**UPDATE: Gov. Lamont issued an executive order at approximately 8:30 p.m. on May 13 extending the suspension of the plastic bag tax until June 30. Executive Order 7NN can be viewed here. Yankee’s original article pointing out the tax would begin again on May 15 was published at noon on May 13 and we have now updated our reporting.**
Connecticut shoppers were scheduled to begin paying the 10-cent plastic bag tax again on Friday as Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order suspending the tax was set to expire.
However, a new executive order released at 8:30 p.m. on May 13 continued the suspension of the plastic bag tax until June 30.
The 10-cent charge on plastic bags was signed into law as part of the 2019 budget package and will expire on July 1, 2021 when single-use plastic bags will be banned entirely in Connecticut.
Lamont’s original executive order issued on March 26 temporarily suspended the tax in response to the COVID-19 pandemic until May 15 and said grocery stores could not require employees to bag groceries in reusable bags.
The executive order was issued as a safety precaution to protect grocery store workers from the potential spread of the virus through reusable canvass and plastic bags. Similar measures were taken in states such as Massachusetts, New York and Maine to encourage shoppers to leave reusable bags at home.
Studies have shown that viruses and bacteria are transmittable through reusable bags.
According to a press release from the Department of Revenue Services regarding suspension of the tax, the Lamont administration was responding to the “concerns of our retail employees who are enabling continued operation of critical services,” and encouraged shoppers using reusable bags to bag their own groceries.
Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, says that his organization has been in contact with the Lamont administration and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, asking them to extend the order.
“Given the intense challenges COVID-19 has had on business operations, we are requesting that the May 15th deadline for ‘no fee’ on single use bags be pushed back until phase 3 of the states reopening plan,” Pesce wrote in an email. “This extension provides retail businesses the ability to continue providing plastic bags to customers at no charge.”
Pesce outlined a number of considerations for the governor to take into account, including the “unusually high number of customers requesting plastic or single-use bags,” general consumer anxiety about using reusable bags and the fact that many Connecticut residents are currently cash-strapped or unemployed.
“There needs to be a dedicated messaging campaign reestablishing public sentiment for reusable bags to restore pre-pandemic success of current law,” Pesce wrote.
Pesce added that the CFA worked with the Lamont administration on the plastic bag tax and is not asking that it be repealed, just delayed further in response to the pandemic.
Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, who serves as ranking member on the Public Health Committee also sent a letter to Lamont on May 13, asking the suspension of the tax remain in place longer.
“While I wholeheartedly support measures to stop the proliferation of plastic bags in our environment, I cannot support state efforts to put essential workers under any more risk, or stress from real or perceived risk, than they are already exposed to due to the virus,” Somers wrote in the letter.
“It stands to reason that as long as we are wearing masks in public and under heightened hand washing and social distancing protocols, we should neither be charging for plastic bags nor banning plastic bags for use when making purchases at stores,” Somers wrote.
Major grocery stores, which were allowed to remain open during the pandemic, have implemented a number of precautionary measures, including wiping down checkout stations after every customer, wiping down shopping carts, encouraging or requiring customers to wear masks, limiting the number of shoppers in the store at any given time and enforcing social distancing in checkout lines.
Grocery stores like Stop & Shop and labor unions representing grocery store workers have called for grocery store employees to be classified as “extended first responders,” to give them better access to personal protection equipment during the pandemic.
Although the tax was originally supposed to bring in $28 million to state coffers, shoppers switched to reusable bags and several grocery chains did away with providing them altogether, resulting in only $7 million coming to the state.
The plastic bag tax passed as part of the 2019 budget agreement implements the 10-cent fee for two years before banning the use of single-use plastic grocery bags in Connecticut on July1, 2021.
**This article was updated to include portions of Sen. Heather Somers’ letter to Gov. Lamont**