Closing Time

By Sara Rimensnyder

You wouldn't think you'd need a pharmacist to buy a newspaper. Or a pair of pantyhose. Or a box of jelly donuts. But that's the situation in Connecticut, where state regulations require certain drugstores to shut their doors entirely if there's no druggist on duty. Now that an increased education requirement has caused a shortage of pharmacists, the law is inconveniencing customers and businesses alike. Neither the stores nor the state keeps track of shutdowns, so it's unclear how many shops have been affected. But anecdotal evidence suggests that employees at more than a dozen stores got an unexpected day off over the Labor Day weekend.

The closure requirement is an irksome remnant of the days when drugstores sold drugs and convenience stores sold snacks and periodicals. It's just one of many regulations dictated by Connecticut's Pharmacy Commission. For example, there's the "tech ratio": For every pharmacist, there can be no more than two technician assistants. The rule is supposed to enable pharmacists to make sure the technicians don't screw up when filling bottles, inserting cotton, and putting on caps. Such a requirement works well for pharmacists in theory: Like licensing, it re-stricts entry into the profession and keeps its practitioners in high demand. But in practice, now that pharmacists are spread thin, it burdens them with grueling hours and understaffing.

The increase in the education requirement-part of a nationwide professionalization drive-is directly responsible for the sudden pharmacist shortage. Connecticut pharmacy schools didn't graduate any classes this year; would-be graduates instead have to stick around for a sixth year. At the same time, fewer students are enrolling in pharmacy schools. Neighborhood pharmacist has never been a glamorous career choice, and the position's growing reputation for stress probably isn't adding any allure. Nor is the extra year of training.

Grace Nome, a lobbyist for the industry group Connecticut Chain Drug Stores, questions whether the state needs such inflexible restrictions. She mentions a rule mandating that pharmacies stay open for at least 35 hours per week, a measure designed to protect the consumer. "In all honesty, you can only make a customer mad so many times, and then they're not coming back," she says. Nome is baffled by the tech-pharmacist ratio, which she sees as placing an unneeded burden on working pharmacists. "These pharmacists need relief," she says. "The tech ratio should be increased immediately to 3 to 1." After all, how many pharmacists does it take to screw a cap on a bottle?

Hands-On Experience

By Michael W. Lynch

The disability access movement may soon have another victory under its belt. In September, Kenneth McGrath, owner of an English lap dance lounge called the Pussycats Club, petitioned local authorities for an exception to the strict no-touch clause in his establishment's license. The proposal originated with two blind attendees at a stag party who felt that touching the girls would give them a better feel for the contours of the dancers' art.

"Given their disability," McGrath told London's Daily Telegraph, "they felt controlled touching ought to be permitted for registered blind persons only and with the lap dancers' consent." A survey of the club's employees found that 11 of the 15 dancers would consent, under certain restrictions. The only thing standing in the way of 13 people's happiness is the local government, which has promised to consider the request.

Artistic License

By Brian Doherty

The college town of Gainesville, Florida, awash in small, quasi- or unprofessional local bands, recently realized it was sitting on a potential gold mine in occupational licensing fees. Since 1953, a local statute has listed "artist"-no further elaboration given-as a "professional" category required to pay a yearly occupational licensing fee to the city. The current yearly fee is $100, same as for a lawyer.

In September, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs contacted bands with whom it had contracted for downtown public concerts, notifying them of a meeting to discuss a new enforcement policy for anyone making money as a musician. Someone started spreading the notice on the Internet, and over 150 local musicians showed up.

Gainesville musician Alyson Carrel says, "Not only were the city and Department of Cultural Affairs unprepared for this type of turnout, but they were unprepared to answer even the basic questions raised. When asked the legal definition of an artist, the city and Department of Cultural Affairs were unable to answer. At one point they said all performers-for instance, all six members of PopCanon, my band-would have to pay an occupational license fee of $100 apiece, each year they are doing business. After further questioning, they changed their minds, saying, Oh no, only the organizer for the band, the one who books the show and receives payment, would need to pay."

