The Omaha City Council fell one vote short Tuesday of overriding the mayor’s veto of a ban on plastic bags at local stores larger than 10,000 square feet.
Bag ban sponsors Ben Gray and Pete Festersen could not secure the fifth vote needed to overcome Mayor Jean Stothert’s veto. The three council members who voted against the ban originally — Rich Pahls, Aimee Melton and Brinker Harding — voted against the veto override.
And the ban’s original supporters on the council, Gray, Festersen, Vinny Palermo and Chris Jerram, voted to override the veto.
But Harding and others said they would support a resolution as early as next week encouraging research into plastic litter, a problem a majority of council members said they want to address. Stothert expressed the same wish minutes after the override vote.
Stothert has argued that the ban would have been ineffective in addressing concerns about litter and plastic pollution because single-use plastic bags aren’t a large contributor to either problem.
She also said Monday evening that a ban places too much of a hardship on local and national businesses that are already voluntarily moving away from using plastic bags locally but doing so at their own pace.
“I truly feel if you pass a law, it needs to be something that was needed and will make a difference,” Stothert told The World-Herald on Tuesday afternoon. “You don’t pass a law to feel good.”
Gray and Festersen thanked the groups of young people who have come forward in recent weeks to support the ban. Elementary and high school students testified in support of the ban at a recent council meeting.
The sponsors also said their proposal, which passed 4-3, was the start of a broader local conversation about reducing litter and waste. Both said they’d consider trying again and would work to build support.
Pahls, who was among the council opponents of the ban, said the public will embrace the idea in time. Many young people focused their lobbying efforts on the former Millard principal.
He said Tuesday that he heard and respected their concerns and repeated that he would like to see local retailers engage with Omaha-area students who are passionate about the environment.
Together, he said, they might be able to come up with ideas to move the public conversation forward, including moving away from plastic bags.
Corah Johnson, a recent Marian High graduate, told Pahls that she appreciated the suggestion but said the ban was what students wanted.
“I think we’ve never been against that,” said Johnson, a member of a group of local high school students called Students for Sustainability. “That’s not what today is about.”
Pahls paused and said she should consider working with retailers because the alternative is “all or nothing.”