Schenectady fine-tuning proposed straw ban

Tim Taney, owner of Slidin' Dirty, located at 512 State St. moves straws at the bar in April
Tim Taney, owner of Slidin' Dirty, located at 512 State St. moves straws at the bar in April

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Despite the sedate public reception at last week’s public hearing on the city’s proposed straw ban, city councilors are continuing to stir internal debate on the proposed legislation.

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she continues to harbor concerns over the public education and enforcement components of the proposed new law. 

She asked the City Council’s Government Operations Committee to include the proposal on the agenda every two weeks in order to fine-tune the proposal.

“I think we need to massage the law to make sure it’s more inclusive,” Perazzo said on Monday, noting she wasn’t an automatic “no” vote without the adjustments. 

Perazzo also asked how restaurants would be notified, noting the bumpy rollout of new cab regulations earlier this year that saw cab operators left largely in the dark about new statutes, including those requiring them to replace aging vehicles.

City Council President Ed Kosiur noted only three people spoke at last week’s public hearing, none of them restaurant owners.

He also wanted more clarification on what constitutes a “full-service” restaurant; asked if fines could be steered into a dedicated account to promote environmental educational efforts with the Schenectady City School District; and asked if the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation could facilitate a survey to glean more public input.

Kosiur also floated the idea of working with the school district to create window decals as part of a public relations campaign.

If approved by the City Council, the ban would take effect Jan. 1, 2020. Restaurants would be required to provide biodegradable paper straws or forego them entirely. Establishments may provide “suitable” straws or stirrers for consumers with a disability or medical condition upon request.

Violating the ban would be punishable by a staggered fine structure. 

Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, who is co-sponsoring the legislation with Councilman John Polimeni, attributed the anemic public hearing turnout to miscommunication over a date change.

She said the new law, if passed, would be advertised, and predicted businesses would largely self-enforce and be prompted into doing so by not wanting to be flagged on social media for ducking the ordnance.

“You’re going to have more harm with negative publicity and it wouldn’t be wise,” Polimeni said.

But if reported by patrons, the city’s Codes Department could investigate, he said.

“People call the city for all kinds of stuff,” Polimeni said. “They’re certainly going to call for something like this.”

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said the department has its hands full.

“To ask them to add this to their list of things to do, that’s asking a lot,” she said.

Councilman Vince Riggi questioned how the Codes Department would be able to prove someone was using a plastic straw.

“I think it’s going to be tough for anyone to see where it came from unless we have straw police,” he said.

Koisuer said enforcement is paramount.

“If not enforced, it’s just a feel good piece of legislation,” he said. “Bu it has to be enforced, no doubt in my mind.”

Perazzo said the clock is ticking before the proposed launch date and advised lawmakers to keep ironing out outstanding issues every two weeks until an agreement is reached and the proposal is placed on the full City Council’s agenda for a vote.

Polimeni said public sentiment is turning toward culling plastics and urged the committee not to belabor the legislation, noting local efforts may spur broader statewide legislation. 

“You’re just putting off something that should be done sooner rather than later,” he said.

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