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The Albuquerque City Council last month repealed the local plastic bag ban.
Now, it has extinguished the ashes.
The council late Monday night rejected Mayor Tim Keller’s attempt to salvage the Albuquerque Clean and Green Retail Ordinance, with six councilors – Brook Bassan, Renee Grout, Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez – providing the necessary votes to override Keller’s recent veto of the repeal.
The mayor already had acknowledged the likely limits of his intervention given the council sentiment, but issued the veto nonetheless. In his veto message, he asked the council to consider improving the ordinance rather than repealing it.
It did little to change minds, as the councilors who voted for the repeal continued standing firm against it.
In a statement after Monday’s override vote, a mayoral spokeswoman signaled interest in moving past the issue.
“We asked Council to come to the table and work with us to find a productive path forward, one that works for businesses, residents, and helps us create a cleaner city,” spokeswoman Ava Montoya said in a written statement. “After (Monday’s override) vote, we hope Council can move their attention to urgent priorities for Albuquerque like addressing crime and homelessness and creating opportunities for youth and working families.”
Monday’s override vote occurred after 11 p.m. following about 30 public comments on the matter – nearly all of them in favor of keeping the ban. Several school-age children implored the council to consider how plastic is littering and otherwise harming the environment.
“My mom is always telling us to keep our house clean and pick up after ourselves, so why would you want to leave a dirty environment for us? Why?” said 11-year-old Athena Hanna, noting that she’d been advocating for the bag ban since she was 8 and was “discouraged” that it had been repealed. “It’s like leaving your dirty socks all around the living room and expecting your kids to clean it up.”
Several others accused councilors of putting plastic industry interests ahead of their constituents. Bassan – who sponsored the bag ban repeal bill – denied those allegations.
“I want to make sure also everybody knows I haven’t been bribed or paid (by lobbying groups). … This is a decision I made all on my own, and I stand by it,” she said.
But Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn – who joined Isaac Benton and Pat Davis to oppose overriding Keller’s veto – questioned the logic of ending the ban.
“I keep hearing that this is such an inconvenience for people to take their own reusable bags to the store,” she said. “I just have to say: If you think this is inconvenient, wait till climate change really does impact us because this will become a non-issue real quick.”
The plastic bag ban has commanded intense public interest for years.
The council initially passed the ban in 2019 following months of community debate and extensive public meeting comment. The ordinance barred grocery stores and other retailers from distributing single-use plastic bags at checkout effective Jan. 1, 2020.
Keller suspended enforcement just a few months after it started due to pandemic-related concerns. The ordinance remained dormant for about 16 months, prompting restlessness from its proponents. But shortly after reinstating the ban, Keller’s administration strengthened it – eliminating a loophole that had allowed stores to switch to heavier-weight plastic bags.
The city was in the midst of studying the ban’s impact when Bassan’s repeal bill went before the council last month.
Despite another lengthy round of public comment – almost entirely from people asking the city to maintain the plastic bag prohibition – the council voted 6-3 last month to eliminate it, setting the stage for Keller’s veto.
The council also acted on another of Keller’s vetoes Monday but did not have the support to override him.
The council in March passed legislation preventing the city from requiring its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It was something of a preemptive measure since Keller’s administration had never imposed such a mandate.
Councilor Lewis, the bill’s sponsor, argued that employees deserved the “peace of mind” that city leaders would never require them to get the shots. The legislation passed on a 5-4 vote.
But Keller fired back. In his veto message, he said “a ban on vaccine mandates is an answer in search of a question,” since no city mandate exists. He lumped the legislation in with “manufactured ideological disputes.”
Five councilors – Bassan, Grout, Jones, Lewis and Sanchez – wanted to override that veto. Six are required, meaning the mayor’s action stands.