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Republican leaders weigh in on the future of the bottle bill and unemployment changes

River to River, hosted by Ben Kieffer

The Iowa Legislature reaches a moment where the Senate and House must find compromise on the bottle bill and cuts to state unemployment.

It's strange to have a program so popular that is widely regarded as in trouble.

The so-called "bottle bill" was signed by Gov. Bob Ray in 1978, and it set up a 5-cent deposit paid by consumers buying liquor, beer and carbonated drinks. The idea was that getting this 5 cents per bottle back would incentivize consumers to return cans and bottles for recycling. The 1-cent handling fee would incentivize redemption centers to accept them.

That was passed 40 years ago. While recycling and anti-litter programming has changed consumer behavior, the cents on the bottle for redemption have stagnated in value. Yet modernizing the bottle bill has eluded Iowa legislators session after session.

This year, a version of a bill that would change the system has passed both chambers, but to make it to the governor's desk, the two chambers must find a compromise.

On this episode of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by IPR's state government reporter Katarina Sostaric to get to the bottom of the bottle bill: Is compromise possible? What happens if they don't reach it before the legislative session ends?

We'll also hear from legislative leaders on their move to change Iowa's unemployment benefits so they expire 10 weeks sooner. Their hope is that this will pressure workers to take on lower paying jobs, rather than wait until benefits end. We also hear from a labor economist about the extent to which cuts to unemployment benefits have historically meant greater workforce participation.


  • Rep. Brian Lohse, Republican representing part of Polk County including Altoona, Bondurant and Mitchellville in the Iowa House of Representatives
  • Sen. Jason Schultz, Republican representing Ida, Monona, Crawford, Harrison, Shelby and parts of Woodbury Counties in the Iowa Senate
  • Rep. Michael Bousselot, Republican representing part of Polk County including Ankney in the Iowa House of Representatives
  • Peter Orazem, labor economist at Iowa State University
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa
Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter