The hearing before members of the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday morning was about Laredo's plastic bag ban. Former Justice Dale Wainwright was hired to defend the south Texas city.
"So the ordinance is a reasonable response to a huge problem in the city,” said Wainwright.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht asked if the problem wasn’t a solid waste management problem. Wainwright sparred with his former colleagues over whether or not Laredo's law was about safety, or if it violates a state Statue that regulates waste disposal. "Source reduction is not solid waste management,” said Wainwright who also argued that the State Statute was ambiguous.
Richard Phillips Jr, who represents members of a downtown Laredo business association, said the state law was not ambiguous and argued the city has over-stepped its authority.
"There's lots of things they can do, there are otherwise to regulate the bag, regulate how they are disposed of but the one thing they can’t do is whether or not they are given out,” said Phillips.
Justice Debra Lehrmann asked, “Why would people in Houston care how people in Dallas get their groceries to their home?”
Phillips answered, “It has to uniformity about what kinds of bags can be used throughout the state."
The Attorney General’s Office joined the effort in challenging local bag bans.
"This is the new measure of these municipalities, they wake up one day and decide if they don’t like the law, because of their political preference, or personal conviction, they can just go around the law, "we are saying, in the same way, if I decide I want to go 85 mph through San Antonio, they are going to give me a ticket, because that’s the law, they also have to live and work within the frame work of the law set by the Texas legislature,” said Marc Rylander with the A.G.’s office.
Supporters of the Laredo ban say it's made the community cleaner and has not created an economic burden. "No business has gone out of business because of this ordinance and taxpayers have saved a lot of money with the cleaning out of these storm drains and things like that, and I think shoppers and retailers have all adapted and adjusted,” said Tricia Cortez with the Rio Grande International Studies Center.
While the ruling may eventually have a big impact statewide, it could also affect a small business operated by two environmental warriors from Houston.
Lila Mankad and Caoilin Karathaus came up Thursday morning to watch the court fight. "We have a petition with over 2,000 signatures and we are working hard to keep it going,” said Mankad.
The two friends have started a campaign to make reusable bags out of recycled materials.
"And if we lose the case we can still go on, and persuade people to stop using plastic bags,” said Karathaus. An immediate ruling from the Justices did not happen, it make take several months before a decision is announced.