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NWA EDITORIAL: Local vs. state

Foam containers, bags elicit slap at Fayetteville by NWA Democrat-Gazette | April 19, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Arkansas cities whose government leaders have ideas different from state lawmakers about public policies had better watch out.

That's the message one can easily get from House Bill 1704 by Rep. David Ray of Maumelle.

Once upon a time, the idea of local control meant something to state leaders in Arkansas, but HB 1704 is an example of legislation designed to make sure municipalities mind their place, no matter whether residents (i.e., voters) in cities might be getting exactly the representation they want from their local officials.

All this stems from the audacity (again) of Fayetteville's City Council. Recognizing the longevity and abundance of expanded polystyrene foam containers (often referenced as the brand name Styrofoam) in local streams, roadsides and other locales, the City Council in 2019 voted unanimously to prohibit restaurants, coffee shops, food trucks and other food-service providers from using them. That brought an end to the use of foam plates, cups bowls and clamshell food containers commonly used for takeout.

Fayetteville has also considered placing a 10-cent fee on plastic, single-use grocery bags as a way to encourage shoppers to choose reusable bags. The goal, according to City Council member Teresa Turk, is to reduce the number of bags leaving grocery stores and getting into the environment. The stores would keep the money to cover costs and promote other measures beneficial to the environment.

It's no surprise that industries reliant on food and drink containers would lobby state leaders in the name of "uniformity." Having every city dictate their own rules is harmful to businesses with locations in different cities, the argument goes. But we doubt they'd want such uniformity if state lawmakers were keen on banning such containers. Then again, with the current Legislature, that's not really a major concern.

It's further proof that advocates for limited government stick to such principles only until exerting state control over local measures suits them. Politicians at every level are pretty easily convinced they know better than elected officials at other levels and are willing to exert their authority.

City councils are duly elected, too, by the way. And we recognize there are some issues critical enough to demand state control. Businesses, however, deal with different regulations all the time, such as state by state. Lawmakers in Little Rock probably aren't going to argue that Congress ought to exercise its authority on the basis of uniformity, however. Funny how that works.

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What’s the point?

Cities whose residents support bans on materials harmful to the environment ought to have some leeway to keep their communities protected.

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