Progressives split on bag ban, ex-cons

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A couple of interesting votes at the Board of Supes Dec. 6. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi lost two pieces of legislation -- a mandate that stores charge for bags at checkout counters and a tax credit for companies that hire ex-offenders.

The bag ban went down 7-4. Well, actually, it was continued to February, by which time Mirkarimi will be gone. Sup. Jane Kim said she wanted to see more outreach to minority businesses, and was quoted in the press saying she would support it at a future date, but I suspect the delay marks the end of the bill. Without Mirkarimi around to push it, the measure will probably just die. It's odd because San Francisco used to be on the cutting edge of environmental issues; the bag ban is getting picked up by other cities and will probably be law all over the country in a decade.

Voting for the continuation were three supes who said they supported the "concept" -- Scott Wiener, David Chiu and Kim.

The ex-offender tax credit went down 6-5 -- and on this one, Sup. Malia Cohen, who is not always with the progressives but whose district has the largest number of parolees in the city, supported Mirkarimi. So did Kim, Eric Mar, and David Campos. The swing vote: Sup. John Avalos, the progressive leader in the mayor's race and one of the most solid left votes on the board.

Avalos told me that he doesn't support tax breaks; he's been consistent on that, and I understand. I don't support tax breaks, either. I don't think they're very effective and they cost the city money. But there are two elements that make this unusual -- for one, if anyone actually used the tax credit and hired an ex-offender, the money the city would likely save by keeping that person from going back to jail would greatly exceed the amount of the tax reduction.

Besides, I was waiting to see Lee come up with an excuse to veto the bill -- particularly at a time when more and more ex-offenders are going to be released in San Francisco. I know this is just petty politics and all that, but this was a tough decision involving a very unpopular group (nobody wants to be nice to former criminals) -- and Lee got off easy.