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Business, Free Enterprise and Constitutional Issues; Pro-Life and Pro Second Amendment. Susan Lynn is a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. She serves as Chairman of the Consumer and Human Resources subcommittee, a member of the Finance Ways and Means Committee and the Ethics Committee. She holds a BS in economics and a minor in history.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Label me

So I don’t like the idea of local governments enacting menu labeling...

I received an email from a friend who was not happy to learn that I am the sponsor of a bill to clarify that local governments may not enact menu labeling; a growing trend where government requires restaurants to provide patrons information on the nutritional content of their offerings.

Supporters of menu labeling love the idea because they feel it will surely cure the “obesity epidemic”; even though American society has grown heavier not slimmer since other food labeling laws have come into effect.

Objectors say they see menu labeling as more of the nanny-state government movement. Further, it creates a burden on citizens (business owners) that is far too great. Modifying menus or ingredients becomes inflexible due to the expense of changing menu board, menu and drive through signage; additionally utilizing a lab to determine the nutritional content of offerings is exceedingly expensive. It is consumers that will pay these costs through higher prices.

Many question if the added expense is actually useful enough to pay for. Isn’t it common knowledge that if starchy potatoes fried in oil can make you fat then supersized starchy potatoes fried in oil will probably make you, well, fatter?

However, my friend’s email, and my bill, raise a whole new issue. She feels that local governments are closest to the people and are more inclined to understand what laws they need therefore I should not be trying to stop them from employing such an ordinance if they want to do so.

It is very important to understand that the only reason local governments exist is because the state has granted them a Charter to exist. A Charter is like a Constitution and grants local governments permission to govern themselves through ordinances within the range of their Chartered powers.

To be clear, Local government ordinances cannot circumvent state law. For instance, local governments cannot make their own criminal laws; it would violate equal protection of the law for there to be varying penalties for murder in different counties or communities.

Local governments can fill a void in state law if there is no state law on the subject in effect, and the ordinance is inside of the powers specified in their Charter.

In time the state sometimes finds it necessary to take action and impose an overriding state law to replace a selection of dissimilar ordinances on the same issue. For example, the state may find that varying ordinances among the local governments are too numerous, too differentiated, and in need of standardization due to a compelling, a rational or a legitimate burden created for citizens to comply with. Local menu labeling ordinances are a good example of this.

If a requirement for menu labeling is ever put in place I hope people can agree that it is truly a measure that would be best imposed broadly, perhaps by the federal government, because even the variance among the states creates too great a compliance burden for citizens.

Harvard University was one of the first to require menu labeling. They have abandoned the project due to complaints that it aggravated students' eating disorders. If you want to read more about the Food Police there is a very good article by the Consumer Rights League. I recently had Jim Terry from Consumer Rights speak at my task force at ALEC.

Yep, you can officially "label me" as one of those that is not in favor of government instituted menu labeling on any level for many reasons.


chuck said...

Thank You for your common sense approach to Menu Labeling! If I may add my two cents worth about this ridiculous idea that may become law.
With customers allowed to modify what ever item that they order, whether it be in a fast food or full service establishment, the idea of menu labeling becomes ridiculous! Besides, if calorie and fat counting is what drives you, then you likely have already done your research to know what you can or should not indulge yourself with, on thier menu.
All the added info will just make menus that much more difficult to read and even more difficult to understand, and as it relates to fast food places, make the drive thru's run even slower as customers sit thier and ponder fat gram counts! Another reason menu labeling is ridiculous is because, with every employee portioning food slightly dfferent from each other and from the perfect portions, all the counts that you may be watching will be useless! So why drive up the costs of food for a Labeling Process that will not do what folks intend it to do? You will not be provided accurate information that will prove helful!!!! At best, you will be provided a false sense of security that someone else is looking out for your well being. BTW, only you can and should be responsible for you own well being! I dont need my government making my personal decisions for me!

Ron Jones said...

Which idiot, exactly, proposed this money-sucking waste of my time?

Have IQ's in the state legislature, and among the citizenry dropped sharply since I was a child?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I'm overweight by 50 pounds or so.

And like 99.9% of the rest of people who are too fat, I got that way by consuming more calories than I expended. Period.

At some level, everyone knows this. Because we (most of us) studiously avoid reading the nutritional information on that box of Cheese-its.

Labels will not change behavior.

If you really wanted to do something about the obesity "epidemic" in Tennessee, GET RID OF TENNCARE!

Get rid of all state-funded, state-mandated "group-rate" health insurance that spreads the cost.

When health insurance companies are free to price their policies based on individual risk (just like auto insurance). Only then will behaviors change.

Summer of George said...

This is a great blog entry and I agree with you 100% on the food labeling issue. That said, I do understand your friend’s concern about local control. At first blush, it could be considered hypocritical to be sponsoring the state sovereignty resolution while simultaneously sponsoring legislation that overrides a decision made by Metro Nashville. I know many Democrats tried to make this point as it related to Republican-sponsored legislation preventing Shelby County from enacting a payroll tax. A true federalist, they’d say, wouldn’t support preemption and would allow local people to make decisions at the local level. Even if, as a conservative, you disagree with the decision or if it is bad for business. Cities have the right to make bad law, they’d say.

It’s on that point our Republican legislators need to do a better job explaining why they have the authority to overrule bad law. The federal government was formed by the states. It is a bottom-up sort of empowerment. The relationship between the state and the counties/cities, however, is very different. Like you said, it is the state which legitimizes these entities (via charter) and thus preemption of a local ordinance is not inconsistent with federalism. In fact, that’s what our state constitution demands. Whenever a county/city wants to enact a new tax, for instance, it requires General Assembly approval via private act. When approving Metro Nashville’s charter, the state never intended to authorize so much regulatory power being given to the unelected Metro Board of Health. You would never tell a county/city what it had to do, only what it can’t do. You want to limit government. Thus, the reason for your bill. Explaining your position from this sort of philosophical standpoint will assuage the concerns some otherwise friendly critics have about your legislation. Remember, the rank and file are a little on edge about national Republicans having campaigned one way and governed another. It is natural they are going to be on heighted alert for it at the state level. Explaining your position on these terms might help to calm folks a bit. This is just my two cents, of course. Take it for whatever it’s worth.

Thanks for everything that you’re doing… keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

just another example of the condescending premise that people are to stupid to make good decisions for themselves.