116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Frankly, the ongoing debate over Iowa’s bottle bill leaves me as cold as a convenience store cooler. I just can’t get excited by the sight of lawmakers and lobbyists fighting over nickels.
That said, the debate is instructional.
It’s an example of how our Republican Legislature often doesn’t listen to Iowans. Lawmakers are remarkably willing to do unpopular things without fear of electoral consequences. Accountability is scarce under the Golden Dome of Wisdom, and that includes accountability for taking actions Iowans don’t like to please the GOP’s business and culture war pals.
A bill that passed the GOP Senate would allow grocery stores and other retailers that sell carbonated beverages subject to Iowa’s 5-cent deposit law to opt out of accepting cans and bottles for redemption. The bill also raises the handling fee paid to redemption centers from 1 cent to 3 cents, cuts the barrel tax on beer and allows beverage distributors to keep every unredeemed nickel for containers that are not returned. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars, a figure that likely will rise when retailers stop collecting cans.
A House bill also allows retailers to opt out, although they must clear some bureaucratic hurdles to do so and would be offered an incentive to continue participating. The handling fee for redemption centers would go from 1 cent to 2 cents, among other changes. Now the House and Senate are negotiating a deal.
On the bright side, raising the handling fee to help spur an expansion in the number of redemption centers is a good idea. But Iowans clearly don’t want a bottle bill that makes it harder for them to return containers. It’s not even close.
A poll by Selzer & Company, the same reputable polling firm that conducts the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, found in February that 86 percent of 814 active registered Iowa voters supported expanding the number of places bottles and cans can be returned for deposit. After being read arguments for and against the bottle bill, 72 percent of respondents supported expanding the law to include water, tea and sports beverages not currently covered. The poll was commissioned by Cleaner Iowa.
Overall, 84 percent of Iowans polled say the bottle bill has been good for the state. Just 16 percent of those polled favor repealing the law.
And yet, some GOP lawmakers insist if they can’t make the law less convenient, they’ll move to repeal it.
“It’s to the point where I think a whole lot of people agree that if we can’t get something done this year, next year, we need to be looking at repeal,” said Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” program.
A “whole lot of people” inside the Statehouse?
“I’ll be honest, I’ve wanted to repeal this thing for four years,” said Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, on the same show. “But, you know, I think at some point we have to do something. I would like to try to fix it. But if we can’t fix it, this thing is going to implode on itself and it’s just time to repeal it.”
Lohse owns a grocery store he opened after winning a Powerball jackpot.
Grocers want a bill that lets them opt out of the law, something Iowans say they don’t want by a more than two-to-one margin, according to the Selzer poll. And if GOP lawmakers can’t make that unpopular thing happen, they’ll move to repeal the law, something that’s even less popular. What’s next? A threat to ban the sale of canned and bottled beer?
And it’s not just the bottle bill.
Republicans in the House and Senate are still trying to reach an agreement on legislation that would cut unemployment benefits, an idea opposed by 53 percent of Iowans, according to the Iowa Poll. Only 38 percent favor the move. Maybe opponents were polled while relaxing in their hammocks.
Senate and House Republicans are still working on a deal that would provide publicly funded scholarships to private school students, an idea opposed by 52 percent of Iowans, according to the Iowa Poll, with 41 percent in favor. The House GOP is reluctant, but the Senate and Gov. Kim Reynolds are pushing hard for passage.
Roughly a year ago, the Iowa Poll found that 54 percent of Iowans favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use and 78 percent favor expansion of Iowa’s paltry medical marijuana program. Republican lawmakers won’t touch either of those issues with a 10-foot pole. Nor will they take the common sense step to decriminalize marijuana.
Maybe Republicans, particularly in the Senate, are convinced of the invincibility of their lock on the Legislature and governor’s office. So they’ve just stopped caring what most Iowans want. Maybe the fact so many have sequestered themselves inside a red state bio-bubble filled with colleagues, loyalists and donors — while avoiding venues where they might face tough questions — also is a factor.
I guess if voters keep voting for them at the end of substance free election campaigns about nothing, why should we expect them to listen? “Radical socialism!” apparently trumps all real issues. And what about the litter boxes in school restrooms?
Republicans did pass a popular tax cut, with 54 percent in favor of a lower, flat income tax, according to the Iowa poll. They should declare victory, wrap up the budget and clear out of Des Moines.
But they’re sticking around with hopes of cutting deals that would throw another punch at public education, kick unemployed Iowans and create a new hassle for consumers with cans to redeem. I’m betting that allowing the use of eminent domain for carbon pipelines is unpopular, but doing nothing is always easier.
Sure, some legislative actions are about principle, not popularity. But in these cases, what principles are legislators expressing? Anti-public education? Pro-cruelty? Pro inconvenience?
And if deals get done, they’ll pop from backrooms and get passed in a flash, leaving little time for Iowans to weigh in.
Don’t like it? Contact your local GOP lawmaker. Prepare to be ignored.
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