Nanny May I?

JUNE 3, 2010


The proper role of government is on the minds of many people in the state, particularly with a record budget crisis in California. But legislators continue to offer massive quantities of legislation that meddle in the personal and private lives of the state’s residents.

With two distinct and separate cultures in the state, the answer is obvious – to both sides.

As daunting as a hurricane season, another looming, drawn-out budget “season” menacingly awaits while Assembly members Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, want all children to wear a protective helmet while snowboarding.  Jones said on the Assembly floor that he couldn’t get his own kids to wear their snowboard helmets, so therefore a law was needed to address the issue and reduce head injuries. SB 880 would require sports enthusiasts don bicycle, skiing and snowboarding helmets.

Jones also authored pet insurance legislation — we’re talking health insurance for Fuzzy and Fido here — brought about by one consumer’s complaint about the fine print in insurance contracts. Jones’ office investigated and found that pet insurance was wrought with pre-existing condition clauses and congenital illness exclusions. Initially wanting to do away with the pre-existing illness clause, Jones ended up working with pet insurance companies to craft a bill regulating this specialty insurance.

According to Kayte Fisher, an aide to Jones, the motive behind his pet insurance bill was consumer protection. “Billions of dollars are spent on pets,” she said. “Jones wanted to make sure that consumers understood the fine print in the insurance policies.”

Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, wants baseball players barred from using metal baseball bats, again spurned by one serious incident.  In a recent Senate Education Committee hearing, Huffman said, “The hyper-performance of high tech metal baseball bats has gone too far… It’s increasing the risk of serious injury and yes, death, for young people and we have to do something about it.”

Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, wants to outlaw body branding and nipple piercing on minors. AB 517, the Safe Body Art Act of 2009, would create statewide regulations for tattooing, body piercing and the application of permanent cosmetics businesses in California. Ma has the support of the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) as well as state health officers. The apparent issue is that live viruses have been found in surgical smoke, and can be easily be transmitted.

Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, is sponsoring a bill to ban Gatorade from schools because kids are drinking too many sugary drinks. Soda machines have already been banned from schools in the state, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has already expressed his support. Citing the increasing problem of obesity, Santa Clara County even banned the McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Anti-spanking laws, smoking bans, dog and cat licensing, salt and trans fats bans, cell phone and texting restrictions and violent video game legislation have all taken the state legislature by storm, while California staggers into another bar room of budget brawling. This begs the question: What is the proper role of government?

“The government’s role is to protect you from other people,” said Assembly member Chris Norby, R-Brea, a vocal opponent of nanny state laws.  “The government provides services you may or may not want, but public safety is the government’s job – to enforce the law and contracts.”

During the Assembly floor Session this week, Norby said that so many nanny state laws are being proposed and passed by Democrats that “It’s a slippery slope. [The laws] infantilize adults under the guise of public safety.

“Do helmets really make bicycling safer, or are fewer kids riding bikes because the helmets are such a pain?” Norby asked rhetorically. He then answered his own question, saying that in the Netherlands, where there are far more bicyclists than in the U.S., bicycle helmets are not required and they report fewer bicycle injuries.

Norby mentioned controversial athletic trainer licensing legislation passed Wednesday, then wondered aloud where the line is drawn. “Are high school coaches and Pop Warner football coaches also going to be required to be licensed as athletic trainers?” he asked. Licensing is a big part of the nanny state mentality, he said, imposing too many “ridiculous licensing requirements” on businesses and individuals.

Ironically, Norby pointed out that Democrats cry foul over issues such as marijuana smoking, growing and dispensing, claiming that’s a personal liberty issue that the government shouldn’t interfere with. But a law requiring a provisional drivers licenses for kids until age 21 has been amended several times in response to opposition, eventually lowering the age to 18, is still filled with cumbersome regulations that will “create a nightmare for parents,” Norby said.

Drinking too much sugary Gatorade, using metal baseball bats or wearing snowboard helmets, are decisions that belong to parents and not the government, Norby said.  “Parents are better equipped to make these decisions,” he added. “The role of the government is not nanny knows best. Parents do.”

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