Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, discusses her position on the bill. (Hugh McQuaid photo) Credit: Hugh McQuaid photo

State lawmakers in the House approved the re-nomination of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes and clarified a change to Connecticut’s bottle deposit law that had previously held up her confirmation. 

One of several provisions passed unanimously by the House Thursday as part of an emergency certified bill, clarified that Connecticut will not charge consumers a bottle deposit on containers of hard seltzer made from wine or spirits like vodka.

It’s an important change because although legislative leaders say the absence of those seltzers was crucial to a bipartisan deal that ushered in the first update to the bottle bill in decades — lawmakers failed to include that language in the bill. They did, however, point it out during floor debates.

When the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection went to implement the new bottle law, it stuck to the language in the bill, rather than the intent of legislators mentioned on the floor. 

In testimony before the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee, Dykes said her agency had not been aware of the distinction made on the floor. However, the issue led to lawmakers tabling her nomination last month.

They settled both issues on Thursday. The House voted unanimously to amend the bottle bill as part of a larger piece of emergency certified legislation and voted 105 – 38 to reconfirm Dykes. The Senate approved the deposit law change in a unanimous vote later that evening and is not required to vote on the House resolution which confirmed the commissioner.

During a press conference prior to gaveling in, House Speaker Matt Ritter said Thursday’s action on the bottle law simply preserved the agreement that cleared the way for the bipartisan deal the deposit update, which later this year will see the deposit charge increase from 5 cents to 10 cents. 

Ritter said honoring the agreement was crucial to maintain bipartisan cooperation in the House.

“People can say ‘just don’t do it.’ I’ll just say, I think it would hamper our ability to work the way we work in our chamber, which is we do work across the aisle,” he said. “I think it would create a lot of hard feelings. A lot of people would feel they got duped on it.”

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said lawmakers were clear on the issue and saw DEEP’s interpretation of the law as an opportunistic move. 

“The department saw an opportunity and they stuck their foot in that door and opened it up to expand the bottle bill to things that we did not intend to,” Candelora said. “And so while I understand that they were pushing the envelope of the law, the agency needs to recognize the fact that they’re also pushing the patience of the legislature at the same time.”

Hours later, Candelora was among the Republicans who voted to approve Dykes’ nomination. Democrats universally voted to approve both bills on Thursday, though not all of them were happy about it. 

Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said that if the legislature had meant to exclude hard seltzers made from vodka, they should have written as much into state law. Mushinsky apologized to Dykes, who she said had been unfairly maligned over the issue. 

“I really hate the bottle law rollback and I don’t know if she’s listening or not but I wanted to apologize to commissioner Katie Dykes today for the bashing she is taking for writing bottle law regulations based on what we said in explicit, plain English language in Public Act 21-58,” she said.

Mushinsky said she felt torn about the bill, but opted to support it because it also contained a provision that would continue to fund free school meals for Connecticut students for the duration of the school year. She told the chamber she planned to revisit the bottle law in a separate bill later this year. 

“Today, by making this amendment in the e-cert bill, the municipalities are losing, the liquor industry is winning,” Mushinsky said. “I’m not happy about that. I wish these bills weren’t combined into an e-cert. And on another day I will try to add those containers back and anyone that wishes to join me, I would love to have you on board another bill.”

During the earlier press conference, Ritter said lawmakers were free to propose whatever changes they liked on the bottle bill. 

“Let’s just honor that [agreement] retroactively then going forward you can do whatever you want,” he said.