Kittleman: Council bill is 'overreach of government' [Commentary]

Howard County Times
Kittleman: Nutrition guideline bill "an unnecessary intrusion on personal responsibility and freedom."

Commentary from County Executive Allan Kittleman regarding the veto of CB 17-2015:

When I took office as Howard County Executive in December, my goal then — as now — was to lead county government, maintain our excellent quality of life and promote positive change where appropriate. Unfortunately, seven months into my first term, I have been faced with vetoing legislation that has no merit and represents partisan politics at its worst — a poorly crafted bill clearly submitted in response to my repeal of the sugary drinks ban.

Council Bill 17-2015, as passed by the County Council, restricts food and beverages sold in vending machines on county property and imposes mandates on packaged food and beverages served or sold at youth-oriented, county-government programs.

On Monday, I vetoed this bill by the authority granted under Section 209 of the County Charter. It does not represent good governance and is an unnecessary intrusion on personal responsibility and freedom. The impact will be minimal at best, but the precedent will create an obligation for government to continue legislating nutritional standards, as they change over time.

I trust residents and employees of Howard County to make their own decisions about what they, and their children, should eat and drink. I do not believe local government should mandate how we address personal health issues or prohibit businesses from providing products their customers want and can legally purchase elsewhere.

Despite claims to the contrary, this bill will do nothing to reduce obesity in children and adults or improve their health. It restricts products sold in vending machines at limited locations on county property and mandates snack and beverage choices in some county-run youth programs, which already follow strict state guidelines.

I agree with Rona Martiyan, a dietitian and nutritionist who advises Howard and other counties, who states: "Nutritional guidelines are not the same for all individuals. A child's needs are different from an adult's needs. The nutritional needs of an inactive adult with diabetes and hypertension are different from an active adult with no chronic conditions. An obese child who is inactive has different needs from a normal weight child who participates in sports."

Ms. Martiyan, who has 40 years of experience in the field, concludes: "If we try to mandate nutrition choices, we lose our window of opportunity to help the public through education. With nutrition education and communication, we give people the power and voice to make better educated choices about their health."

My objections to putting nutritional guidelines into law include:

•Overreach of government: Local government should not legislate personal behavior regarding what to eat and drink and ban products that are readily available elsewhere.

•Ineffective strategy: Comprehensive lifestyle changes improve health outcomes. Research has shown that voluntary programs stressing healthy behaviors have proven more effective than bans and mandates. I am committed to developing a comprehensive health and nutrition educational program, which focuses on outreach and community-based programs.

•Redundant and unnecessary: The county's youth programs already follow strict licensing regulations and COMAR (Code of Maryland Regulations) guidelines regarding foods and beverages. Codifying these guidelines will make it more difficult to adjust standards as needed.

•Fails to acknowledge that nutritional standards evolve: As research and science improve, standards for healthy foods and beverages change. Specific nutritional recommendations should not be enacted into law. We should not have to pass legislation whenever health and nutrition recommendations are modified.

•Hurts small business: Overly restrictive guidelines for vending machines make it difficult for county vendors to comply. They also prohibit vendors from stocking healthy options that consumers want, which do not meet the requirements. The selection of products in vending machines is best left to market forces, not government intrusion.

My decision to veto this bill is a serious matter and not one I take lightly. This legislation is so problematic, I felt compelled to take this action. It pays lip service to improving health outcomes, but misses the mark on what we can do to reduce obesity and affect change. I believe residents and employees of Howard County do not want government mandates on food and beverage choices. Therefore, I have taken this action based on what I believe is in the best interest of the public and what residents have entrusted me to do.

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