The State legislature passed a statute that effectively ended the use of plastic shopping bags in New Jersey starting May 4. While widely, if grudgingly, applauded by many people, the enforcement of the law, it turns out, will fall almost entirely to counties and municipalities, which will get to keep less than a third of the fines collected.
In a letter dated May 3, a day before the law went into effect, the State Department of Environmental Protection informed county and local governments that they would be the primary enforcement agencies of the new bag ban.
“All certified CEHA agencies, municipalities and NJDEP shall have the authority to enforce the provisions of this rule, assess and issue/settle penalties, and as necessary institute civil actions to compel compliance,” the DEP said in the letter.
While a first offense will result in a warning, and subsequent violations can result in fines of up to $5,000. The amount of the fines are at the discretion of the municipality or county issuing the violation.
“The Township of Knowlton notified all of our businesses by letter several months ago,” said Manor Adele Starrs.
With the exception of Blairstown, Knowlton has a significantly higher number of retail businesses within its borders that nearby communities such as Hardwick and Frelinghuysen. Gas stations and restaurants along with a major truck stop are clustered near the exits for Route I-80, and a substantial number of businesses line the Route 46 corridor.
Starrs said she was pleased that the Warren County would be sharing the enforcement responsibilities.
“I am glad that that burden is shared; the county has more resources than rural towns do,” Starrs said. She added that the township has the resources for the enforcement that will not be performed by the county.
While the local governments will be doing the bulk of the work, however, the state will be collecting the bulk of the fines. The county or municipality assessing the fine will keep 30 percent of fine and the state will collect the remaining 70 percent. The state’s share will be directed to the Clean Communities Fund.
Adding just a dash of bureaucracy to the mix, violators will be asked to write one check for 30 percent of the total for the issuing authority and 70 percent for the state.
“Unsurprisingly, the state of New Jersey is not responsible for enforcement, but they do take the lions’ share of any fines imposed,” said Starr.
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.
Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.
Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.
Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.