Wednesday June 13, 2012

BOSTON -- Supporters of an effort to expand the state’s bottle deposit law to include plastic water bottles and other beverages pressed lawmakers on Tuesday to bring the bill up for a vote before the end of the legislative session.

At a rally outside the Statehouse, a coalition of advocacy groups claimed that 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 against it.

A legislative committee faces a Friday deadline for acting on the bill, but top Beacon Hill lawmakers have appeared re luctant to embrace it. The current session of the Legislature ends July 31.

"Sometimes the people of are ahead of the politicians. This is one of those cases," said Rep. Ellen Story, an Amherst Dem ocrat who backs the measure.

Proponents cited public opinion surveys that they said showed broad support for the bill, which in addition to plastic water bottles would add a 5 cent deposit to sports drinks, bottles of iced tea and other non-carbonated beverages.

The state’s 30-year-old re demption law, commonly known as the bottle bill, is limited primarily to beer and carbonated soft drinks.

Backers of the change say it would help the environment by reducing the amount of discarded containers that litter roadsides and clog landfills. And because unclaimed deposits revert to the state, they say an expanded law would provide a fiscal boost to Massachusetts.

Critics of the measure say it would amount to a new tax on consumers and hurt smaller businesses that would be re quired to handle an increased volume of bottle returns.

"In a tough economy the last thing Massachusetts consumers need is another tax and higher grocery prices to pay for a costly recycling system that doesn’t work," Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food As sociation, said in a statement.

The measure has also raised concerns among businesses located along the state line with New Hampshire, which has no bottle redemption law.

"The last thing we need to give people is another incentive to drive over the border and do their shopping," said Rep. Richard Bastien, a Republican who represents Gardner and several other communities near the New Hampshire state line.

James McCaffrey, head of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club, blamed the liquor lobby and other special interests for delaying passage of the bill.

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, and an attempt to restore it in the Senate was turned aside in favor of an amendment calling for more study of the issue.

The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group 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.