Commentary

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Disposable plastic bags were castigated and praised at a public hearing last week as the Board of Supervisors considered a new ordinance to impose a five-cent-per-bag tax in the county. Enabling legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 2020 authorizes localities to adopt such an ordinance; two cents of the tax is retained by the retailers, with that amount dropping to one cent in January 2023. The bag tax would be collected by the state, essentially in the same manner that the retail sales and use tax is collected. The bag tax would not apply to plastic bags used to wrap or package ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, and perishable items, nor to dry cleaning and prescription drug bags. Multiple plastic bags sold in packages (e.g., for garbage, pet waste, etc.) also are exempt.

Nearly 40 speakers were signed up for the hearing, with various approaches to the proposal. A former Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency spoke against the bag tax, while members of environmental organizations spoke in support of it. Some speakers pointed out that no one has to pay the tax. Reusable bags are readily available (most of us probably have a few in our vehicles already), and you don’t need a single use plastic bag for every purchase. Changing a habit or behavior, bringing your own bag, or asking for a paper bag won’t incur the tax. After a couple hours of testimony and discussion, the measure passed by a vote of 9 to 1, Supervisor Herrity (R-Springfield) voting against it. The new Code amendment goes into effect on January 1, 2022, which allows plenty of time for adjusting behaviors now.

Mason District lost an angel last Friday, with the passing of Carmen Fernandez, a founder of Hispanics Against Child Abuse and Neglect (HACAN) and a longtime resident of the Bailey’s Crossroads area. Carmen created HACAN in 1985, and was the guiding light of the non-profit that focuses on strengthening immigrant families in Northern Virginia through parent education and out-of-school activities that serve and support youth. One of those activities is my favorite, the Morningstar program that, prior to the pandemic, met on Saturday mornings at the Woodrow Wilson Library. Under Carmen’s direction, girls from early elementary to high school age learned skills through activities designed to build self-esteem and have fun at the same time. Across the years, it was heartwarming to watch the girls grow into young women, and help their younger sisters (and sometimes, brothers) get involved in Morningstar.

Physically, Carmen was an elegant, tiny woman, but her reach was huge. She lived a positive life, always believing that a problem could be resolved by working together, and she usually was right. Many times, I tried to convince her to let me nominate her as Mason District’s Lady Fairfax, a designation that honors volunteer service, but she always refused. Carmen never wanted the attention to be on her, but on the families and children she worked so hard to help. Carmen was 88 when she passed peacefully with her immediate family at her bedside. Her extensive community family, including me, mourns with them.