Debra J. Saunders

There are two kinds of people in California politics: those who want Sacramento to ban plastic grocery bags and those who just want state pols to pass a budget.

The budget is after all -- what? -- only 39 days late.

AB1998 would ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags in 2012. Shoppers would have to bring their own (presumably cloth) bags to the store or pay 5 cents or more per sack.

I understand why a ban would appeal to Sacramento lawmakers. Who likes them? The bags, I mean. They're ugly. (Chi-chi shop bags are exempt.) They're uglier after they've been used. State pols can dis bags and the bags can't talk back.

Even the California Grocers Association supports the bill because it would pre-empt local bag bans. (Only in California do you see a bag-ban war between busybody state lawmakers and busybody local officials.)

Best of all, AB1998, authored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, allows Sacto lawmakers to do what they love best -- tell other people how to live and profitable taxpaying enterprises how to run their businesses.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who voted for the bill, argued that this is one fee that consumers don't have to pay because they can bring their own bags. "I think it's a mistake to see these bags as free," he noted.

And: "The problem is both real and significant." The litter from those pesky bags seems to land everywhere. As a Democratic analysis of the bill noted, "Their light weight and expansive nature makes them especially prone to blowing into waterways." An estimated 90 percent of floating debris is plastic.

Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, has some sympathy with the bill's goal. He lives near a convenience store and sees the litter, too.

Jeffries, however, sees the downside of the bill. The California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce estimates that the bill would jeopardize "500 good paying manufacturing jobs in the Los Angeles region."

"Could you not delay this bill," Jeffries asked, in light of a state unemployment rate of more than 12 percent, until the people who stand to lose their jobs have a strong chance of finding another job?

The follow-up question would be: Why has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger indicated he will sign the bill if it passes in this sour economy?

You know the answer. AB1998 scratches the Democrats' nanny-state itch. Given a choice between telling other people how to do their jobs and doing their own, Sacramento lawmakers always punt.

Back to the budget. There has been some progress on that front. Democratic leaders now say they agree with each other.

Debra J. Saunders

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