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Jail Time Stripped Out of Nation's Most Controversial Straw Ban

Santa Barbara's new proposal would fine repeat violators up to $250 for handing out prohibited plastic straws and stirrers.

Hanohiki/Dreamstime.comHanohiki/Dreamstime.comAfter several months of delays and amendments, the Santa Barbara City Council is back to banning straws. The new legislation would prohibit more plastic items but impose lesser penalities than the original ban proposed in July.

On Tuesday, the council voted 6–1 to reintroduce a bill prohibiting all food and beverage providers from providing customers with plastic straws or stirrers. Restaurateurs would also be barred from giving out plastic cutlery unless a customer specifically requests it.

Violators of the would be given a warning for a first-time offence, after which they could be subject to administrative fines of $100 to $250 per straw or stirrer. Harsh though that sounds, it is actually less strict that the initial legislation. Under the first version of the bill, repeat offenses would be treated as a code violation and thus a misdemeanor, opening up restaurateurs to potential criminal sanctions of $1,000 in fines and six months in jail.

Santa Barbara's straw ban attracted national attention when it was first considered, with everyone from the San Francisco Chronicle and Fox News to Donald Trump Jr. highlighting the severe nature of the sanctions. In an attempt to quell the controversy, city officials insisted that the criminal penalties were boilerplate language and would be employed only in the most extreme instances of providing people with straws.

Assistant City Attorney Scot Vincent told Reason in July that criminal charges would only be pursued after multiple violations and if there were aggravating circumstances. Bryan Latchford, Santa Barbara's outreach coordinator for environmental services, took the same line, saying that "the intention was never to issue fines or jail time."

Nevertheless, when the bill was kicked back to committee—so that plastic stirrers could added to the list of prohibited items—Santa Barbara officials also decided to strip out any potential for jail time. At the time, City Attorney Ariel Calonne argued for keeping criminal penalties for major violators. "The point I tried to make was we don't know whether we're going to be dealing with an innocent vendor who gives out one straw, or we're going to have Lime Bikes dumping 10,000 straws," said Calonne at Tuesday's city council meeting.

Calonne's suggestion fell on deaf ears. The new bill says plainly that the ban "shall not be criminally enforceable." More explicit protections for the disabled community were also included, making clear that food and beverage providers can still give out plastic straws on an on-demand basis for those who have difficulty drinking without them.

Disability activists still came out against the ban, arguing that it would deter restaurants from keeping straws on hand even for people who need them.

"It is our concern that food and beverage providers will just simply stop buying straws, and will therefore not have them available for individuals with disabilities when requested," said Dani Anderson, executive director of Santa Barbara's Independent Living Resource Center, at Tuesday's city council meeting. Anderson recommended amending the bill to penalize businesses that did not keep straws on hand.

The lone elected official opposing the straw ban was Councilman Randy Rowse, who, while stressing that "no one on either side of the argument thinks that straws are a good thing," argued that the amended straw ban was confusing and a waste of city resources.

"We've complicated things. We've complicated to the point of where we've used an amazing amount, an embarrassing amount of staff time and resources," said Rowse during Tuesday's hearing. "Today, after all the readings, after all we've come back to, we're still asking questions. The disabled community has some serious questions."

Rowse argued for a voluntary approach to cutting back on straws, but was ultimately overruled by proponents who saw in their straw ban bill an opportunity to change the world.

"The more we connect the dots from straws, to food waste, to transportation, the easier it will be for people to make the necessary changes," said Kathi King of Santa Barbara's Community Environmental Council.

"The straw is unique, and it is symbolic in many instances," said Councilman Eric Friedman, saying he hoped other communities would follow his city's example. "We are Santa Barbara, we pride ourselves on our legacy of environmental stewardship and policy, and when we act, others listen."

Tuesday's meeting introduced the amended straw ban for consideration, but the city council will have to vote again to officially adopt it. If passed, it will go into effect in July 2019.

Photo Credit: Hanohiki/Dreamstime.com

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  • Don't look at me!||

    You can't save the planet if you are going to be weak on straw crime.

  • Echo Chamber||

    "city officials insisted that the criminal penalties were boilerplate language and would be employed only in the most extreme instances of providing people with straws"

    The term extremist is being watered down

  • Echo Chamber||

    "The point I tried to make was we don't know whether we're going to be dealing with an innocent vendor who gives out one straw, or we're going to have Lime Bikes dumping 10,000 straws," said Calonne at Tuesday's city council meeting.

    How long before Lime Bikes is added to the list of terrorist organizations? At least they won't be bothered by being put on the 'no fly' list

  • Cy||

    Even I couldn't have imagined how far the left would take 'domestic terrorists."

  • Johnimo||

    As I stated last week, "I'll give up my plastic straw when they pry it from my porcelain, high-priced, orthodontically repaired and replaced teeth." I have a huge supply of large bore plastic straws to which I'm continually adding additional supplies.

    Imagine how much fun it will be, in a future time whens straws are banned, to cruise by a table full of kids and carelessly toss a few straws to them, with a nonchalant smile and air. The straw man cometh!

  • Rorschach||

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Awesome

  • Anomalous||

    Why not subject this to a referendum? A straw poll, if you will.

  • GoatOnABoat||

    Why not just draw straws and see who gets the short one?

  • Johnimo||

    When straws are outlawed, only outlaws will have straws.

    Oh! The humanity!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So, yes, you won't be going to jail for violating the straw ban. You'll be going to jail for not paying the fines for violating the straw ban.

