DOWNING MUM ON BOTTLE BILL FATE: Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) declined recently to predict when or whether the committee he co-chairs will back a bill to expand the state’s bottle recycling program. Asked during a local access TV appearance last week when the bill “will pass,” Downing sidestepped a direct answer, instead describing as a positive development the fact that the bill had a public hearing in July, seven months after the start of a two-year session that has about eight months remaining in it to consider controversial bills. “That bill had its earliest hearing that it’s ever had in the Legislature,” Downing said, arguing that “interests pushing back against it” had suppressed debate on the bill until much later during previous legislative cycles. Downing said he supports the proposal, which would tack a 5-cent deposit onto the cost of waters, sports drinks, and other non-carbonated bottled beverages. Customers may redeem their nickel by recycling their bottles at local redemption centers. Critics have labeled the bill a tax because the state would count on as much as $20 million revenue from unclaimed bottle deposits, and they’ve also contended that small retailers and grocery stores lack the infrastructure or capacity to store an increasing amount of recycled bottles. Backers say it would sharply increase recycling rates, cut down on litter and defray the cost of cleanup and trash disposal for communities. Downing declined to predict whether the bill would even emerge from his committee, the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which he co-chairs with Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem). “I think there is a strong case to expand and update the bottle bill. But ultimately it comes down to votes on the committee or it comes down to votes in the Senate or the House,” he said. “That’s what will decide the fate of a bill.” The bill’s supporters briefly mounted a 2012 campaign for a ballot law, but dropped that effort to focus on advancing the bill within the Legislature.
SENATE ADVANCES BILL ALLOWING MORE ALCOHOL LICENSES FOR CHAINS: Legislation aimed at allowing supermarkets and other large retailers to hold more alcoholic beverage licenses began moving in the Senate Monday. The Senate adopted an amendment recommended by the Senate Ways and Means Committee stripping three sections of the bill and then gave the legislation initial approval. Alcohol industry stakeholders this month said they’d reached agreement on a compromise bill that, if approved, could spur proponents of a 2012 ballot question on the topic to drop that initiative petition. Under the compromise bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), the current cap on licenses per corporation would be lifted from three to five in 2012, up to seven in 2016, and to nine in 2020. The bill advanced in the Senate with only two members on hand: Sen. Kenneth Donnelly (D-Arlington), who was presiding, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). During a recess in the session, Tarr told the News Service that he intends to delve further into the changes made to the bill but that he’s generally supportive of the goal of the legislation. “The cap was somewhat arbitrary to begin with,” he said.