Lawmakers for bad policies

Lawmakers for bad policies

January 30th, 2010 in Opinion Times

Tennessee's legislators have an illogical and destructive view of public health and regulatory policies. Consider the latest of a stream of legislative votes on public health, safety, gun-carry and environmental rules.

The latest vote on such an issue came Thursday, when the state Senate voted by a 24-7 margin to override Gov. Phil Bredesen's veto of a bill that would have barred local health boards from requiring restaurants to post nutritional information about the foods they serve. They did so on the most perverse logic.

Local health boards are typically appointed by and accountable to elected public officials. And in acknowledgment of rising public concern about high rates of obesity and the health consequences, some have considered adopting rules to require restaurants to list nutritional information about the food listed on their menus.

Indeed, officials in towns and cities across the country have been adopting such rules for years to help educate their citizens about healthy eating and to reduce consumption of foods loaded with calories, sodium, fat grams and various forms of artery-clogging fats.

State senators, in their stubborn neglect or ignorance of the value of such actions, passed legislation to bar local health boards from requiring the posting of such information. Following Gov. Bredesen's wise veto of that legislation, 75 percent of our senators voted to override his veto.

This paper's Nashville reporter, Andy Sher, asked Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, who handled the override debate, about the vote. "I don't think any of us are against nutritional information being placed on menus for consumers," she said. "But an unelected regulatory agency should not have the power to impose such mandates."

Her logic is absurd. She would have voters believe that she and other senators don't understand that appointed members of local regulatory boards are already accountable to voters through the public officials that appoint them.

Yet that is precisely is the way representative government works at all levels. There aren't enough public offices to make every regulatory agent subject to election. Senators and representatives are themselves members of far larger bureaucratic framework that relies on their oversight of appointed regulatory officials in a raft of state agencies that issue rules.

State lawmakers are surely intimately aware of that chain of authority. The real reason they overrode the governor's veto is that they don't like local and state government requiring healthy or sound public policies that attempt to guide public policies regarding issues they don't care about. They don't mind legislating in favor of developers who would drain vital wetlands, or to let the tiny minority of citizens with gun-carry permits to take their guns into bars. And they don't mind stalling environmental rules for cleaner, healthier air.

But when it comes to policies to improve public safety or health that they somehow find intrusive -- never mind if they reduce diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, and the public's soaring health care costs -- they turn around and reject them, and with the most fallacious reasoning.

No wonder they get no respect.