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THE LEGISLATURE’S repeated failure to strengthen the state bottle bill has become an embarrassing symbol of special-interest power — one that finally seems to be on the verge of ending. There’s no good reason why the 5-cent-per-bottle deposit shouldn’t apply to containers of water, iced tea, and sport drinks like Gatorade, just as it already does to beer and soda. Bottle deposits encourage recycling and cut litter, which is why proposals to expand the bottle bill enjoy broad public support. Two successive governors have called for extending the law to noncarbonated beverages.
The public, though, has grown tired of waiting. A voter initiative to change the law now appears about to make it onto the ballot in November. That seems to have shamed the Legislature into belated action; legislators created a subcommittee to seek a way to pass a bill that would make the referendum unnecessary. Regardless of whether that effort bears fruit, the bottle bill debate shows why the public initiative process is such a necessary tool, especially in a one-party state like Massachusetts. Whether by nudging the Legislature into action, or through an actual vote on election day, the popular initiative process was made to be a check on the Legislature when it strays too far from the public interest.But legislative leaders have blocked the expansion on the flimsiest of grounds. Although the bottling and food industry managed to survive the introduction of beer and soda deposits in the 1980s, they now insist they couldn’t possibly tolerate collecting deposits on other kinds of bottled beverage containers.
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