TOMS RIVER — Gov. Phil Murphy will veto a much-criticized bill that would place a 5-cent fee on plastic grocery store bags, his office confirmed Thursday afternoon, leading some environmentalists and lawmakers to believe he will push for an outright ban. 

Murphy called the bill's sponsors this week and told them he would veto the bill, which was rushed through the Legislature in June amid frenzied negotiations over a roughly $37 billion state budget.

More than a dozen municipalities, including Jersey City, Hoboken and Monmouth Beach, have passed local bans this year that will soon go into effect despite heavy lobbying efforts against a statewide ban.

Murphy's office confirmed that he will sign a veto and explain his position on Friday or Monday — the deadline to take action. 

The news was announced hours earlier by state Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, at a legislative hearing on plastics pollution. It drew a loud round of applause from environmentalists and others gathered at the Toms River municipal complex to discuss ways to reduce single-use plastics like bags, cups, Styrofoam containers and straws.

An outright ban?

Plastic grocery bags have become so synonymous with litter that they have been banned in California, Hawaii and several U.S. cities.

Smith, who heads the Senate environment committee, hopes Murphy will now support a bill he introduced in June that would ban most retailers from giving out not only plastic carryout bags but also Styrofoam food containers and plastic straws.  

"We heard testimony today from scientists who said that we now have plastic particles in our bodies, so it's become a public health issue," Smith said. "I think there is a lot of momentum for a ban, and I think we'll have it done by the end of the year."

Several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Environment New Jersey, the Surfrider Foundation, Clean Water Action and Clean Ocean Action, praised the impending veto, saying it would lead to an outright ban. 

"We couldn't get to a ban with a fee bill," said Amy Goldsmith, executive director of Clean Water Action. "You would see a reduction at first, but then the numbers would have gone up. But after a while, who's going to remember the 5 cents? People will just start paying."

Others, like New Jersey Audubon, the League of Conservation Voters and the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, were disappointed Murphy chose an outright veto. They would have preferred the governor to close the loopholes in the fee bill through a conditional veto.

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