News & Politics

California Bill Would Tell Your Kids What They Can Drink

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Almost every weekend, my parents, siblings, nieces, and I all go out to dinner. The girls, ages 9, 10, and 13, usually know exactly what they want, and these good Southern girls want sweet tea to drink. The only ones who might override them are their parents.

That scenario might be different if we lived in California. A new measure in front of the legislature — SB-1192, or the California Healthy-by-Default Kids’ Meal Drinks Bill — would require restaurants to make “healthy” drink choices like water or milk the automatic choice with kids meals unless parents request otherwise.

The legislation, which sailed through the State Senate in May before the Assembly approved it and sent back to the Senate last week, doesn’t specify whether restaurants should upcharge if parents request a sugary drink, but it does impose fines for offending establishments.

The text of the bill spells out the details:

This bill would require a restaurant, as defined, that sells a children’s meal that includes a beverage, to make the default beverage water, sparkling water, or flavored water, as specified, or unflavored milk or a nondairy milk alternative, as specified. The bill would not prohibit a restaurant’s ability to sell, or a customer’s ability to purchase, an alternative beverage if the purchaser requests one. The bill would make a violation of its provisions an infraction, but would make the first violation subject to a notice of violation. Under the bill, the 2nd and 3rd violations would be punishable by fines of not more than $250 and $500, respectively. By imposing additional duties on local enforcement agencies and by creating a new crime, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

The legislation cites increasing obesity rates among children — a problem, for sure. But instead of simply encouraging moms and dads to make better choices, the state is imposing its will on restaurants.

Needless to say, those who love big government mandates are giddy about the bill. An organization called Public Health Advocates puts an impressive amount of spin on the health-by-force measure when it says that the bill “will help make it easier for parents to provide healthy drink options to their children while eating outside the home and will help children form better eating and drinking habits that they will carry throughout their lifetimes.”

Oh, thanks. Because we should automatically assume that parents need “help.” This kind of assumption that the state knows better than parents how to take care of their kids is what public health advocates consider “innovative.” The American Cancer Society applauds the bill as well, claiming that it will cut down on cancer risks.

Not everybody is on board with this bill. One GOP lawmaker let the Sacramento Bee know what he thought about the measure: “Seriously, like, what’s next?” Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, asked. “Are we going to insist that you have to have kale in your salad unless you specifically ask otherwise?”

And some parents aren’t crazy about the state telling them how to feed their kids, as IJR reports:

“I think the government shouldn’t determine what’s available when I, as a mother, know what’s best for my child,” said Inez Deocio, an opponent of the bill.

Another parent, Scott Gregory, agreed. “As a parent, you should be able to decide for yourself whether your kid’s going to have milk or water or soda. The state shouldn’t be telling you that.”

And that’s what the whole brouhaha is all about. The state shouldn’t tell parents what’s best for their kids. Sure, the parents have an out in the law by being able to ask for an alternative to milk or water, but it shouldn’t be up to the state to force parents to ask for a specific drink choice.

Add the burden on restaurants to the insanity. Big establishments and mom-and-pop restaurants shouldn’t have to cower in fear of a fine from the state because they don’t want to default to “healthy beverage” choices.

The truth of the matter is that parents know way better than the states what their kids will drink, especially if those kids are picky or hard to please (and I can’t imagine anybody wanting milk with a meal). Parents shouldn’t have to choose their kids’ beverages with the government looking over their shoulders, and restaurants shouldn’t have to change their menus under the duress of the state. But then again, this is California, and we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re all up in families’ business these days.