Less than a week after Maryland's proposed bottle bill beat the odds and passed its first crucial test in a House committee, its powerful opponents have found a way to kill it.They are, in words of one legislator, "loving it to death."
With tender care today, Del. John W. Quade Jr. (D-St. Mary's) offered an amendment that would make the bill, which requires 10-cent deposits on all soft drink and beer containers, also apply to milk containers. The amendment, likely to alienate many of the measure's rural supporters, passed with ease.
"People don't like the bill, so now they're loving it to death," said Del. Arthur S. Alperstein (D-Baltimore County), an opponent himself. "You put on so many idealistic, wonderful additions, that the bill becomes unrealistic, untenable."
Indeed, one of the bill's staunchest supporters stood in the House lounge moments before the amendment vote, saying, "It would take a miracle or a lot of diplomacy to pass this bill, and actually I don't think diplomacy could do it."
After the vote today, sponsors could only shake their heads in dismay over what had happened since last Wednesday, when they had savored an unexpected 14-to-9 victory in the House Environmental Matters Committee.
Now the bottle bill, which has stirred the most frenzied lobbying of this General Assembly session, may serve best as a lesson in how environmental and citizen groups can win a battle, but not the war, when they are opposed by some of the most powerful labor and industry groups in the state.
Supporters of the bottle bill claim it would promote recycling, save energy and help clean up the environment. But the bill would cost various industries millions of dollars in profits and, according to labor lobbyists, the loss of many jobs. Operators of small liquor stores and taverns also oppose the bill, claiming that storing the returnables would be an immeasurable problem.
"I sure hope the conservationists will be in Jerry Winegrad's and my corner to help us get reelected, because nobody else will be there," said Del. Joan Pitkin (D-Prince George's), who, with Del. Winegrad of Anne Arundel County, was among the bill's strongest advocates.
Winegrad, the bill's chief sponsor, still refused to admit defeat today. "Sure the bill's in trouble, but I'm not going to say it's dead," he announced earnestly, hoping that somehow the bill could be resurrected when it comes time for the final vote later this week.
But awaiting the bill, as it wends its way through the democratic process, are a myraid of other "killer amendments," according to its sponsors.
The crush to kill the bill began the same evening it passed the House committee. In the politicians' favorite Annapolis watering holes, plots were hatched to vote in favor of the bill but only after approving amendments to exempt almost every county in the state from its mandate.
"Yeah, maybe we'll amend out everyone but Annapolis," Del. Paul Weisengoff (D-Baltimore) joked the next morning, referring to the home district of the bill's chief sponsor Winegrad.
The amendment room in the State House basement was deluged with requests to draft amendments exempting Prince George's, Kent and Anne Arundel counties.
"It was like a free-for-all on this bill," said one of the lawyers who works there. "It's the hottest thing to come along since abortion."
On the House floor today, Majority leader Donald Robertson (D-Montgomery) urged the delegates to defeat the milk container amendment, saying that passing amendments "to impair or damage" the bill was an "irresponsible" way to treat the matter.
"It's perhaps the most controversial bil we'll face this year," Robertson said. "We should vote it up or down on its merits."
Another legislator, asking for anonymity later explained that the amendment strategy was chosen because "voting against a measure that environmentalists say is THE bill to clean up litter and save energy is like voting against apple pie and ice cream."
The foes of House Bill 309 left their chamber in buoyant moods today. "I think 309's in a little trouble," said Weisengoff, who has been planning strategy to kill it. "Gee, somebody must be working against it."
But sponsor Piktin, who believes the bill's opponents are "trying to grind us into the ground so we never come back with this bill again," promised: "At least we won't go out with a whimper. We'll go out with a bang."