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This past week a public hearing was held to receive comments regarding House File 814 which passed out of the House State Government Committee in March. HF 814 is a piece of legislation aimed at addressing Iowa’s beverage container deposit law (Bottle Bill). This is the farthest I’ve ever seen legislation get that addresses issues with the Iowa’s current bottle and can law. Aimed at trying to reduce the cans and bottles that make up litter, Iowa passed the bottle bill in 1978 and it went into effect in 1979 and has been law ever since. Iowa is currently one of 10 states with a bottle bill law.

Under current law, a distributor sells their beverages in containers to retailers charging a 5¢ deposit. The retailer then sells the containers to the consumer and charges the 5¢ deposit. When the consumer is finished with the container they return it to a store or redemption center and retrieve their 5¢ refund. The retailer/redemption center then receive the original 5¢ refund and an additional 1¢ for a handling fee from the distributors. The distributors are then responsible for recycling the containers.

After over 40 years without substantive changes in the law several concerns and issues have grown and have been voiced by constituents. Over the years redemption rates have gone down, costs in redemption have gone up, and a growing number of retailers are opting out of taking consumers’ empty containers. According to a 2018 DNR Waste Characterization Study, the recovery rate for containers under the bottle bill was 71%, down from 86% in 2007. Under current law certain retailers are allowed to refuse to accept containers if they are within a specific distance from a redemption center. However, Iowa has seen decreases in the number of redemption centers as recycling costs have increased and the handling fee paid by the distributors has remained stagnant. Iowans are having an increasingly hard time returning their containers and receiving their money back. When the coronavirus pandemic ensued and retailers quit taking back containers, the problem was only exacerbated. During the public hearing all of these concerns were raised, including concerns about sanitation in grocery stores that take back containers.

HF 814 would increase the handling fee for the redemption centers from 1 cent to 2 cents per container, thus increasing their revenue and hopefully ensuring they will be able to stay viable. Perhaps it will even encourage new start-ups. The bill would also roll back red tape to make opening new redemption centers easier. Grocery stores and other retailers can opt out of accepting bottles and cans only if there is a redemption center within 10 miles if the county population is over 30,000 or 15 miles if the county population is below 30,000. If the redemption center is outside those mileage limits, then retailers will be required to take back the bottles and cans. The bill will also increase enforcement penalties for retailers who are still required to take back containers and are not taking them back. A legislative review process is required in 2024 to evaluate the effectiveness of the changes and assess the state of the bottle bill at that point to see if further changes need to be made or could be made.

As the bill continues to work through the legislative process, we will continue to look for ways to ensure that the concerns that have been relayed by constituents and that were expressed at the public hearing will be addressed and fix the growing issues with Iowa’s current bottle law. I am supportive of this bill and would appreciate any further input constituents may have.
Budget Bills Starting to Move

This past week the Iowa House passed the Administration and Regulation budget, which contained $100 million for broadband internet expansion. This has been agreed upon with the Senate. First priority will be on first getting high speeds to unserved and underserved areas of the state and second priority will be increasing broadband speeds for those currently on high speed. This is a significant investment amount for state government to make but it will allow more opportunities for Iowans all across the state. As more people continue to work remotely and telehealth capabilities continue to expand as well as educational options, what was once seen as a luxury has now become a necessity.

Agreements are still being worked out with the Senate on the other budget bills: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Education, Health and Human Services, Justice Systems and Judicial Branch, Transportation, Economic Development, and Infrastructure.
Private Funds for Public Elections??

Who is the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL)? It is a private organization that issued grants to 67 counties in Iowa for the 2020 general election. The organization started in 2012 and donated to over 2,500 election offices all across the nation in 2020. Citing the challenges of conducting elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $350 million to CTCL so in his words “that people are aware that the infrastructure is in place to make every vote count so they can accept the result of the election as legitimate.”

Besides Mark Zuckerberg’s donation, CTCL boasts both Google and Facebook as “Key Funders and Partners” on their webpage. Both of these tech giants have had a poor track record regarding respecting the freedom of political speech and expression of their conservative users. Their funding of CTCL, who is issuing grants to local election offices in order to “push our democracy into the 21st century”, certainly does beg questions regarding their motivations and the subsequent impact this activity will have on our elections.

CTCL posts that their organization’s purpose is to aid in modernizing election technology, educating election officials, and providing ballot and candidate data. While CTCL describes their work in non-partisan terminology, all three founders were staff at the New Organizing Institute, a left-leaning organization that provided data, digital, and other trainings to leftist campaigns and organizers.

After Scott and Black Hawk Counties received grants from CTCL, the Iowa Voter Alliance petitioned in U.S. District Court to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the use of the funds. Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand denied the request, saying the funds could be used. It appears the law currently allows it.

It is imperative that moving forward legislators analyze the 2020 election and see where there were successes, where there were areas that could be improved, and look for ways to ensure the integrity and objectivity of the election process. Knowing where and who is supplying money to local governments for elections is necessary to know if further action is necessary to continue the fairness of Iowa’s elections.

It is one thing for private groups to spend money working to register voters and “get out the vote” for those candidates they support; that is advocacy as it has been and should be in American elections. It is another thing entirely for a private group which has its biases to pick out certain states and counties and give those governments money to boost their election performance. This would give them an edge over those states and counties who did not get extra money. This could very easily skew the results of elections and make them unfair. This is an issue that needs to be addressed; private funds should not be given to governments to help fund elections. A number of states are moving forward with this legislation and Iowa should too.

Author: Sandy Salmon