SCHENECTADY — Legislation as to whether the city of Schenectady should ban single-use plastic straws remains stalled after the bill failed to make it out of committee on Monday.
Lawmakers were divided between those who feel the law is sufficient and those with outstanding concerns about enforcement and buy-in from the business community.
Bill co-sponsors Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas and Councilman John Polimeni said the city’s Codes Department would handle reports on a "complaint-driven" basis, and discussions with city Building Inspector Chris Lunn revealed he had no problems taking on the additional responsibility.
“Mr. Lunn indicated it would not be a big lift at all and would be handled relatively easily,” Polimeni said.
Zalewski-Wildzunas said inspectors could simply include the item as a checklist in the annual “certificate of use” permit renewal process.
But Councilwoman Marion Porterfield wondered how potential violations would be prioritized in the wake of higher-priority issues.
“It concerns me about how this gets prioritized if codes enforcement is the way to do it,” she said.
In response to previous lawmaker concerns as to how business owners would be notified, Polimeni drafted a series of form letters designed to be sent to local restaurants.
The first, to be sent in October, would inform restaurateurs of the upcoming ban; encourage them to liquidate their stock of plastic straws; and recommend vendors for the purchase of biodegradable straws.
Early adopters, read the letter, will be provided with a promotional decal to advertise their compliance.
One suggested slogan read, “We stopped sucking. We skip the plastic straw.”
Another said, "The last straw. We've stopped providing plastic straws to reduce waste and only give them out if they are physically needed."
Polimeni also suggested featuring those businesses on a straw-prohibition website where they will have access to additional promotional designs and educational resources.
The letter also encourages usage of the #SchenectadySkipsTheStraw hashtag on social media.
A second round of letters would be sent once the law takes effect next January.
But the modifications didn’t assuage skeptical lawmakers.
City Council President Ed Kosiur said he still wanted to hear more from business owners despite the low turnout at last month’s public hearing.
“I still think it’s going to be too tough to support and I need to hear from our businesses,” Kosiur said.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo, who chairs the Government Operations Committee and led the discussion, agreed.
“This does have a cost impact on our businesses,” she said.
Polimeni countered that only three people spoke at the public hearing.
“There hasn’t been any outcry from any businesses, and those who did come were in favor,” he said.
Kosiur indicated he’d like to see the law instead taken up at the state or county level.
Councilman Vince Riggi acknowledged the issue has received ample media coverage and business owners were likely aware of the proposed law.
But he said he wouldn’t be comfortable supporting the proposal without a county buy-in.
“I think countywide is the way to go, and that’s where I’d feel much more comfortable going forward with this,” Riggi said.
Perazzo tabled the motion and said lawmakers would reach out to the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation about the prospects of soliciting a survey to glean more public input, as well as Schenectady County to gauge their interest in a possible partnership.
Polimeni said the city has led on several pieces of legislation that the county has later followed, including a ban on fireworks.
“We had led on a number of occasions and let’s do it again,” he said.
Riggi countered, “The county was first in allowing fireworks.”
If approved, the ban would take effect Jan. 1.
Restaurants would be required to provide biodegradable paper straws or forego them entirely. Establishments, including nursing homes, may provide “suitable” straws or stirrers for consumers with a disability or medical condition upon request.
The first violation would carry a written warning or notice of violation. Fees would start at $50 before capping at $250 for the fourth offense within a year, according to a draft of the proposed law.
Also on Monday, following significant public opposition against two proposed liquor stores, the Government Operations Committee approved a 180-day moratorium on liquor stores citywide. The full City Council is expected to vote on the measure next Monday.