Attorney General Martha Coakley's office has issued an opinion on the validity of Article 65 that passed at Town Meeting and sought to ban the sale of plastic water bottles as of January 2011.
The A.G. determined that the article is not a true bylaw and therefore cannot be enforced. The office sent the article back to the town.
"We return the vote under Article 65 with no action by this office because we have determined that it does not constitute a valid bylaw subject to our review and approval."
The article was brought to Town Meeting by petition by Jean Hill as a way to help the environment. But it was strenuously fought by businesses in town that saw dollars going out of town for bottled water, a virtual must for youth sports. The selectmen did not support the article.
The selectmen sent it to Attorney General Martha Coakley's office because it needed review by the state before taking effect. The selectmen did not favor implementation of the ban, saying it would lead to a probable lawsuit, and the language of the article did not specify penalties or enforcement procedures.
Massachusetts law states, "before a bylaw takes effect it shall be approved by the attorrney general."
The AG's office stated that after reviewing the article, "...we note that there is nothing in the plain language of the warrant article or the motion under Article 65 which refers to the proposed adoption of a bylaw."
The office said, in conclusion, "...there is nothing in the plain language of Article 65 or the motion under that article, which expresses or implies that it proposed the adoption of a bylaw. There, we conclude that the vote under Article 65 does not come within the scope of the Attorney General's limited review authority" under the general laws.
The decision goes on to state that nothing in the language of the article spoke to enforceability or punishment for buying bottled water.
"The vote under Articler 65 contains no penalty at all," the AG's office wrote.
The decision issued on Friday was the first step in imposing the ban. If the AG had agreed that the article was a bylaw, the next step would have been to decide if it were enforceable. That step will not be taken now.