It’s a symbolic resolution backing a bill that has long odds to pass the state Legislature, but the Janesville City Council on Monday will consider pledging its support for local control of plastic container regulation.
The bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Deb Kolste, D-Janesville, and state Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, would repeal a restriction passed in 2015 that prevents communities from regulating auxiliary containers.
Auxiliary containers are defined by the state as bags, cups, bottles, cans or other recyclable materials that are either reusable or single-use packages. Wisconsin is one of 13 states where local municipalities have no say over regulating these containers.
An example of plastic container regulation that Wisconsin municipalities are barred from enacting are plastic bag bans. California, Hawaii and New York all have some type of plastic bag ban. Major cities such as Chicago, Boston and Seattle also have local bans, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Environmentalists consider plastic bags harmful because they can pollute land and water and do not decompose easily.
The bill to repeal the restriction in Wisconsin is only in the Assembly right now and faces a steep climb to passage. The restriction was enacted under former Gov. Scott Walker, and his Republican allies still control both houses of the state Legislature.
Kolste and Ringhand are both skeptical the bill will go anywhere. Kolste said Republicans, who have long boasted of being the party of local control, have undergone a “sea change” that has shifted power to the state Capitol.
Ringhand, a former Evansville mayor and city council member, said her previous government experience has given her a strong belief in local control. She appreciated Janesville’s symbolic support of the issue and hoped other communities would follow suit.
Janesville City Council members Sue Conley and Jim Farrell sponsored the proposed resolution to back the bill.
Conley said it doesn’t make sense for municipalities to be prohibited from regulating the use of plastic containers. Farrell said communities should at least have the regulatory tool available.
The Assembly bill does not specify what such regulation might look like. Kolste said it could take different forms in different places.
Conley and Farrell said they haven’t thought far enough ahead about what regulations, if any, Janesville would enact if given the chance. The process would require lengthy discussions between city officials and local retailers.
Farrell said no matter what, it should be a city decision.
“We know our finances. We know our landfill requirements,” he said. “We should have that ability. We know far better this information than legislators from northern Wisconsin or Madison or Fond du Lac.”
Janesville has passed symbolic resolutions regarding other issues in the past. These have included regulation of dark-store lawsuits and restructuring the state shared revenue system so that Janesville’s share is closer to those of its peer cities.