The PJ Tatler

Missouri Bill Would Ban Plastic Bag Bans (Not a Typo)

This story may twist your political instincts in a knot. On the one hand, it’s an effort to limit government intrusion in the marketplace. On the other, it’s an assault on local control. From the Associated Press:

A Missouri lawmaker who also leads an association of grocery stores is trying to stop cities and towns in the state from restricting the use of plastic bags, bucking a national trend toward banning their use to help the environment.

The move comes as the city of Columbia, the home of the University of Missouri, considers a ban that would prevent grocery stores from offering plastic bags and would impose a 10-cent charge on paper bags.

Legislation by a state representative, who also serves as a board member of the Missouri Grocers Association, would stop that. A House panel is set to vote on the bill Tuesday.

At issue is local control, said Columbia City Councilman Ian Thomas, who is in favor of a ban on plastic bags but said it might take time to gain more community support.

“The state ban on city bans is an enormous overreach,” Thomas said. “It’s important for individual cities that maybe have a different political outlook or a more progressive tendency to be able to approve this kind of legislation.”

How’s that for an argument? A state ban on local bans is an overreach. Cities should be free to ensure their residents aren’t.

This particular appeal to local control ignores the fundamental principle upon which local control rests. That principle is individual rights. Generally speaking, people ought to be free to decide how to live their lives. When we talk about local control, that’s what we’re referencing, not an unfettered ability for local officials to bully their constituents.

The purpose of checks and balances, whether the horizontal checks of different branches or the vertical checks of different levels, is to limit the ability of government to exceed the consent of the governed. Indeed when we examine the history of racial relations in this country, spanning everything from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we note a recurring theme of higher levels of government acting to check the excesses of lower ones.

So when Councilman Thomas evokes local control in defense of his effort to limit the liberties of his constituents, he echoes the appeal to state’s rights used to defend the atrocities of Jim Crow. Put simply, you can’t rationally appeal to a “right” to violate rights.

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)