Senate Overrides Governor’s Veto of Menu Labeling Restrictions

The state Senate easily overrode a veto that Governor Phil Bredesen slapped on a bill last July. The measure would keep local health boards from forcing restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus – something that almost happened in Nashville.

The measure was in response to a move last year from the five-member Metro Board of Health that restaurants post calorie information. Lawmakers think that non-elected officials shouldn’t impose nutritional standards.

Lobbyist Dan Haskell represents business interests. He says such a requirement would be unfair because the rules would vary across county lines.

“That’s something the health boards never cared about, is the fact that it costs our guys money to find out how…many calories are in things.”

Memphis Democrat Jim Kyle argues that local governments created these boards to make exactly these kinds of decisions. He says the override interferes with local control.

Next week, the state House takes up the veto.

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Representative Susan Lynn of Mount Juliet will ask the House to pass the same bill, completing the veto override.

The bill passed the Senate last year with 26 votes. The override got 24 votes. The bill passed the House with 79 votes. Lynn only has to get 51 to override the governor’s veto.

She says the bill cuts off different counties, for instance, from passing different menu requirements, which could be expensive for chains with restaurants in more than one county.

“They would all be varying. It’s a great expense for the business, but really, it’s an expense for the consumers. Because we know the businesses aren’t paying this, the consumer will pay it.”

Lynn argues that the regulations passed by panels like the Metro Health Board are as important as laws. That goes too far, she says.

“What this bill does, is, it precludes un-elected boards and commissions for local governments from instituting such regulations. These regulations are really more like law than regulations and we can’t have local boards and commissions making law.”

However, Governor Bredesen’s Senate floor leader, Jim Kyle, says the measure really takes away power from the city council or county commission that sets up the board in the first place.

“What we’ve done by overriding the governor’s veto is pre-empted local elected officials from trying to define the quality of life of their communities.”

Senator Kyle says the action of those voting to override the governor’s veto varies from those same members’ expressed attitude about government control from afar.

“So many of the people who voted to override this veto have complained about the federal government and the U.S. Congress pre-empting them, but they don’t seem to have any respect for those at local government level.”

The bill is SB1092 Black/HB0950 Lynn.

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