Mississippi Passes 'Anti-Bloomberg' Bill

Mar 12, 2013
Originally published on March 13, 2013 5:11 pm

Mayor Mike and his public health edicts are having a rough ride.

On Monday, a state judge in Manhattan struck down New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's rule capping soda sizes. And lawmakers in Mississippi are taking the backlash against government regulation on food marketing one step further.

A bill now on the governor's desk would bar counties and towns from enacting rules that require calorie counts to be posted, that cap portion sizes, or that keep toys out of kids' meals. "The Anti-Bloomberg Bill" garnered wide bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature in a state where one in three adults is obese, the highest rate in the nation.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. It was the subject of intense lobbying by groups including the restaurant association, the small business and beverage group, and the chicken farmers' lobby.

Mike Cashion, executive director the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, says the bill is a direct reaction to Bloomberg-style government intervention in public health.

"If you look at how menus have changed, whether it be in fast food or family dining, you are seeing more and more healthy options," Cashion says. "Not because of legislative mandates or regulatory mandates, but because of consumer demand. Our industry has always been one to respond to the marketplace."

Rep. Gregory Holloway, a Democrat, ushered the popular bill through the state House. He says the goal is to create consistency in nutrition laws across the state. "We don't want local municipalities experimenting with labeling of foods and any organic agenda. We want that authority to rest with the legislature," Holloway says.

But the measure does have detractors in Mississippi: local politicians who say it steps on an ideal Mississippians hold dear — the ability to govern themselves.

Chip Johnson, mayor of Hernando, Miss., near the Tennessee border, is no fan of a soda ban, but he doesn't like the anti-Bloomberg bill, either.

Hernando has built biking and walking paths all over town, and has received national attention for the work. Johnson bristles at the legislature's efforts to dictate what he can do in pursuit of a healthier community, including restricting the ability to put nutritional information on menus.

"You know what? If little Alligator, Miss., wanted to do that, that's up to the people that live there. It is not up to the state to tell the people at the local level what to do," Johnson says. "They're just using this to mask what the bill is really about, which is about taking away home rule."

Johnson says he resents that the measure even puts some restrictions on a town's ability to zone where a restaurant can go.

Still, the bill passed the state Senate, 50-1, and the state House, 92-26.

This piece is part of a partnership of NPR, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Lawmakers in Mississippi are going a step beyond that judge in New York.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A bill on the governor's desk would ban counties and towns from enacting rules governing the size of sodas, or enacting any other restrictions on food-makers.

MONTAGNE: So let's learn more in today's bottom line in business. Jeffrey Hess with Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports the bill is popular with state lawmakers, despite the fact that one out of every three Mississippians is obese.

JEFFREY HESS, BYLINE: The bill is called The Anti-Bloomberg Bill. That's a reference to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and efforts there to limit the size of soft drinks and previous rules that require calorie-counts to be published on menus. The bill, now before Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, prevents local governments from requiring nutritional information, capping portion sizes or keeping toys out of kids' meals.

The executive director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, Mike Cashion, says the bill is a direct reaction to government intervention in public health.

MIKE CASHION: If you look at how menus have changed, whether it be in fast food or family dining, you're seeing more and more healthy options, not because of legislative mandates or regulatory mandates, but because of consumer demand. Our industry has always been one to respond to the marketplace.

HESS: The lobbying effort on state lawmakers was intense, with several influential groups pushing legislation, including the chicken farmers' lobby, the restaurant association, small business and beverage groups. Gregory Holloway, a Democratic representative who ushered the popular bill through the state House, says the goal is to create consistency in nutrition laws across the state.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE GREGORY HOLLOWAY: We don't want local municipalities experimenting with the labeling of foods and any organic agenda. We want that authority to rest with the legislature.

HESS: But it does have come up against an ideal Mississippians hold dear: the ability to govern themselves.

MAYOR CHIP JOHNSON: First of all, I will say, for the record, I would not enact a portion-control soda ban. I think that is wrong.

HESS: Chip Johnson is the mayor of Hernando, Mississippi, near the border with Tennessee. Like other towns and cities across the state, Hernando hasn't enacted any rules on soda sizes or calorie counts. And while Johnson says he doesn't necessarily advocate the New York City approach, he has built biking and walking paths all over town, and has received national attention for his work.

Johnson bristles at the legislature's efforts to dictate what he can do in pursuit of a healthier community, including restricting the ability to put nutritional information on menus.

JOHNSON: You know what? If little Alligator, Mississippi, wanted to do that, that's up to the people that live there. It is not up to the state to tell the people at the local level what to do. But we're not going to do that. They're just using this to mask what the bill is really about, which is about taking away home rule.

HESS: And he says he resents that the measure even puts some restrictions on a town's ability to zone where a restaurant can go. Still, the bill passed the state Senate 50-1, and the state House 92-26. It's on Governor Bryant's desk now, and he's expected to sign it. For NPR News, I'm Jeffrey Hess in Jackson, Mississippi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: And that piece is part of partnership of NPR, Mississippi Public Broadcasting and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.