News Track: Anamosa lawmaker seeks alternative to ending bottle bill

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BACKGROUND

Folks around the Iowa Capitol joke that it’s not an official legislative session if there’s not a discussion of the four-decade old bottle bill.

The 2017 session was no exception. The House Environmental Protection Committee approved a bill that would end the nickel deposits on beer and pop containers, create a $60 million fund to support expansion of recycling and another fund for litter control efforts.

The bill then was sent to the Ways and Means Committee, but no action was taken.

“We’re not rushing it. We’re going to take time and get this right,” said Environmental Protection Committee Chairman Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, who described his idea as a two-year effort — “or longer.”

Overall, the plan was supported by the Iowa Grocery Industry Association and Iowa Beverage Association as well as some convenience stores. Opponents included environmental groups, recyclers and Iowa State Association of Counties. A number of local governments and the Iowa League of Cities were undecided.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

There’s been some discussion of the legislation this summer, but Alex Moon of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said he doesn’t know whether groups are seeking a consensus or fortifying their positions.

The land quality bureau chief has had some calls for information from “the same groups that led the charge” on House File 575.

“They haven’t contacted us to sit down to discuss this, but I’m sure as we get closer to the session they will,” Moon said.

Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, vice chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee, is one of those who hopes to have a plan when the Legislature convenes in January. He’s part of an ad hoc group of lawmakers who are hoping to present alternatives to Paustian’s proposal.

“It’s a work in progress,” said McKean, who declined to talk specifics.

“It’s a positive, affirmative approach,” added McKean, who arrived in the Legislature in 1979, the year after the bottle bill was passed. “Last year, it was mainly reactive to a proposal that would have eliminated the bottle bill. We want to come forward with a more pro-active approach and give lawmakers alternatives.”

Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City, a member of the subcommittee on Paustian’s proposal, would like that, too. She is not part of McKean’s ad hoc committee, but has received a lot of input from Iowans.

“I know that public opinion seems to sway heavily in favor of expansion and not to do away with it,” Lensing said.

There has been discussion about expanding the bill to cover water, sports drink and juice bottles.

“I also would like to see that solution as a possibility,” Lensing said.

It’s not the first time lawmakers have encouraged interested parties to find a compromise. Moon is hopeful this effort will be more fruitful.

“Even though legislators tell (the interested parties) after every session, ‘We’re not going to do anything this year, but we want all of you to work together,’ I never hear that they all get together,” he said. “I would like to see something that says the opposing groups in all this — and there are many sides — would be required to sit down together.”

In the past, Moon said, it appears the factions spend the interim building support for their positions “and come back with their same positions each session.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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