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House GOP seeks deal with Senate on changes to Iowa's bottle bill

John Pemble
IPR file
It's not clear if Republican leaders at the Iowa Capitol will agree on changes to the bottle bill.

The prospects for changes to Iowa’s bottle bill remained unclear Thursday, two days after Senate Republicans passed a bill that would allow grocery and other stores to refuse to redeem nickel deposits on cans and bottles.

The House planned to debate its own separate proposal this week, but those plans were canceled two days in a row.

Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said he’s holding off on passing the House GOP billin the hopes they can reach a deal with the Senate.

“We want to be able to negotiate with the Senate, find some common ground, because I think ultimately from the House perspective, our bill, we feel, is a very good proposal,” Grassley said. “But if there’s some things that we need to do to get an agreement, to actually get a bill done, that’s our ultimate goal. So that was our decision this week.”

Grassley said the House proposal to revamp the bottle bill has enough support among Republicans in his chamber to pass.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, expressed doubt that there would be an agreement.

“So we may have, as we’ve seen in years past, two ships passing in the night without an actual deal that would protect the bottle bill,” he said.

Many grocery and convenience stores have stopped accepting used beverage containers in violation of Iowa law.

The bill passed by Senate Republicans Tuesday would allow all stores to refuse bottle and can returns starting July 1, 2023.

It wouldincrease the handling fee that distributors pay to redemption centers from 1 cent to 3 cents and allow for mobile redemption centers. The bill would enshrine in Iowa law beverage distributors’ ability to keep the money from unredeemed containers and would also reduce the barrel tax on beer.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said this is an attempt to save the bottle bill.

“Yes, we are going to eliminate the grocery stores,” Schultz said. “But that’s because the consumers and the grocers told us, ‘Get these dirty cans out of our food retailers.’ So we were listening to the consumer there.”

Schultz said the increased handling fee will encourage more redemption centers to open, and the mobile redemption centers will also create more opportunities to return bottles and cans.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said this proposal will kill the bottle bill.

“When you let grocers off the hook for taking back the containers they sell and on which they make significant profit, consumers won’t have any place convenient to take the bottles back,” Quirmbach said. “And if they can’t do that conveniently, they won’t do it.”

It passed the Iowa Senate with a vote of 31 to 18. Republican Sen. Mark Lofgren of Muscatine voted with all Democrats present against the bill.

The House bill would allow stores to refuse bottle and can returns if they sell prepared foods or fresh produce. It includes other ways a store could qualify to reject used beverage containers.

The bill requires stores that reject bottle returns to post on the front door the location of the nearest redemption center.

It would require grocery and other stores to pay beverage distributors a half-cent handling fee for the next five years. And beverage distributors would have to pay 2 cents instead of the current 1 cent handling fee for nonalcoholic beverages, and would have to pay 1.5 cents for beer. Beer distributors could get a half-cent refund for each returned beverage container. The bill would also allow for mobile redemption systems.

Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, said the new proposed pay structure means retailers, beverage distributors and the state of Iowa would all have skin in the game.

“We’re doing our best to ensure that this bottle bill continues and continues on as long as possible,” Lohse said.

The House Ways and Means Committee passed the bill last week with bipartisan support. But it’s not clear if House Democrats will continue to support it as changes are made.

Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said the bill could mean Iowans would have to make a more than 20-mile round trip to return bottles and cans.

“And I know that it does impact the rural areas more,” Nielsen said. “And that doesn’t seem convenient, especially with gas prices being as high as they are now.”

Nielsen said there should be more requirements on stores to help provide bottle and can redemption even if it’s not necessarily inside the store.

It’s not clear if or when Republican representatives and senators will work out their differences and send a bill to the governor’ desk.

Gov. Kim Reynolds did not directly answer questions about what bottle bill changes she would support when asked last month during a taping of Iowa Press on Iowa PBS.

“The legislative process is where you need to work this out,” Reynolds said at the time. “And that’s what it’s designed for. And so maybe this will be the year when they get it done.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter