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Plan to expand bottle bill hits roadblock in Mass.

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / June 14, 2012
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BOSTON—A proposal to expand the state's bottle bill to include containers that hold water, iced tea and other non-carbonated beverages hit a roadblock Thursday at the Massachusetts Statehouse.

The legislative committee reviewing the bill opted to send it to a study committee. Few bills sent to study committees ever emerge. The Legislature's formal session ends July 31, meaning there's little chance of the bill emerging in time to be approved.

Backers of the bill were dismayed by the committee's actions.

"The idea of sending it to a `study' is an insult to the public of Massachusetts," Janet Domenitz, executive director of Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, said in a statement following the vote. "The bill has been studied, restudied, and studied once again."

At a Tuesday rally outside the Statehouse, a coalition of advocacy groups claimed a bipartisan majority of legislators in both branches -- 82 in the House and 23 in the Senate -- had publicly endorsed the measure and that only five lawmakers were on the record as being against it.

The bill's critics have argued that expanding the existing law would amount to a new tax on consumers and hurt small businesses that would be required to handle increased bottle returns.

Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, had said that "the last thing Massachusetts consumers need is another tax and higher grocery prices to pay for a costly recycling system."

The current law assesses a refundable nickel deposit on carbonated beverage bottles, including beer and soda. It was designed to encourage consumers to recycle the bottles instead of throwing them in the trash.

Legislative leaders in both chambers have been reluctant to pass anything that could be perceived as a broad-based tax increase this year, saying they don't want to stall the ongoing economic recovery.

Supporters of the bill say efforts to update the law have been pending in the Legislature for 14 years.

"This committee is ignoring the governor, our cities and towns, the public, and a bipartisan majority in both houses who want to actually vote on updating the bottle bill," said James McCaffrey, head of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club.

In January, Gov. Deval Patrick proposed an expanded bottle bill as part of his state budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1. But the House Ways and Means Committee stripped the measure from its version of the spending plan.

An attempt to restore the measure in the Senate was turned aside in favor of an amendment calling for more study of the issue.

MASSPIRG and other advocates originally mounted a signature drive to place the measure on the November state ballot but later withdrew the petition to focus on winning legislative support.

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