Beginning in early 2020, New Yorkers won't need to answer the question, "Paper or plastic?" 

When the state Legislature approves the 2019-20 budget, New York will become the second state to ban single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, convenience stores and other retail shops. The prohibition will commence March 1, 2020, according to the Transportation, Economic Development and Environmental Conservation budget bill released Thursday night. 

The bag ban was one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's legislative priorities this year. He called for a ban on single-use plastic bags in his executive budget proposal. 

New Yorkers use 23 million plastic bags annually. Plastic bag waste has been a problem. The bags can become litter along roads and in waterways. 

"For far too long plastic bags have blighted our environment and clogged our waterways and that's why I proposed a ban in this year's budget," Cuomo said. "With this smart, multi-pronged action New York will be leading the way to protect our natural resources now and for future generations of New Yorkers."

Certain plastic bags will be exempt from the ban, including bags used to wrap uncooked meat and bags provided by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs. Bags provided by restaurants for carryout food or deliveries won't be subject to the ban. 

For paper bags, cities and counties will have the option to impose a 5-cent fee. The budget clarifies that if a county and a city within the county decide to impose the fee, the county's fee won't apply in the city. 

Customers who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children will be exempt from the paper bag fee. 

Cities and counties that impose the 5-cent charge will receive 40 percent of the paper bag fee revenue. The remaining 60 percent of paper bag fee revenue collected by the state will be deposited into the Environmental Protection Fund. 

Jessica Ottney Mahar, New York policy director for The Nature Conservancy, endorsed the plastic bag ban and urged local governments to enact the paper bag fee. 

"Plastic bags pollute our oceans and bays, damage our stormwater infrastructure, litter our neighborhoods and become entangled in our trees," she said. "The Nature Conservancy applauds Governor Cuomo and the state Senate and Assembly for coming to a budget agreement to ban plastic bags, which will reduce this source of wasteful pollution all across our state." 

Some business groups oppose the ban. The Food Industry Alliance of New York State is one of the business groups that oppose prohibiting plastic bags. 

Mike Durant, president and CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, said Wednesday that the bag ban would lead to "severe consequences." 

"A plastic bag ban with a fee on single-use paper bags is not a sustainable public policy solution," he added. 

First-time violators of the plastic bag ban will receive a warning. For a second offense, violators will pay a $250 fine. A $500 fine must be paid for repeat offenses. 

The state's decision to ban plastic bags stems from local laws some municipalities adopted to address waste. When New York City passed legislation to impose a fee on plastic bags, state lawmakers intervened to block the implementation of the law. Cuomo explained at the time that he preferred a statewide solution. 

A task force established by Cuomo developed recommendations, including a ban, for reducing plastic bag waste. The governor introduced a bill last year that would ban single-use plastic bags, but it wasn't considered by the state Legislature before the end of the 2018 session. 

With the passage of the budget, New York will join California as the only states to ban plastic bags. Hawaii has a de facto statewide ban, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, because the most populous counties have a prohibition on plastic bags.

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