Strengthen bottle bill

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

The grocers are making another run at changing the Iowa bottle bill, one of the most popular laws ever written in Iowa because it cleaned up the road ditches of aluminum cans and glass bottles. The grocers are right: They should not have to accept bottles and cans for redemption. It’s a filthy business for a store that tries to maintain hygiene standards — the smell of stale beer doesn’t do much for deli sales.

And the redemption business doesn’t pay except for volunteers.

But for them it does pay.

The Knights of Columbus have a nice business sorting cans, says longtime member John Murray. The old retired guys tell lies over the Mountain Dew cans instead of the cracker barrel. They work at their pace. And it helps out children with Muscular Dystrophy. God bless them and the Iowa can and bottle redemption law.

The bottle bill passed when aluminum cans had become all the rage by 1978. Then, there was no recycling industry. Legislators didn’t know where to take those cans once you plucked them from the road ditch or the park. So they sent them back from whence they came: to the grocers and the convenience stores. They put up with it for awhile. But for years they have lobbied to repeal the law because it is such a headache and a drain on business.

So let’s strengthen the bottle law.

Raise the deposit from a nickel to seven cents or a dime. Expand it to include plastic bottles and juice bottles. It will reroute trash from the landfill to the recycle bin. It will help the KCs make even more money for Jerry’s Kids. It might help the private redemption business in Cherokee expand into Storm Lake. Or, it might launch a whole new business because there will be plenty of cans for everyone.

If legislators want to do something good in an election year, this is it.

Get the grocers off your back. Exempt the point of sale as a redemption point.

Raise the deposit to create more jobs and more revenue for non-profits.

Iowans won’t mind. They never complained back when a nickel was worth something. They won’t complain now. They would applaud. They like to see those old Knights working.

Guarding their secrets

Awhile back we complained that it has taken two years of fumbling for the Iowa Public Information Board not to rule on a request for videotape of a Burlington police officer shooting a woman. The officer was not charged. The criminal case is closed. The public should be able to see what happened. At least, it deserves a decision from the public information board, which charged by law with oversight of government transparency.

Instead, the board has hidden behind closed doors while it discusses matters with representatives of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which apparently believes that the video should not be released.

The Iowa Ombudsman’s Office decided to have a look to see if these secret meetings and refusals to rule constituted some sort of offense against transparency. So investigator Bert Dalmer, a former reporter for The Des Moines Register, asked for a copy of the audiotape of the secret meeting. The board denied the request on a 7-2 vote. To repeat: The board assigned oversight of government transparency has shut out the public from its meetings and refuses to release an audiotape of those affairs to the Ombudsman.

What pique and arrogance. Not to mention bad advice.

By taking that vote, the public information board should know that it is subject to the same civil penalties that it is empowered to mete out to violators of transparency laws. (Although, the board is loathe to assess a penalty.) The Des Moines Register also has requested similar material to Dalmer’s request. The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is champing at the bit to bring an action, we suppose.

How absurd.

As we suggested earlier, the board should just quit if it can’t do the job. Clearly, the board can’t hack it.

And if the members can’t get that hint, then they need a formal reminder from the Freedom of Information Council and, we hope, The Des Moines Register, Cedar Rapids Gazette and Burlington HawkEye, for starters.

They should throw the book at the board.

After that, the Iowa Legislature might as well just do away with the board and put the money into overseeing confined animal feeding units. It all smells the same.