Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Government as Micromanager

Imagine you wake up in the morning, shuffle into the bathroom, turn on your faucet and eye the digital counter on the faucet that regulates your water use. You brush your teeth quickly, staying within your allotted water usage for that activity, then hop into the shower, which is timed to provide exactly four minutes of moderately warm water. You get out, quickly dry off and dress, then head out into the living room where you wake your 39-pound dog (dogs 40 pounds or over have been banned) and put some food in his bowl, which he eagerly devours. You open the backdoor and venture outside with your pooch, waiting for him to do his business. It's cold, and you're impatient, and you roll your eyes as he moves from place to place, sniffing. A slight drizzle begins, and you cross your arms for warmth. When your four-legged friend finally does his business, you pick it up promptly with the pooper scooper, then deposit it in an environmentally-friendly and sealed, county-approved bin for animal waste, then you let your dog back inside and follow him in, closing the door behind you. You eye the living room and hope it looks the same way when you return, since it's illegal to keep your dog in a crate, on a tether, in a kennel, or alone in the backyard.

With a sigh, you grab your wallet, biodegradable cell phone, and keys. You hop into your compact, fuel efficient vehicle and drive to your work three miles away (the sale of SUVs and vans were banned long ago, and only those who use a wheelchair or have two or more children may apply for an exemption. Also, since the law now places a $3,000 tax penalty on anyone who commutes to work more than five miles each way, you had to accept a less-than-ideal job closer to home). You stop for coffee on the way, but you're only able to get decaf (caffeine was banned years ago), and as you view the selection of fruit and vegetables that comprise the breakfast offerings behind the counter, you find yourself missing the occasional bagel or muffin. With a sigh, you pick up your drink and make your way to the building. You've made sure you aren't wearing any cologne or perfume, because those are prohibited since some people have chemical sensitivities, and as you get out of your car, you quickly sniff your armpits (since deodorant is banned, too, and you didn't have time toput a whole lot of time into that area earlier in the shower). On your way to your office, you stop in the breakroom and add some hot water to your coffee. The only vending machine offers unsweetened juice, low fat milk, or unsalted nuts and dried fruit for sale. You put in a hard day at the office and, on your way home, you stop at a drive-through and order a bottle of water (soda is a thing of the past), a grilled, trans-fat free chicken sandwich on whole grainbread (white flour was banned a year ago), and a side of apple slices, which you plan to feed to the 39-pound dog. You have to be careful with what you feed him because, if he gains a pound, you'll have to euthanize him.

If that reality seems far-fetched, it isn't. Legislators in America are quickly becoming micromanagers of our lives, and while some ofthe above regulations might seem like a good idea, others clearlyfall into the area of unwarranted intrusions into personal lives.

Let's rewind to today. A cluster of new California laws are set totake effect July 1. These new laws include a ban on junk food and soda in schools, recycling programs for plastic bags, and increased fees for bottles and cans that are recyclable.

The ban on junk food arose from Senate Bill 12, passed in 2005, and details the type and number of calories food items must contain in order to be sold. It also specifies how foods must be prepared (or how they must NOT be prepared). Senate Bill 965, passed the same year, limits the type of drinks schools may sell to the following:

1) fruit-based drinks that are composed of no less than 50 percent fruit juice and have no added sweetener,

2) Vegetable-based drinks that are composed of no less than 50 percent vegetable juice and have no added sweetener.

3) Drinking water with no added sweetener.

4) Two-percent-fat milk, one-percent-fat milk, nonfat milk, soy milk,rice milk, and other similar nondairy milk.

This year, Assemblymember Sally Lieber proposed a law that would make it illegal for parents to spank their children. Another law will prohibit drivers from talking on their cell phones without using ahands-free device. Yet another pending law would require all dogs in the state to be sterilized by the age of four months. Still another law makes it a crime to leave a dog tethered in the yard for more than three hours, even if the owner is present with the dog (say,working in the front yard on the car with the dog on a long line) or camping with the dog. It doesn't stop there, another proposed law would regulate what type of lightbulbs we use.
These laws slowly chip away at the personal freedoms upon which this country was founded. Every year, more laws add to the ones already in existence, managing what we can wear, drive, and eat. Many places already limit (or are proposing to limit) the type and number of pets you can own, how high your fence should be, what size or breed of dog you can own, whether you can leave your car parked on the street overnight, sleep in a parked vehicle, or even wear baggy pants. Personal choice is on the verge of being obsolete, because the government has decided it knows what is best for us and our children,and like a good little proactive parent, the government is involved in every facet of our lives.

It will soon become time to change our nation's motto. America was once the Land of the Free. Now, it is the Land of the Over-regulated.

Author D. Capp holds an M.S. in medical science (biochemistry and genetics), a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology, and a law degree.

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