Recycling, Redemption Issues Topics At Legislative Town Hall Meeting
The ongoing issue of what to do about redemption of cans and bottles turned into quite the discussion during Saturday’s Legislative Town Hall meeting in Emmetsburg. The first of three meetings featuring local Iowa House of Representatives member Megan Jones and State Senator David Johnson didn’t draw a huge crowd, Saturday, but topics of discussion ranged from bottle and can recycling to school funding and Medicaid.
In opening the discussion Saturday morning at the Iowa Welcome Center, Representative Jones noted that the Legislature hasn’t had a lot of time in session in the past weeks, due in part to the caucuses, as well as a pair of snowstorms that kept some lawmakers from the state capitol.
“We’re behind, too,”?Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan admitted. “We’re behind on school funding. By law, we are supposed to set the school funding rate within 30 days of the start of the session. That was Feb. 11. And, we’re only doing one year, not two. I’m not proud of the way we, the Senate, are handling this.”
Johnson pointed out that school funding was not set until June 5th of last year, and that the House had voted for two percent, the Senate voted for four percent, and the Governor had wanted 2.45 percent.
“I am here to tell you all today that when it comes to a vote, I will vote for 2.5 to three percent,”?Johnson added.
The discussion switched gears, turning to the state’s bottle and can redemption, or “Bottle Bill”, in light of the closings of countless redemption centers, including Horizons’ Unlimited’s facility in Emmetsburg.
“This was a popular law when it was introduced, but this is a different world,”?Jones noted. “I personally would like to see the state go to curbside recycling and get all of the products into one stream, but I?also understand there’s no market for glass.”
Jones went on to acknowledge that the recent Olmstead ruling, a federal regulation that is forcing the closure of sheltered workshops for the disabled that traditionally handled bottle and can recycling, has played havoc in the state.
“I understand how some of the people who worked in these sheltered workshops feel,”?Jones said. “Some felt very safe in those environments, and there were others who wanted to go out in the community to seek employment. Now with the Olmstead ruling, they all have to go out into the community, and I have very mixed feelings about that.”
Jones noted that she had questioned the Iowa Department of Natural Resources about redemption centers in the state that were operated in some way in connection with sheltered workshops, and found there were 250 such arrangements.
“That’s really going to put a crunch into the bottle bill because private sector bottle and can redemption just isn’t going to happen anymore,”?Jones said.
Noting that local Fareway Stores Manager Lloyd Satterwhite was in attendance, Jones asked if the local business still accepted cans and bottles from customers, to which Satterwhite answered to the affirmative.
“Bless you for doing that,”?Jones said earnestly. “There aren’t many stores doing it anymore. There are no businesses in Spencer that accept cans and bottles anymore, and no one is prosecuting them for not following the law.”
“The Senate requested a formal study on the bottle bill, but there’s no way we could just add another penny to the redemption, or start taxing water and juice, either,”?Johnson added.
Satterwhite noted that Jones had introduced several bills in the House in regards to the issue, such as raising deposits to 10 cents; to add water, sports drink and juice bottles to the list of containers requiring deposits, or just totally doing away with the redemption law.
“This is a big issue for the grocery industry,”?Satterwhite said. “We’ve talked about this every year for the 19 years I”I’ve been here in Emmetsburg, and it’s not going to get put on the shelf.”
Satterwhite noted that he had recently checked with officials at Horizons Unlimited, who had noted on a slow week in the redemption center, only 200 bags of empty cans and bottles were handled. Those 200 bags would equal roughly $480 to Horizons Unlimited.
“I sure can’t deal with that kind of volume in my store,”?Satterwhite said. “I think we need to work on a way to find a place to get it into the mainstream.”
“We’ll keep working on it and see what happens,”?Johnson said.
“Will any of your bottle bills go through the funnel?”?Satterwhite asked Jones.
“No, I?don’t think so,”?was the Representative’s reply. “Anything that cuts through will have another tax attached. The key to this issue is we have a large percentage of the population concerned that if we get rid of the bottle bill, the ditches will be full of cans and bottles. If that’s the argument, then we need to put a deposit on everything – couches, washers, TV’s, everything.”
“Would the beverage distributors support getting rid of the bottle bill?”?asked John Bird.
“I don’t know,”?Jones answered. “The grocers want to get rid of it, but we don’t know about the public.”
“If we don’t get any action, then there will be a crisis,”?Johnson noted.
“Maybe there should be a can redemption day at the Capitol,”?Bird suggested. “Everyone could bring a bag or two of cans.”
Turning to the subject of Medicaid, both Johnson and Jones were skeptical of the current plans to privatize Medicaid operations in the state.
“Everywhere I go, I?keep hearing from medical people that we need to slow down the rush to go to managed care,”?Johnson said. “Can we make it better??I hope so. We have to get people to take more responsibility in their own health care. Minnesota did this same thing, but they took their time, piece by piece, until the entire system was working right. We’re moving way too fast.”
Johnson noted that the Governor wanted to start the privatized operations January 1, but not March first is the new target date.
“This is a democratic republic, we can disagree on this,”?Johnson said. “I think this all needs some legislative oversight.”
“We have to do something,”?Jones agreed. “One in five people is on Medicaid and we’re breaking our budget to fund it. That’s 20 percent of our population. We just need to take better control of our individual health care and take better care of ourselves.”
The next Legislative Town Hall Meeting is set for Saturday, March 26, at 8:30 a.m. in the Welcome Center at the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce Office.