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Beverage recycling, Iowa Supreme Court selection need changes

As chair of the Environmental Protection committee I have the opportunity to schedule presentations to the committee on topics of interest. This week the committee hosted a leading national expert on recycling, Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, and Dr. Dermot Hayes, Iowa State Professor and Fellow of the American Agricultural Economics Association. The presentation focused on the need for recycling our beverage bottles and cans. Dr. Hayes reiterated what I’ve been witnessing all along, that our beverage container recycling program is starting to crash. The program was set up in 1979 and has not changed in those 40 years. The economics of 1979 are not the same as today. The 5 cent redemption fee is less of an incentive to turn in those containers, and the additional 1 cent handling fee that the redemption centers receive from the distributors is no longer sufficient to support those businesses and many redemption centers have closed in recent years. Also, water bottles have surpassed carbonated beverages in number, but water is not required to carry a deposit fee, so thousands of tons of those bottles end up either being thrown out on our roads or in the landfill. I do not believe that Iowans want this system to fail, so we must make changes. As the committee chair I am continuing to work with the lobby and others within the legislature to seek changes that revive the system. The first step in that process is increasing the redemption handling fee from 1 cent to 2 cents so that our redemption centers can survive.

The process that Iowa uses for selecting our Iowa Supreme Court (ISC) justices has used for decades is known as the “Missouri System,” pioneered by the state of Missouri. This system has failed the people of Iowa and it’s obvious as to why. The system calls for a commission consisting of 17 members to be selected who then select three candidates for Iowa Supreme Court openings for the governor to select from. This commission is made up of eight members selected by the governor, eight attorneys selected by other attorneys and one member from the current Iowa Supreme Court, the longest serving member that is not the chief justice. Thus, nine of the 17 members come from the Judicial Branch of government. The supposed logic of giving so much power to attorneys was the premise that they know what would make a good justice. This premise was horribly flawed. Our Supreme Court ends up reflecting only the views of attorneys and not the views of Iowans in general. It is a system that is clearly broken, and decisions in recent years reflect that broken state. Most recently, in a 2018 decision throwing out the law requiring a 72-hour waiting period before having an abortion, a majority of the justices found a completely unwritten and mysterious right to an abortion without restriction in the Iowa Constitution, a preposterous notion. Now lower court judges are using that decision to strike down legislation such as the Heartbeat bill this year.

The legislature has a bill working its way through the Judiciary committees in both chambers, House Study Bill 110 in the House, that will bring balance back to the process. The Iowa Constitution requires a commission to select the judges, but the makeup of that commission is subject to legislation. The bill proposes the commission be made up of eight members selected by the governor, and two selected by each of the House Majority Leader, House Minority Leader, Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader. In all of these selections the law will require that a minimum of half of these be lawyers, and be gender balanced. A sitting justice would no longer be on the commission. By distributing this selection process across party lines with the legislature involved instead of lawyers, the selections should match the views of the people of Iowa much more closely. I will be supporting this bill to reform the selection of our Supreme Court justices. I doubt there is a more important issue before the legislature this year than this.

As always, I can be reached at dean.fisher@legis.iowa.gov and at 641-750-3594.