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Plastic Straw Regulations Move Forward, With A Break For Fast Food

rkit / Pixabay

A bill aimed at limiting plastic straw use in Oregon is one step closer to passage — and contains some new caveats — following a vote in a Senate committee Thursday.

As introduced, Senate Bill 90 would have imposed rules requiring customers to proactively request a plastic straw at all restaurants in Oregon. But the specifics of precisely which businesses should be covered and what exemptions should apply bedeviled the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which wound up drafting more than a dozen potential tweaks to the initial draft.

“Colleagues, who would have expected 12 amendments on a bill dealing with plastic straws?” state Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, said at Thursday’s hearing.

Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, shot back: “Who would have expected a bill dealing with plastic straws?”

For weeks, lawmakers had considered making the straw regulations only applicable to full-service restaurants — not fast food places or eateries with counter service. They’d also debated a pre-emption that could have dismantled straw regulations Portland put in place last year, and discussed the relative dangers of drinking a beverage while driving without a straw versus with a reusable metal straw.

In the end, the committee arrived at a compromise. An amendment passed Thursday includes all restaurants and convenience stores in the regulations, but it offers some of those establishments leniency.

Convenience stores, for instance, are free to include boxes of bulk straws out by soda fountains if there’s not enough room behind the counter for a clerk to keep them. And fast food drive thrus will be able to proactively ask customers if they want a straw, rather than waiting for a request.

“Nothing in this bill prohibits the person taking your order from offering you a straw, nor you  a straw,” Dembrow said. “It’s free speech one way or the other.”

The amendment would also prohibit cities and counties from enacting their own straw regulations, once a statewide law went into effect. It would leave Portland’s regulations untouched.

Violations of the straw rules would be punishable by $25 per day, with a maximum penalty of $300 a year.

The unanimous vote Thursday means SB 90 will live on past a Tuesday deadline for bills to be moved out of committee. If it ultimately passes the full Senate and House, Oregon could become the second state to regulate straws statewide, after California. In recent years, litter concerns have seen increased crackdowns on the ubiquitous products.

Lawmakers also are considering a bill this year to limit single-use plastic bags.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.