Special Interest Clout Delivers ‘Doggy Bag’ Bill to Walker

March 17, 2016

A Republican bill that forbids communities from banning or regulating plastic bags, takeout containers and other packaging, including coffee cup insulating sleeves, is on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.

The measure, Assembly Bill 730, was given final approval Tuesday by the Senate on a 19-13 party line vote. No local governments in Wisconsin have approved such a ban. AB730 was backed by more than a dozen special interests, and is similar to model legislation offered by a secretive pro-business group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is a special interest bill mill that unites business and other powerful special interests with mostly Republican state legislators around the country to develop “model” pro-business and social policies that can be tweaked and introduced in any state legislature. ALEC developed the legislation in mid-2015 after bag- and container-ban proposals cropped up in numerous states and U.S. cities in recent years. ALEC and special interests that support the legislation say bag bans hurt business and consumer choice.

Generally, Democrats and environmental groups oppose the legislation because it preempts local control, and most plastic bags and single-use containers are slow to degrade, take up valuable landfill space, or litter land and water.

The push for the measure was led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization whose membership alone covers more than a dozen special interests, including business, manufacturing, natural resources, tourism, and construction. Other backers of the bill include the Koch Companies, Wisconsin Paper Council, Wisconsin Restaurant Association, American Chemistry Council, Wisconsin Grocers Association, and the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association.

Overall, special interests represented by WMC and other trade groups that support the container-ban bill contributed $12.2 million to current Republican legislators and another $32.2 million to Walker between January 2011 and December 2015.

The bill was sponsored by GOP Sens. Roger Roth, of Appleton, and Frank Lasee, of De Pere, and GOP Reps. Mike Rohrkaste, of Neenah, and Tyler Vorpagel, of Plymouth .

More than half of the large individual and political action committee contributions raised by the bill’s four sponsors between January 2011 and December 2015 came from WMC-represented special interests.

Roth raised $268,104, or 65 percent, of his campaign cash between January 2011 and December 2015 from special interests whose trade groups back the bill.

Lasee raised $194,746, or 77 percent, of his campaign cash between January 2011 and December 2015 from special interests whose trade groups back the bill.

Rohrkaste raised $35,645, or 64 percent, of his campaign cash between January 2011 and December 2015 from special interests whose trade groups back the bill.

Vorpagel raised $16,322, or 55 percent, of his campaign cash between January 2011 and December 2015 from special interests whose trade groups back the bill.