Howard executive vetoes council nutritional standards bill

Why did County Exec. Kittleman veto county council's nutritional standards bill?

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman has vetoed legislation creating a set of nutritional guidelines for the food and drink sold in vending machines in Howard County government buildings.

"I trust Howard County residents and employees to make their own decisions about what to eat," Kittleman said before signing the veto on Monday afternoon at the county's government headquarters in Ellicott City.

The County Council passed the bill, which required food and drink offerings in county vending machines to meet a set of caloric, fat and sugar guidelines, by a 4-1 vote last week. Councilmember Greg Fox, a Republican from Fulton, cast the only vote in opposition.

In a letter to the council released Monday, Kittleman said the bill would have a negative impact on small business and was "unnecessary and redundant" given existing nutritional guidelines for the county's youth programs.

Nutritional standards shouldn't be included in county code because they "evolve over time," he added. "Arbitrarily banning or limiting access to some foods at limited locations will have little, if any, effect in encouraging the needed lifestyle changes to achieve meaningful and measurable improvement."

The county executive said he was working on an education and outreach plan to combat obesity in the county, though more details were not immediately available as the initiative is in its early stages, he said.

Nikki Highsmith Vernick, the president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation, a local public health nonprofit that supported the nutritional standards bill, said education wasn't enough.

"Education alone is not going to stem the tide of obesity in the country," she said.

She pointed to the bill's support among grassroots organizations, including People Acting Together in Howard and the African American Community Roundtable.

"The council spent months trying to draft a very reasonable compromise bill... the county executive today unilaterally rejected our own community's requests."

Councilman Calvin Ball, a Democrat from Columbia and the bill's sponsor, said he was disappointed in Kittleman's veto and would push for for the council to override it at its voting session at the end of the month. To override the veto, four of the five council members must once again vote in favor of the bill.

"I think we listened to all of the suggestions and concerns, including the business community's, and came up with a standard that expands healthy options," Ball said of the legislation.

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