Nanny State

Originally Published in the Frederick News-Post

State police officers routinely scan license plates at toll booths to ensure emissions inspections are up-to-date. Portable cameras fine speeders practically everywhere in the state. In the name of safety, children of all heights and weights are now required to sit in a rear- facing car seat for their first two years, regardless of whether they fit in it. And legislators once again found new and creative ways to tax residents this year, in part by redefining rich. But, relax, the government doesn't control everything in this state ... yet.

You can still freely sip sugary soft drinks of any size at the restaurant or store of your choice. Residents of New York City may soon not have that luxury if a proposal by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) becomes law. He wants to prohibit the sale of sugared drinks over 16 ounces in restaurants and other locations in order to clamp down on obesity and "to encourage people to live longer."

Because Maryland progressives have never found a health regulation that was not in the public good, expect a similar proposal here soon. State employees may be guinea pigs, as the governor plans to roll out a wellness program, according to news reports.

And since Maryland always seems to be in competition with New York to out-liberal itself -- think high taxes, same-sex marriage and thousands fleeing to lower-taxed states -- "wellness" proposals are sure to pop up in coming legislative sessions.

Don't expect sugared soft drinks to be the only target. Mission creep is a well-established legislative tactic. For example, texting while driving was banned in 2009, followed by a ban in 2010 on using a hand-held phone while driving.

So it's not that far-fetched to imagine legislators banning bake sales or requiring fast-food restaurants to bar entry to patrons above an acceptable body mass index. Social workers in Ohio took a child away from his parents because he was too heavy. Will the next child be in Maryland? What about weekly visits from state health workers to check refrigerators? Or what about regulation of ice cream, sugared cereals, snack foods and other products sold in grocery stores? Will they be locked behind closed doors and rationed based on height and weight? Will Comptroller Peter Franchot, instead of chasing cigarette smugglers, instead focus on nabbing truckloads of contraband Lucky Charms?

Few obey the laws prohibiting talking or texting on a mobile phone while driving according to studies and personal observation. So I do not expect legislators and bureaucrats to be able to lower the state's obesity rate, which is about 25 percent. But passing social legislation is much more appealing than doing the hard work of reforming state spending. The most recent legislative session is a case in point. Gay marriage passed early, but the majority party could not find a way to overspend enough during the three months allotted and had to be called back by the governor in a special session. So, expect bigger deficits and smaller soft drinks in coming years.