Bottle bill proposal, with new civil penalties, moves through House panel

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

    Lawmakers met Tuesday morning, in the dwindling days of the 2021 legislative session, to discuss a years-long headache: the bottle bill.

    The most recent proposal for the legislation would allow some retailers to decline bottle and can returns if a redemption center is nearby. It would also introduce a civil penalty of up to $2,500 a day for any retailers, redemption centers or distributors that disobeyed the law. Those penalties would go toward a newly created “bottle bill fund,” used to continue administering and enforcing the program.

    A slate of lobbyists presented at Tuesday’s subcommittee, which focused primarily on the civil penalty. Beverage distributors asked for more clarity that distributors have ownership of the money from unredeemed cans and more private sector independence. Recycling advocates and the League of Women Voters asked for a higher handling fee.

    Brad Epperly of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association was supportive of the civil penalty, but noted that grocery stores ultimately “want out” of the mandatory redemption program.

    “We’re fighting a losing battle here,” Epperly said.

    Lawmakers voted 2-1 to advance the bill.

    “I think the fund is a good thing,” Rep. Jacob Bossman, R-Sioux City, said. “The fines will go into the fund, it will hopefully be a self-sustaining entity.”

    It’s unclear whether the proposal will make it into law this year, as lawmakers are working to wrap up the legislative session. The bottle bill proposal needs to make it through the House Appropriations committee, a House floor debate and the Senate to pass.

    Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said in early April that it would likely be “difficult” to solve the bottle bill issue during this session.

    “We haven’t got a whole lot closer than we were in January,” Whitver told Iowa Press on April 9. “But in January, it was far as it has ever been.”

    Katie Akin
    Reporter Katie Akin 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.