A bill that seeks to fine stores for using plastic bags passed the House of Representatives unanimously last Friday.
House Bill 20-11 is now headed to the Senate for action.
Authored by Rep. Vinson F. Sablan (Ind-Saipan), HB 20-11 would, a year after being signed into law, impose penalties on stores that use plastic bags. The penalty would amount to not less than $100 and not more than $1,000 for each day a violation occurs.
“[It’s] not just the government [that has to do its part], but also the investors that do business in the Commonwealth,” said House Speaker Ralph Demapan (R-Saipan), adding that cooperation and coordination is a must for the conservation of the environment. “The CNMI would make sure to continue [maintaining] the pristine beaches, oceans, and of course, environment.”
According to Demapan, the environment is “a priority of the Legislature.”
According to the bill’s proposal, the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, along with the Department of Commerce’s enforcement division, would be responsible for enforcing the bill if signed into law by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres.
The bill further gives BECQ and Commerce the right to visit and inspect stores without prior notice.
HB 20-11 indicates that the fines collected would go into an account of BECQ and Commerce for enforcement purposes.
BECQ administrator Frank Rabauliman is “happy and glad” that the bill finally left the committee, saying that similar bills were introduced by past legislatures but eventually died at the committee level.
“We are lagging behind in the region. There are other regions that have already banned the use of plastic bags,” said Rabauliman.
According to Rabauliman, Yap and American Samoa are examples of island communities that have implemented a policy that bans plastic bags. Honolulu has also banned plastic bag but biodegradable plastic bags are still accepted there.
Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance program coordinator Becky Furey said that MINA has always backed the ban on plastic bags.
According to Furey, MINA has been in partnership with Joeten Enterprises Inc. to reduce the consumption of plastic bags by designating a day of the week where no plastic bags are used.
Within the last year, at least 500,000 plastic bags have been prevented from getting into the environment, Furey said, by just setting aside one day a week without plastic bags.
“If Yap and American Samoa can do it, then the CNMI can ban plastic bags as well. It’s really basically just changing the island community’s mentality and getting [people] used to reusing bags to help the environment,” she said.