  • Just Say'n||

    Libertarian Moment!

  • Echo Chamber||

    "The disabled community has some serious questions."

    So do other communities

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Some of us can't afford to roll a $100 bill into a straw to do a line of coke.

  • Joe Clave||

    It's quite the catch-22, use $100 or get fined $100 for using a straw.

  • sarcasmic||

    The straw that broke the jailers back.

  • Moridin||

    You know something is very wrong with the country when legislation like this has enough support via elected officials to get passed and then enforced.

    The left are nothing but authoritarians who dress themselves up as moral crusaders. It's just that their morals change with the political winds.

  • Shirley Knott||

    It's not just the left, it's the political class as such.
    Might makes right is the moral compass of every politician, regardless of party affiliation.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    ^^^This^^^

    I think this is one of the reasons few libertarians run for office. In the end, it's not about changing things so people can run their own lives, it's about lording over the populace.

  • Echo Chamber||

    "The more we connect the dots from straws, to food waste, to transportation, the easier it will be for people to make the necessary changes"

    First they come for your straws ...

  • Joe Clave||

    Strawman argument.

  • CE||

    It's the last straw.

  • Anomalous||

    From my cold, dead lips!

  • Bubba Jones||

    "providers can still give out plastic straws on an on-demand basis for those who have difficulty drinking without them."

    Who determines whether a customer is worthy?

    Can a shop put out a straw dispenser for anyone who self identifies as having difficulty drinking without a straw?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    I can remember a time when straw dispensers were a common sight at diners and fast food places. You decided if you wanted a straw or not, not the state.

  • Griffin3||

    I would give substantial amounts of money to learn that the audience at the council meeting pulled out plastic straws and started showering the council members with [imaginary] spitballs.

  • juris imprudent||

    Eric Friedman has the eminently punchable face you would expect.

  • CGN||

    Yet another reason NOT to move to California. Their government is basically communist. There are no concentration camps (yet) but their laws are at best absurd, and at worst unconstitutional and STUPID!!! Second in line for this kind of wicked, illegal stupidity is Minnesota, another "progressive" (read commie) state as regards government. I wonder why presumably intelligent voters in either state keep putting these criminal progressives in office.
    Mike Webb in Carver, MN is a good example of a crooked and money grabbing progressive.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    There are no concentration camps (yet)

    Because they have to get that rail line built first.

  • Johnimo||

    You do mean HIGH-SPEED rail line, right?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    And all the various gender bathrooms.

  • NoVaNick||

    Here's a way to bury straw bans for good: Get someone to step forward and raise a stink that they have a fetish for inserting straws in certain orifices and the ban is therefore discriminatory. California will then enshrine a right to unlimited straws for life at taxpayer expense in the state constitution.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""Restaurateurs would also be barred from giving out plastic cutlery unless a customer specifically requests it.""

    Take out customer calls the restaurant - You didn't include a fork
    Restaurant - You didn't ask

    This is a probable and stupid scenario to force upon customers and restaurants

  • TxJack 112||

    Although they say the law has been changed, stop and think about what the original was and how this one is really just a insane. Up to a $10,000 fine and 6 months in jail for handing out a PLASTIC STRAW???? They attempted to make handing out a STRAW a criminal offense!!!! Hello, it does not matter they have changed the law. The issue is still about PLASTIC STRAWS!!!! Guess people in California will need to really find out about the three seashells they reference in Demolition Man because I am sure toilet paper will be next...

  • CE||

    Apparently they just don't care about sea life and the environment.

  • Uncle Jay||

    People who throw straws on the streets should be shot on sight.
    Don't they know those straws might be picked up by some sea gull so it can snort cocaine from it?
    Don't they know some walrus might pick one up and put it in their margarita and become an alcoholic?
    Don't they know some gopher might use that straw as a silencer for their .357 magnum?
    Its bad enough straws exist, but to allow people to throw away straws at random is a sin against God and a direct threat to mankind.

  • Joseph C. Moore (USN Ret.||

    Never mind the "environmental bulls**t". I want to know why adults are sucking like babies instead of drinking like an adult.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Stupid is, as Stupid does.......and Santa Barbara, it would seem, has cornered the world on Stupid.

  • Dace Highlander||

    Every challenger to a political office in Santa Barbara should come to every debate with a large soda (failed soda tax) with a bendy straw sticking out of it.

  • Johnimo||

    Straws suck!

  • Curly4||

    If they are serious about plastic straws and cutlery then the first offense a warning, second offense lose of license, third offense lose of life. That should do it. At lease the one who is executed will not hand out any more plastic. But then another solution would be to fine the customer the same as the vender.

  • CGN||

    Just more proof that government screw everything up. I wish I could say that their hearts were in the right place, but what is really in the WRONG place are their minds. These crooked Pols want what they want, and FUCK what those the "represent" want. We need as a nation to make HUGE cuts in government overall, especially in their powers over us, as WE are the represented, and WE are the judge, not money-grubbing pols, e.g., progressive crooks.

  • flyfishnevada||

    What are "aggravating circumstances" when passing our a straw? Is that like when murder isn't just murder but a "hate" crime? If you give a straw to a handicapped person out of pity they go easy on you but if you give one out with malice in your heart they throw the book at you? Seriously, I what to know this...

  • tlapp||

    The most humiliating duty for a police officer. Straw duty. Don't worry about the gang violence just make sure no one gets a plastic straw.

  • gphx||

    Dems want to make everything legal illegal but make illegals legal.

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