and stakeholders have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen by this stage of the game. It's already passed two votes by the full body, had a hearing to take the pulse of the public and twice been referred to committee for refinement.

The debate has flown all but under the radar over the last two months, as environmentalists' and retailers' attention has been seemingly monopolized by a similar statewide proposal still technically alive across the street at the Hawaii Legislature.

But state lawmakers' efforts on the issue are floundering and time is running out in the 2012 session. Meanwhile, the council is on the verge of a single-use checkout bag ban, a fee or some combination of the two that would affect Oahu's 1 million residents and millions of annual visitors.

Members have floated three different sets of amendments that could be considered Wednesday in Kapolei, and there are three distinct visions of the legislation that could conceivably become law within a week. Let's go through them, one by one.

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