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NEW YORK -- Catherine Flaherty, executive director of the New England Convenience Store Association (NECSA), reports that the pump-and-run problem is getting serious in New England. NECSA is supporting a drive-off law in Massachusetts and considering filing legislation in Rhode Island and Maine, while Connecticut has already increased the drive-off penalty to three months in prison plus a $300 fine.

"Some operators have tried pre-paying as a solution," says Flaherty, "but have dropped it in response to customer complaints. We’ve suggested, among other things, surveillance cameras that can take pictures of license plates, and speakers mounted on pumps so inside clerks can greet customers.”

The speaker and camera suggestions came out of the Loss Prevention Share Group meeting held by the NECSA in its Share Group program, which brings association members together four times a year to network and learn from each other. The next Share Group meeting, scheduled for March 29, 2006, will be on Human Resources and Loss Prevention. It will be held at NECSA's office in Norwood, Mass. For more information, call (781) 255-9090.

Could this be the start of something big? In New York, a coalition made up of Pepsi-Bottling Co. of NY, Coca-Cola Bottling Co., NY State Beer Wholesalers Association, NYACS and the Food Industry Alliance of NY State is marshalling opposition to a proposal by some New York State legislators to expand the existing five-cent bottle law to capture all beverages in plastic, glass and metal containers except for wine, liquor, dairy and baby formula. The present law covers beer, soda and wine coolers.

"This is a massive expansion of an already onerous law," observes Jim Rogers, president of the Food Industry Alliance, "so we're proposing an alternative bill."

The proposal, titled the Recycling For Communities Act (RCA), calls for the elimination of bottle deposits altogether, and substituting a minimal environmental fee assessed on most grocery store products at the manufacturing, wholesale and retail levels. The consumer pays nothing.

It’s designed to fund comprehensive recycling and litter abatement at the local level, and closely parallels a long-time existing law in NJ, which has proven to be successful

On the tobacco issue, the Democratic-controlled legislature in New York’s Rockland County raised the purchase age from 18 to 19, since counties in New York are permitted to enact legislation more restrictive than the state's.

But County Executive, S. Scott Vanderhoef, a Republican, vetoed it and his veto held when the legislature failed to override it by two votes.

Jim Calvin, president of the NY Association of Convenience Stores, told the legislature in a public hearing on August 2 when the proposal was being debated, that if it wanted to stop teen smoking it needed a law that makes it illegal for minors to use or possess tobacco products. Otherwise, a 19 purchase age "would just be nibbling around the edges of the youth smoking problem."

Only one NY county, Suffolk on Long Island, has deviated from the state-wide tobacco purchase age of 18. Rockland would have been the second.

Vermont is wrestling with several issues these days. One is a proposal in the state legislature to expand the deposit law to beverages such as juices, water, dairy products, etc., and another is increasing the five-cent deposit to ten cents; many law makers feel that a nickel no longer compels people to bring their containers back for redemption.

The redemption centers themselves are asking for an increase in the three-cent-per-item handling fee that's been in place for seventeen years, but beverage manufacturers and distributors are opposed. They're concerned that an increase in the handling fee will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.

"Everything's up in the air at this point," says Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Grocers Association, "but with so many issues on the table, and so much at stake, we expect some fireworks when the legislature meets in January."

When it comes to the meth problem, New Hampshire may have an answer. "Right now," says John Dumais, president of the New Hampshire Retail Grocers Association, "there are no meth laws on the books in New Hampshire. But our Association is in preliminary discussions with the state’s Department of Health on what the best solution might be, so when the legislature meets in its next session to draft legislation, it will have our input as well as the Department’s. How about that for an enlightened approach?"