Council member Berlin Boyd said the revised ordinance aims to get around a new state law limiting cities' regulations of food containers.

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Key members of the Memphis City Council have dropped the idea of imposing a plastic bag fee, and are now proposing an outright ban on many plastic bags used at store checkouts. 

The ban would sidestep a new Tennessee law intended to stop local governments from regulating plastic bags and other food containers. 

The ban proposal is sponsored by council members Berlin Boyd and Kemp Conrad. It would impose a $50 fine for every use of a single-use plastic checkout bag at a retail establishments. 

Boyd said plastic bags are a big drain on the local economy, since the government has to spend millions of dollars to get rid of them.

In April, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a law that aimed to stop Memphis and other cities from regulating disposable containers. The bill was intended to preempt bag fees under consideration by some Tennessee cities.

It's not clear that the local ban would comply with the new state law. Boyd said the city would reach out to the Tennessee Secretary of State's office for a legal opinion on the matter.

Across the United States, various government entities have imposed fees or outright bans to discourage the use of plastic bags, citing waste and environmental damage. This week, for instance, the governors of Maine and Vermont signed separate bills approving statewide plastic bag bans. 

Statewide bans exist in California and New York, while all counties in Hawaii have imposed bans, The Associated Press reported, citing research by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Under the proposed text of the Boyd's ordinance, some plastic bags would still be allowed in Memphis.

For instance, stores could still provide small bags to package loose items such as fruits and vegetables. Newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags, restaurant take-out bags and some other types of bags would likewise still be permitted.

The rules would only apply to drug stores, supermarkets or retail establishments that have over 2,000 square feet of retail space.

Investigative reporter Daniel Connolly welcomes tips and comments from the public. Reach him at 529-5296,, or on Twitter at @danielconnolly.

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