A ban on single-use plastic bags passed the state Senate Tuesday, progress for an idea proposed in the Legislature as early as 2013.
The bill would ban stores from giving out single-use plastic carryout bags, giving them until 2020 to use up existing stocks, and require an 8-cent charge for other bags handed out.
Lawmakers voted 31-14 in favor of the measure, sending it to the state House for consideration.
Sen. Mona Das, D-Covington, said the bill is a response to the buildup of plastic bags in the environment, which she called frightening. "Some plastic materials are recyclable, but we have no infrastructure for recycling thin plastic bags," Das said.
Some Republicans expressed skepticism over the measure, saying it would diminish consumer choice.
"This is a socialist method," Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale. "Little things like this is the indicator that we are trying to micromanage the economy."
Passage by the Senate marks a high-water mark for the idea of statewide regulations aimed at limiting bags. Lawmakers proposed a ban as early as 2013 and a tax on single-use bags the same year, but neither were even put up for votes in legislative committees controlled at the time by Republicans.
The measure's co-sponsor, Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said after an earlier vote that he thought the proposal had a better chance than in previous years, with increased support in the Legislature and the greater prominence of pollution and environmental issues more broadly.
Ten lawmakers added their names to this year's proposal, compared with only two in 2013, and Carlyle added that environmental groups have made the issue a top priority this year.
Beyond banning single-use plastic bags, the bill would require recycled paper bags to have at least 40 percent recycled material.
Some disposable plastic bags used inside stores would be exempt from the ban, including bags for fruits, vegetables, bulk foods, and meats, and loose bulk items like screws.
Compostable carryout bags would be included in the ban, but in-store compostable plastic bags would be allowed for the same exempt purposes.
If the measure passes, businesses will have a year to use up their existing supplies of disposable bags before facing a $250 fine for violations.