City Council moves forward with single-use bag tax, Fair Workweek ordinance


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

The Police and Fire Headquarters decrepit elevator led to a broader discussion about failing infrastructure at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

City Council voted to introduce a single-use bag tax and a Fair Workweek ordinance Monday. 

The single-use bag tax ordinance first came before the council in January, but several councilmembers voiced concerns about the tax’s negative economic impact on small businesses. The council then voted to refer the ordinance back to the Human Services Committee.

The committee made several changes to the ordinance, including a proposed 10-cent tax — a decrease from the previous 15 cents — on carryout single-use bags. It also exempts restaurants, non-chain stores and businesses smaller than 10,000 square feet.

The ordinance also includes a ban on plastic bags at all businesses. If passed, both the ban and the tax will go into effect Aug. 1.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the ordinance will strengthen the city’s existing ban on all single-use plastic bags at retailers larger than 10,000 square feet. He noted that some retailers are offering thicker plastic bags they deem reusable to circumvent the current ban.

“(Large businesses) found a loophole and they exploited it … then we ended up with these really thick plastic bags,” Reid said. “They did the exact opposite of what we intended.”

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said he supports the ordinance and would consider lowering the square footage threshold for exemptions in the future so the tax would apply to more businesses. 

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) highlighted a recent pilot program in Tucson, Arizona, where more than 150 businesses banded together to test out different strategies, such as putting up signs and training cashiers to remind customers to bring reusable bags to reduce plastic-bag usage. 

“(Businesses) were able to test the waters, put signs out (and) start encouraging people so it didn’t just hit suddenly,” she said.

Although Kelly supports the ordinance, she said she would like to see the city adopt a similar approach if it considers applying the tax to smaller businesses in the future.

The council voted unanimously to introduce the ordinance.

The discussion became more heated when the council considered the Fair Workweek ordinance, which would require Evanston employers to provide their employees with their schedule two weeks in advance and with financial compensation if the schedule changes in that window.

If passed, the ordinance will impact all restaurants and food service businesses with at least 30 locations and 200 employees. It will also apply to all other types of businesses with 15 or more employees, excluding nursing homes and those in the healthcare and childcare industries.

Reid, who made the referral for the ordinance with Mayor Daniel Biss, said it had undergone many revisions to address different businesses’ concerns before coming to the council. 

During public comment, Paul Klitzkie, general manager of Nature’s Perspective Landscaping, said he wants the council to consider exempting the landscaping industry from the ordinance. 

“We work outdoors, and doing so puts our work schedule completely at the mercy of Mother Nature,” Klitzkie said. “Unless the City Council can provide me with a 100% accurate weather forecast for the next 14 days, we won’t be able to conform to this.”

Acknowledging Klitzkie’s comment, Reid moved to amend the ordinance to clarify that employers are not liable for schedule changes caused by a weather event. The amendment passed unanimously. 

Kelly, however, said it is inappropriate to move forward with the ordinance. She said she would like the city to hold two community meetings to receive more input from other businesses.

“There are a lot of businesses that haven’t been informed (and) that are catching wind of it now. And I think if you put out a couple of meetings to collect input … that can only help,” Kelly said. “We just made a modification tonight again based on just catching it by chance.”

Kelly made a motion to hold the ordinance but failed to get a second.

Biss said he disagreed with Kelly’s proposal and he feels comfortable with the amount of outreach he has done for the ordinance.

“We’ve got two more weeks to make more changes if need be, and I will continue to take every meeting from anybody who wants to discuss it,” Biss said.

The council voted 6-2 to introduce the Fair Workweek ordinance. 

Both ordinances will return to the council for votes of passage at its May 22 meeting.

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Twitter: @caseeey_he

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