Seinfeld episode kills bottle bill brought by kids

Legislation championed by school children and billed to save the environment and K-12 education died in committee Wednesday under fears of fraud and hidden costs fueled in part by a Seinfeld episode.

HB 1247 would have mandated a 5 cent per bottle refundable deposit on the majority of  glass or plastic bottles purchased in the state. The deposits not recovered by bottle purchasers would have essentially been split between administrative costs of the program and education.

“A bottle bill will help increase Colorado’s surprisingly low recycling rate and will help direct much needed funds to K-12 education,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, during a press conference.  “Having a bottle deposit program is estimated to generate the state tens of millions of dollars each year.”

The bil’ls fiscal note showed $105,655,000 of revenue being funneled into the general fund after the program was established in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Roughly $50 million would have gone into K-12 education between 2011 and 2013, the fiscal note states.

The bill would have further levied an initial .5 cent per bottle fee on distributors which would eventually have increased to a variable rate of 1-1.5 cents. Those funds would have been used to cover the costs of retailers responsible for the collection of the bottles.

Though children from two schools testified in favor of the bill that had its roots in the national “Bottle Bill” campaign, House Republicans said it would likely eviscerate current recycling programs, hinder business owners, and could make the state vulnerable to actions taken by characters from Seinfeld.

Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, recalled the Seinfeld episode “Bottle Deposit” in which two of the main characters loaded a vehicle with bottles in order to drive to Michigan and fraudulently obtain the Michigan bottle refund.

“[People from border states] will load up a semi and we will see trash from New York City,” Liston said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said that bottles would have to be purchased in Colorado in order for the redemption to take place and said a Colorado specific label would make identification possible.

Kevin S. Diety, a lobbyist representing the beverage industry, said it was constitutionally impossible to force companies to make a Colorado specific label and said significant cases of fraud that mimic the skit have been prosecuted in California and other states on a much larger scale.

Pabon said the same scenario was unlikely to play out in a similar way in Colorado. He said the bill would lead to better schools and a better environment during a time when finding funds was nearly impossible.

Diety, however, argued that costs associated with the program and fraud would likely eliminate that revenue stream.

While it was clear from the start of the hearing the bill had little chance of survival, children and sponsors exposed the virtues of the program, noting that similar programs in other states saw recycling rates near 80 percent.

In 2006, Colorado recycled 12.5 percent of its waste according to a study done by Columbia University. Sponsors of the bill said they expected to see that rise considerably, with 70 percent of bottles recycled if the bill were to pass.

In the end, Republicans voted the bill down 5-4.

Pabon told the Colorado Independent that though the bill was killed, it had provided the state’s children the opportunity to organize and envision a better future.

“This bill was about giving our kids a chance to look at their future with some optimism,” Pabon said. “They organized, they gathered, they put together their best effort. It is because of industry and others who are not ready to accept the patterns of the future that this bill did not pass today.”

Comments are closed.