House bottle bill would allow some stores to opt out, but adds civil penalty for scofflaws

By: - April 12, 2021 5:20 pm

A proposal to overhaul Iowa’s bottle bill is advancing in the Legislature. (Photo by Dennis Young via Pixabay)

Some stores would be able to opt out of the state’s bottle and can redemption program under a bill that advanced through a House Ways and Means subcommittee on Monday.

House File 814 would allow stores that sell cans or bottles to refuse returns if there were another, nearby place that customers could drop off their empties. The redemption center has to be within 10 miles of the store in more populous counties, or within 15 miles in rural areas.

The bill introduces a civil penalty of up to $2,500 per day for retailers, redemption centers or distributors who violate bottle bill laws. Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said the Attorney General’s office had reviewed the proposed penalty.

Lynn Hicks, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, confirmed in an email that the office had reviewed the bill and had said the $2,500 maximum penalty was “significant and would likely be an effective deterrent.” He noted a judge could impose less than the maximum penalty per day.

Lundgren said she also plans to offer an amendment on the House floor that would require retailers and beverage manufacturers to pay small fees to “help bolster the redemption center economy.”

“That seems to be a good compromise and everybody seems to be pretty comfortable with that,” she said.

But, as is tradition for the complex and long-standing bottle bill, not everyone is in agreement on the overall bill.

Lobbyist Doug Struyk of Anheuser Busch said the proposal could present problems for beverage manufacturers. The bill says that each container must have a universal product code “in a format required by the department.” That could be a problem if Iowa merchandise needed a different format than beer in other states.

“Figuring out which cans can actually go to Iowa and which ones can’t … that becomes a virtually insurmountable hurdle for us,” Struyk said.

And then there’s the question of consumer convenience: Would people still use the program if they had to drive 10 or 15 miles away from the store?

“We need to be cognizant of consumer convenience,” said Rep. Charles Isenhart, D-Dubuque. “They’re the person that’s buying the product, consuming the product and returning the cans and bottles where possible.”

The Ways and Means subcommittee of Lungren, Isenhart and Rep. Carter Nordman, R-Adel, voted unanimously to move the legislation to committee, but Republican leaders are skeptical this will be the session that lawmakers finally reach a compromise. The bottle bill, first passed in 1978, has been a thorn in legislative sides for years.

On an April 9 episode of Iowa Press, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said it would be “difficult to wrap that up” before session ends on April 30.

“We haven’t got a whole lot closer than we were in January (when the session began),” Whitver said. “But in January it was far as it has ever been.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.