Howard County Executive-elect Allan Kittleman said Friday that he plans to repeal a ban on sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks on county property as soon as he takes office.
"It will not exist," Kittleman said of the ban. "If I can [repeal] it on Dec. 2, I will." The Republican, currently a state senator from western Howard County, will be sworn in on the evening of Dec. 1.
Kittleman made the announcement in a radio interview Friday morning on WBAL. In a pre-election interview with the Howard County Times, he had pointed to the ban as one way in which he was different from opponent Courtney Watson, a Democrat who supported the policy.
Friday, he said he was opposed to the ban because "I don’t think the government should be telling people what they should drink.
"I’m all for education, I’m all for providing information to people to know what would be better to drink, what would be more nutritious," he said, but ultimately, "I think it’s a freedom issue, it’s an issue of personal responsibility, and I’ll let the people of Howard County decide."
Current County Executive Ken Ulman, who signed the food and drinks restrictions into law with a 2012 executive order, declined comment through a spokesman.
Ian Kennedy, director of communications for the Horizon Foundation, a Howard-based public health nonprofit that partnered with Ulman to support the regulations, said the organization "support[s] County Executive-elect Allan Kittleman's pledge for all children in Howard County to have 'a healthy and safe learning environment 24/7,'" a Kittleman campaign priority that the incoming executive has reiterated since his victory Nov. 4.
"We look forward to working with his administration and the County Council to ensure that this is true for the 50,000 children enrolled in programs with the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, as well as the thousands of children who attend programs and events at our local libraries," Kennedy said.
Ulman's order restricted cold drinks sold at events and in vending machines on county property to 40 calories or less -- a limit that effectively banned all non-diet sodas -- and required 50 percent of packaged food offered to contain 200 calories or less per portion.
Last summer, the decision came back into focus when vendors at the county's Lakefront Fourth of July celebration were informed the restrictions would be in effect for the first time. Several complained the ban would hurt business.
A few weeks later, Ulman announced he would be rolling back some of the restrictions. While guidelines would be upheld for meetings, events and programs taking place on county property, they would no longer apply to once-a-year celebrations like the Fourth of July, he said.
"While we seek to increase healthy options in our community, we also want to be reasonable with our standards," Ulman wrote in a letter informing the County Council of his decision.
Council member Greg Fox, a Republican from the western county, also introduced a bill to fully repeal Ulman's restrictions in July, which died in October after it was tabled and a majority of the council refused to take it back up for a vote.