Earlier this year, a city ordinance went into effect which, with some exceptions, banned Austin businesses from supplying single-use carryout bags to its customers. It had taken a year from its initial passage in March 2012 to prepare all the administrative rules which apply to the ordinance.
As you might expect, opinions on the usefulness and appropriateness of the regulations were mixed. Some felt the rules were simply unnecessary and not worth the inconvenience of having to remember to carry your own bags when shopping, or being forced to purchase multi-use (reusable) bags to carry your purchases. Others looked at the law as an effort to reduce waste, and help the environment.
But we don’t think anyone had envisioned another effect of so many people carrying their own bags around retail stores. According to some store managers in Austin, shoplifters are taking advantage of the situation by using the bags to hide the items they are stealing. Now, we don’t believe the ordinance was necessary for thieves to carry bags to hide their loot in. It’s just that when so many people are carrying their own bags in a store, it’s apparently easier now for shoplifters to slip through under the radar, so to speak. Having said that, we don’t have any statistics that say shoplifting is up over the past six months, so we’re not really sure whether the concerns are justified.
We should add that shoplifting is no longer a separate offense under Texas law. A single offense now includes not only shoplifting, but also swindling, embezzlement, receiving stolen property, theft by false pretext and other offenses, all of which are consolidated under the single offense of theft. As a general rule, the classification of these offenses, and the punishments that may be applicable in the case of a conviction, are dictated not by the type of theft involved, but by the value of the property that is the subject of the alleged crime.
We’ll have to give the ordinance some additional time before we can pass on whether it’s a good thing, or an idea that is not worth the effort. In the meantime, we’d need to see some hard evidence before coming to the conclusion that the new ordinance is facilitating illegal behavior.