Maine Gov. Vetoes Bill That Would’ve Required Deposit For Mini Alcohol Bottles

Image courtesy of renee rendler-kaplan

In an effort to cut down on roadside litter and give people a chance to make some spare change, Maine lawmakers approved a bill that would require retailers to collect a $0.05 bottle deposit on those mini bottles of booze known as “nips.” But the state’s governor has vetoed the measure, and has offered a few ideas of his own to deal with the litter the bottles create — alternatives that some in the alcohol industry objected to, even before he declined to sign the bill.

Gov. Paul LePage, who has an interesting history with vetoes, having inadvertently passed 65 laws he intended to veto in the past, put the kibosh on L.D. 56, which would’ve allowed consumers to redeem any liquor bottles 50 milliliters or smaller for a nickel apiece.

Sazerac Co.’s Fireball brand makes up 40% of the sales of the mini bottles in Maine.

He called it a “costly bill” that won’t do anything to curb drunk driving or prevent people from throwing the bottles out of car windows after drinking them to destroy the evidence of their illegal behavior.

Proponents of the bill pushed the deposit as an economic initiative too: Rep. Richard Campbell told the Bangor Daily News last month he has deposited $450 in a savings account for his grandson, solely from redeeming roadside bottles and cans. If people knew they could get money for those nips, maybe they’d do everyone a favor by picking them up off the street.

But LePage said if the state wants to cut down on the amount of tiny bottles dotting the roadside, Maine could ban the sale of such bottles altogether, or increase the penalty for discarding the bottles, reports the Sun Journal.

The possibility that the tiny bottles would be banned in Maine is a troubling one for Sazerac Co., which has a bottling plant in Lewiston that employs 130 people. The company’s Fireball brand makes up 40% of the sales of the mini bottles in Maine, reported the Press Herald, so it would be losing a lot of business.

Sazerac CEO Mark Brown wrote to LePage in May to say he was withdrawing his support for a compromise on the bill after he learned LePage was threatening to end sales of the bottles.

“While we could have lived with a $0.05 redemption sticker if the state really thought that would solve the littering problem, we can no longer support the legislation while under the threat of having 50 mls delisted,” wrote Brown. “Such a move would be detrimental to the state’s finances as this is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Maine.”

LePage notes that many are tossed from car windows to get rid of the evidence that the driver was drinking behind the wheel.

“I cannot condone this unlawful behavior, and I believe increased penalties are warranted,” LePage said, adding that the $0.05 deposit “will not reduce drunk driving and does nothing to curb the destruction of evidence through littering.”

“Absent increased penalties, which this bill failed to impose, an alternative approach is to discontinue” the sale of nips, LePage said.

To that end, if the legislature overrides his veto and the bill passes into law, LePage says he’s directed the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations “to work with the Liquor and Lottery Commission to delist these products for sale in Maine.”

The more than $1 million needed to implement the proposal comes from a state fund, which could cut funding to other state programs or increase costs for companies that do business in the state, LePage said last month.

“I am troubled by the precedent this bill sets,” said the governor today. “It suggests that any time a legislator identifies a pet cause that needs funding, they should raid the state’s liquor business.”

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