STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 16, 2012…..Backers of a bill to expand the state’s recycling law by adding a 5-cent deposit to the cost of non-carbonated bottled beverages say they have no plans to try to force a vote, despite plans by a legislative committee to delay a vote on the measure.
Advocates for the so-called bottle bill have repeatedly expressed confidence that if a vote were held on the matter, it would pass the House and Senate. They abandoned a ballot measure to put the issue before voters in November in part because they believe they can move the bill through both branches.
But the House’s lead sponsor, Rep. Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge), told the News Service through an aide that supportive lawmakers have no intention to employ a rule that could bring the measure to the floor without the committee’s support, as long as a majority of lawmakers agree.
House rules permit a majority of supporting members to pry a bill from committee, a tactic that is rarely used in deference to legislative leadership and working issues out behind the scenes. Republicans attempted in recent weeks to generate interest in the rule among Democrats, although there is little indication that they’ve made inroads with the majority.
The bill is currently under consideration in the Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy. Although committees are due to report on all timely filed bills by next week, Rep. John Keenan, co-chair of the committee, said he and his co-chair, Sen. Ben Downing, expect to recommend that the bottle bill be held in committee past the Wednesday deadline.
The state’s existing bottle law, passed in 1980, tacks a 5-cent deposit onto the cost of carbonated beverages. Consumers may redeem their nickel at recycling centers maintained by retail stores that sell those drinks. Non-carbonated beverages – bottled waters, sports drinks, iced teas and juices – have proliferated since the original law passed and bottle bill supporters say the statute should be updated to encourage recycling.
Proponents, including Gov. Deval Patrick, point to polls showing that three in four Massachusetts residents support the expansion, as well as the support of 200 municipal leaders, dozens of lawmakers and statistics that show the recycling rate for carbonated beverages far outpaces the rate for bottles that aren’t covered by the 1980 law.
“It has more support with both the public and in the chambers than it’s ever had before,” said James McCaffrey, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club. “Our goal is to get that bill to the floor after so many decades of inactivity by the Legislature.”
McCaffrey said he would leave it to lawmakers to determine whether to use rules to force the issue.
“That’s an inside-the-building legislative strategy. We are just continuing to both press the committee to release the bill and leadership to allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote,” he said. “I don’t think there are many bills historically that have enjoyed so much public support, have had so much money spent against it … and have had so much success completely derailing the democratic process in the Massachusetts Legislature.”
Opponents rip the measure as an “indirect tax” that would inundate retailers with recyclable bottles, forcing them to build costly storage space or risk violating the law. Because backers of the bill note that the state would raise more than $20 million with an expanded bottle recycling law, they are essentially counting on millions of bottles to go unredeemed, critics say.
Christopher Flynn, head of the Massachusetts Food Association and a member of Real Recycling for Massachusetts – a group that opposes the bottle bill – claimed to have enlisted 500 businesses and organizations against the measure this week.
“We are certainly hoping that it does not move,” he said. “I think there was certainly testimony that shows that expanding the bottle law is not the right thing to do at this time. It’s an indirect tax on consumers, and an economy that’s still far from recovered is not the right time to do it.”
Patrick proposed the measure to help balance his fiscal 2013 budget proposal, relying on that revenue to help support state programs. But House Speaker Robert DeLeo has labeled the bottle bill a tax, and he has insisted that the House budget will exclude any taxes or fees this year.
According to legislative filings, 77 members of the House and Senate have signed on to support the bill, including two Republican House members. Supporters include several of DeLeo’s handpicked committee chairs and members of his leadership team: Wolf, Reps. Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield), David Linsky (D-Natick), William Straus (D-Mattapoisett), Theodore Speliotis (D-Danvers), Elizabeth Malia (D-Jamaica Plain), Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain), Byron Rushing (D-Boston), Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington), Kay Khan (D-Newton), Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), Thomas Sannicandro (D-Ashland), John Scibak (D-South Hadley), Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) and Ellen Story (D-Amherst).
Article By Kyle Cheney / STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE