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BLOG: Plastic Bag Ban Goes Into Effect … (We’re Not Exactly Sure When)

January 17, 2014, 12:53 PM HST
* Updated January 17, 2:25 PM
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Today is the day businesses will no longer be allowed to provide plastic bags to their customers at checkout.

Or is it?

There seems to be some confusion as to when the ban actually goes into effect.

Ordinance 12-1, which was passed on Dec. 21, 2011 by the Hawaii County Council, said businesses shall not provide plastic checkout bags to their customers.

But the law contained a provision allowing retailers to continue providing the bags, for a fee, “for one calendar year after the effective date of this ordinance.” (emphasis added)

The “effective date” of the ordinance is Jan. 17, 2013.

A definition of a legal year on the internet (is there anything one can’t find there?) describes it as “a period from January 1 to December 31.”

Applying that to the above could suggest the year would begin on Jan. 18, 2013, and end on Jan. 17, 2014 (today), which would mean the ban actually begins tomorrow.

But that’s not the common wisdom, as numerous media outlets have been reporting that the ban goes into effect today.

Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd, director of the county Department of Environmental Management, who by the way is ultimately responsible for enforcing the ban, believes otherwise.

A press release she issued early this month said the one-year transition period ends Jan. 17 (again, today), and “after this date businesses shall not provide plastic bags to their customers.”

DEM secretary Sharon Henry told Big Island Now that Leithead-Todd, who is also an attorney, was in meetings all day and not available to elaborate. Sharon said someone would review the ordinance and get back to us.

The county’s lead civil attorney, Lincoln Ashida, said he wasn’t involved in the formulation of the bill – the county attorney who was has since retired – and was therefore not inclined to weigh in on the matter.

And now that we’re thoroughly befuddled by the meaning of the law, we find that a look at the administrative rule required by the law for its enforcement muddies the waters even further.

The rules say that businesses may make the bags available for purchase for one calendar year “after the effective date” of the ordinance.

There’s that durn “after” again.

To us, and we’re certainly nowhere near legal experts, it probably would have been clearer if the law said the ban was to begin a year “from” the effective date.

But we’d bet our bottom dollar that term could also be subject to serious legal debate.

Just to be on the safe side, best to pack that reusable bag immediately.

See here for more on the clearer details of the new law.

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