The Tennessee Senate voted 24-7 to set aside Gov. Phil Bredesen’s veto of a bill prohibiting local health boards from mandating that restaurants provide caloric information on their menus.
The veto override has yet to pass the House of Representatives, where the original bill the governor vetoed passed 79-12 last year.
The bill the General Assembly approved last summer was a response to a push by the Metro Davidson County Board of Health to require that chain restaurants count calories in the products they sell and make that information available on their menus.
In his statement explaining the veto, Bredesen wrote, “Providing consumers with accurate, easy to understand nutritional information about the content of the food they are purchasing is a common-sense measure that could help Tennessee address its obesity epidemic.”
Fans of the bill say the legislation is necessary to prevent a patchwork of differing regulations and levels of enforcement across Tennessee that in the end could bite into already struggling local economies.
“If all these small health departments or agencies across the state were to be making those decisions, then we would have a mixture of what is required,” said Diane Black, R-Gallatin. “However, if a local elected body makes that decision, then that would be at least an opportunity for those who are being impacted by this legislation to address those folks and to also hold them accountable for what they do on a local basis. But again, this is non-elected bodies that we’re talking about here. Not elected bodies.”
Jim Kyle, the Senate Democratic minority leader and a candidate for governor, was one of the seven voting against the override. He ridiculed what he described as an effort by the Legislature to undermine local government authority.
“This isn’t about menus. This isn’t about food. This isn’t about health,” said Kyle. “This is about respecting elected local officials making the decision in their local community for their constituents. This is preempting local government. I find it amazing those who have railed at the federal government about preempting state government would come and support preempting local government by state government.”
Kyle was one of only three senators who voted against the original bill last summer. No Republicans opposed the override or the legislation when it passed last year.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he understands Kyle’s argument but believes the legislation will help rein in run-away bureaucracies (see video above).
A study released last fall by the journal Health Affairs questioned whether calorie labels on fast food menus actually influence people’s decision making about the foods they order.
“We found that 27.7 percent who saw calorie labeling in New York said the information influenced their choices,” reported the team of New York University researchers. “However, we did not detect a change in calories purchased after the introduction of calorie labeling. We encourage more research on menu labeling and greater attention to evaluating and implementing other obesity-related policies.”
Mark Todd Engler can be reached at email@example.com.
Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.