GUEST RESPONSE - The Bottle Bill in rebuttal

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

I recently received a copy of the Pilot-Tribune dated February 8 and a guest opinion contained in it (by Garth Frable of the Iowa Beautiful Land Coalition) about the Iowa Bottle Bill.

After serving as the Natural Resources and Environment Chair for four years in the Senate and currently serving as the co-chair of the interim study committee on Iowa's Bottle Deposit Law, I felt it necessary to give your readers a slightly different perspective.

One of the things I have learned in my eleven years of service in the Legislature is that the process lives and dies based upon the credibility of the participants. The credibility of each individual legislator is, of course, extremely important to the process. Legislators who lose that credibility - either through misrepresentation or distortion - lose their effectiveness within and trust throughout the body. This protocol also is paramount in the circles of those who lobby, both professional and volunteer. When any participant loses credibility, the real loser is the people.

In the case of the guest editorial by Mr. Garth Frable dated February 8, the people lost big time to politics. This is why.

Frable's Fable Number One - "In the end the opinions of Iowans mattered less to the legislative co-chairs of this committee (Senator Merlin Bartz and Representative James Hahn) than those of purchased out-of-state consultants."

Truth - I cannot answer for Representative Hahn, but the most important group of constituents for me is not 56,000 signatures on a petition but the 56,000 plus people I represent in Cerro Gordo, Mitchell, and Worth Counties.

Frable's Fable Number Two - "The co-chairs promised a third meeting - none has materialized."

Truth - I personally have continually asked leadership for the additional time needed to take testimony. If the additional meeting does not take place, it will not be because of Representative Hahn's or my action but will be because House Democrat members of the Environmental Protection Committee have suggested the additional meeting was not necessary.

Frable's Fable Number Three - "There is now an effort to gut the Bottle Bill by the same legislators who denied Iowans a hearing."

Truth - It is completely unfair to suggest that House Democrats are trying to gut the bottle bill. In fact, on this issue, it is only with cooperation between the majority and minority parties that any legislation can be passed this legislative session.

Frable's Fable Number Four - An alternative "proposal will increase litter, create more big government, place unfunded mandates on our local governments, replace the deposit with a tax, and eliminate the corporate responsibility built into the Bottle Bill."

Truth - This misrepresentation and distortion demeans the legislative process and questions the collective intelligence of the General Assembly. Mr. Frable describes a bill so bad that no legislator could vote for and yet voices his concern that somehow this terrible bill will become law, proving that Mr. Frable is either completely out of touch with the legislative process or that he wishes to intentionally instill false fear, paranoia and unwarranted outrage in the citizens of Iowa. If he is successful in the latter endeavor, the Governor's office and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources also suffer in their ability to negotiate in good faith the compromise that is needed in order to bring such a contentious issue to closure.

Placing these things aside, let's examine specifically the statistics that continually are referenced in the UNI study prepared for the Waste Management Assistance Division of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

More than 85 percent of Iowans support the continuation of Iowa's beverage container deposit law; 74 percent want to see it expanded. But the survey also shows that 60 percent of Iowans would continue to recycle beverage containers by using curbside programs even without a redemption law. The UNI survey also showed that 53.5 percent of Iowans actually preferred the curbside option in a deposit program to an option of returning the container to a grocery or redemption center. (Those promoting expansion under the current Iowa model are conspicuously silent on mentioning these last two statistics.) With the current Iowa law being over 21 years old, it seems only logical that it is time for revisions that improve the law. Would we stand for the same fuel efficiency standards we had for cars 21 years ago?

The public expects their legislators to make informed rational decisions concerning a multitude of issues that we address every day. Legislators expect the same of the various lobbying groups, citizen and professional. The issue of the bottle bill is no different than any other issue. I hold myself to a standard of integrity and credibility, in order that my constituents understand why I espouse the views that I do and that the dialogue that ensues resolve issues, not create issues. I expect the same of those who lobby the legislature. Mr. Frable's editorial content places politics before the people of the state of Iowa. We should expect more.

Senator Merlin Bartz of Grafton is the past chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee and has been instrumental in a wide range of environmental legislation ranging from the popular "Brownfield's" statutes to last year's Initiative on Improving Our Watershed Attributes