"A $250 fine if you're caught with a plastic bag coming out of a store. Plastic bag police anyone?"
Victoria Taft on Monday, April 25th, 2011 in a tweet
Victoria Taft warns of $250 fine if you're caught with a plastic bag, raises specter of bag police
On Monday, talk-radio host and conservative Victoria Taft sent two tweets regarding a proposed plastic bag ban pending in Salem. The first: "$250 fine for possession of plastic bag if ban goes thru." The second: "‘Plastic’ Bag Ban: A $250 fine if you're caught with a plastic bag coming out of a store. Plastic bag police anyone?#5vtshow."
PolitiFact Oregon knows that under proposed legislation there would be a 5-cent charge for each paper bag. But a $250 fine for mere possession of a bag? A plastic bag police? Those were intriguing concepts.
Taft has received one Pants on Fire and one False from PolitiFact Oregon, so we understand her reluctance to talk to us about her tweets. (Her email response to our query asked more questions than it answered.) That said, we did some checking and found that the $250 fine is rooted in reality: It’s the penalty levied on a retailer -- not a shopper -- for continuing to hand out single-use plastic bags at checkout.
Palmer Mason, a legislative analyst with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, said if the ban becomes law, the agency likely would use the first year not to fine, but to educate retailers on a new bag ban.
"This is a huge behavioral change.This affects most of the retail transactions in the state of Oregon and it will take time for consumers and retailers and for the industry to change their behavior and change what they’ve been doing for many years," he said.
(That said, Mason wants retailers to know that DEQ isn’t afraid to ticket flagrant flouters in year one.)
To be absolutely fair to Taft, the original language of Senate Bill 536 states that DEQ "may impose a civil penalty on a person" who violates Section 2 -- but again, Section 2 applies to retailers and what the establishments may or may not provide in terms of checkout bags. And, an amendment dated March 3, way before she tweeted, clarifies the original bill to strike out the words "a person" and replace the term with "a retail establishment."
Taft is right when she says there is a $250 fine for plastic bag abuse. But her second tweet, which reads in part -- "a $250 fine if you're caught with a plastic bag coming out of a store" -- gives the impression that the individual shopper would be fined for possessing a plastic bag. And that’s just not true.
We would give Taft’s tweet a Pants on Fire if she had plucked the amount of the fine out of thin air. We could give this a Barely True, in that the statement contained an element of truth -- the $250 fine -- but failed to mention that it applied to retailers, which would have given a different impression.
But instead, we rate her statement a False. A shopper who is "caught with a plastic bag" does not merit a fine, and indeed, it may not even merit the retailer a fine since shoppers are allowed to bring in their own bags. DEQ officials will not be prowling supermarket exits to pounce on single-use plastic bag users. The statement is not accurate.