AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to include “nip”-sized liquor bottles in Maine’s bottle redemption system cruised through the House on Tuesday in a 111-34 vote.
Framed by some as an environmental bill and others as an economic development bill — Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington said he has deposited $450 in a savings account for his 2-year-old grandson, just from roadside bottles and cans — LD 56 would put a deposit on all wine and spirits bottles instead of just on those more than 50 milliliters.
“I live about a half mile from a corner store and I have nips bottles all over my yard,” said Campbell.
Several representatives argued that Maine has a much larger problem than nip bottles: littering along Maine’s roadways. Some agreed that the nip bill could cut into the problem.
“One of the mechanisms to get trash off the highways is a bottle bill like we have in Maine,” said Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington. “Let’s get more of this trash off the highways by using this same mechanism we’ve been using for years.”
Maine’s Returnable Beverage Container Program began in 1978 and has evolved over the years to include glass, metal and plastic beverage containers. Consumers pay between 5 and 15 cents per container and then can recoup that amount at a redemption center.
In 2015, the Legislature moved oversight of the redemption program from the Department of Agriculture and Forestry to the Department of Environmental Protection.
There was some debate Tuesday about the bill’s $1.3 million fiscal note, which has not been posted online. Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick, said there would be no impact on the general fund and that the fiscal note refers to the cost to the state’s alcohol beverage fund.
Tucker said that while that fund could handle that amount, the cost could be dramatically lowered if bottling plants agreed to include Maine in redemption notices on each bottle’s label. Regardless, he said $1.3 million is higher than the cost would be in reality.
“The dollar impact on [the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations] is based on shaky assumptions,” he said.
Rep. Christopher Babbidge, D-Kennebunk said he wishes the bill would curb drinking in Maine, but doubted it would.
“It’s not going to discourage purchase,” he said, “but it is environmentally sound and it’s a baby step in the right direction.”
Tuesday’s bipartisan vote in the House and the fact that it exceeded the two-thirds threshold to overturn a gubernatorial veto means the bill appears on track to enactment, though Gov. Paul LePage has not publicly revealed his opinion of the bill.