Yes on 67; No on 65

Time is running out, for which I apologize.

Proposition 67 is the one true referendum on the ballot this year, and Proposition 65 is a strange measure which interacts with it.

—What do I mean when I say Proposition 67 is the one true referendum?—

In California law, there is a distinction between an *initiative* and a *referendum*.

An *initiative* is a new law proposed by the voters. It is placed on the ballot after a member of the community drafts a law, pays a fee to the Attorney General to prepare petitions, and gets enough signatures via those petitions. A ‘yes’ vote on an initiative adopts the new law; a ‘no’ vote keeps the status quo.

A *referendum* is a *voter objection to a law passed by the legislature and signed by the governor*. The legislature passes a law, the governor signs it, and then displeased voters take out a petition to force the law to (a) be suspended until the next election and (b) only go into effect if the voters approve it. A ‘yes’ vote on a referendum *keeps the law as written by the legislature*; a ‘no’ vote *overrules the legislature and returns the law to the way it was before the legislature acted*.

Proposition 67 is the only actual *referendum* on the ballot this year: it’s a law passed by the legislature in 2014 and immediately suspended by voter outrage.

—-What does Prop 67 do?—-

* it prohibits covered grocery stores from providing single-use carryout bags to customers for free, but allows the sale of reusable bags and the sale of recycled paper bags for at least $.10/bag.

* it requires stores to provide recycled paper bags or reusable bags for free to people using a payment card or voucher issued by the supplemental food program for WIC

* it allows stores to give away compostable bags for free, if the local jurisdiction allows it

The policy reasons causing the legislature to vote to this were that single-use bags generate a lot of waste, at least some of which ends up in storm drains and therefore in the ocean; restricting them will reduce waste and pollution.

The policy reasons stoking the referendum were that this is in effect a hidden tax and an inconvenience. The argument in the ballot handbook portrays it as opposition to a giant corporate giveaway (because the evil grocery stores keep the money), but that’s not the reason the referendum was circulated; the referendum was circulated because people object to being forced to pay for grocery bags.

This is a bit bizarre for me, as I live in SF, and before that lived in Palo Alto; much of my time is spent in jurisdictions which already have a variant on this rule, and it’s … fine. So I’m really confused by the opposition.

It’s a regressive tax, to be sure, AND at the same time, it’s a de minimis tax, and you pay it once (buying the reusable bags) and then are done; it strikes me as being a reaosnable way of achieving a cultural behavioral shift – not by banning something, but by taxing it *just enough* to induce the change.

—-What does Prop. 65 do?—-

Prop 65 says that if Prop. 67 passes, or if the state or a local jurisdiction ever pass a rule similar to Prop. 65, the grocery stores are not allowed to keep the money they charge for the bag. (It’s not clear if that just refers to the $.10 charge or if it refers to, say, the entire cost of a reusable bag; I can summon arguments both ways and suspect a court will decide). Instead, it directs the money to the state, where it gets dropped in a fund for environmental protection including drought mitigation, clean drinking water, parks, beach cleanup, and wildlife habitat restoration.

The argument for this is that the fee for grocery bags amounts to a raiding of the public for the benefit of kleptocratic grocery stores, and that it’s better to use the money for environmental preservation purposes. This seems unlikely to me; grocery stores run on razor-thin margins, and they’re hardly kleptocratic profit centers.

The argument against is that it amounts to theft from the grocery stores because bags cost money; but this rings hollow for me because *the stores were giving the bags away for free before* and they’re no more expensive now than they were then.

—-How am I going to vote?—-

I’m voting yes on 67; I think it’s a reasonable way to enact a policy of this sort – a small fee that shifts behavior and has a large positive result.

I’m voting no on 65; I don’t see any reason to confiscate this money from the stores, and I resent the anti-big-grocery rhetoric of the argument for.


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