Other questions-for instance, are club owners responsible for checking the licenses of the bands they hire?-also went unanswered. In the face of strong citizen objections, the city claimed state law gave it no leeway in enforcement. But Gainesville musician and lawyer Brian Kruger says that's nonsense. The state merely allows the city to charge occupational licensing fees, he explains. It doesn't define the categories for which the fee must be charged. The "artist" category is a local innovation, not a state mandate.

"If they wanted to make a big deal and enforce it, they'd get their butt kicked in court," Kruger says. "If an ordinance doesn't provide a definition and contains penalties, the ambiguity would likely be construed against the government agency. There are different definitions of professional, and they'd have to pick the least restrictive one that applied to the fewest people. And no one makes their full living as a musician here."

Gainesville's Department of Cultural Affairs has refused to comment, saying it is awaiting guidance from the state attorney general's office

DARE Aware

By Jacob Sullum

Critics of Drug Abuse Resistance Education, the program in which police officers tell kids to just say no, have long been frustrated by DARE's ability to thrive on anecdotes and enthusiasm. Despite the lack of credible evidence that it does what it's supposed to do, it is by far the most widely used anti-drug curriculum in the country, reaching more than 20 million students each day.

But DARE's 17-year free ride may be slowing down. Last summer, calling DARE "a fraud on the people of America," Salt Lake City Mayor Ross C. Anderson pulled it out of the city's schools, saying it should be replaced by a program that has actually been shown to reduce drug use. "For far too long," Anderson wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune, "our drug-prevention policies have been driven by mindless adherence to a wasteful, ineffective, feel-good program."

Although DARE is still used in about three-quarters of U.S. school districts, Salt Lake City's is one of several to abandon the program in recent years. While condemning Anderson's decision, DARE supporters were unable to rebut his charge that published, peer-reviewed research indicates the program is ineffective at best.

In an op-ed piece for The Deseret News, DARE America President Glenn Levant said "we are more than willing to debate the efficacy of DARE" but offered no evidence that the program works. Kathy Stewart, president of the Utah DARE Officers Association, told the Tribune: "I don't have any statistics for you. Our strongest numbers are the numbers that don't show up." And Tibby Milne, executive director of the pro-DARE Utah Council for Crime Prevention, confessed that "it's very hard to say how many kids do not use drugs because of DARE. We're trying to get that information."

The response to Anderson's decision from the local press was largely supportive. "While the decision was not popular, Anderson appears to be on solid ground," The Deseret News said. "DARE is a popular program with broad support," said an editorial on KSL-TV, "but it certainly isn't sacrosanct. Along with Mayor Anderson, communities should dare to question DARE."


By Sara Rimensnyder

Post office bigwigs must have finally heard one "snail mail" crack too many. Or else they listened up when analysts told them that an upstart technology called e-mail was going to gnaw Pac-Man-style into their $35 billion in first-class mail revenue.

On July 31, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Postal Service had plans-big plans-to assign everyone in the country a free "usps.com" e-mail address, to be used either as an alias or as a new account. The address would begin with a person's initials, followed by her nine-digit zip code and the last two numbers of her street address.

The postal service has refrained from releasing such details as the date, or even the year, that the program would launch. But it has hinted at some rationales for the scheme, including establishing the postal service as the primary communication ferry between the government and the public and helping direct marketers seamlessly shift operations to the electronic world.

The mail corps haven't completely ignored the Internet before now. Three services are already in place. PosteCS sends secure electronic documents. Ebillbay, an electronic payment service similar to the private company Paypal, was launched a few months ago. And then there's Shipping Online, an electronic postage service. Last September, the post office launched another service, allowing customers to send electronic documents to be printed, stuffed into envelopes, and delivered to a mailing list for 41 cents per letter.

Meanwhile, private electronic commerce firms and hundreds of free e-mail providers already have services on the Web identical to those running or in the works at the post office. Rick Merritt, executive director of the Web site postalwatch.com, wonders, "What makes the postal service think they're going to be more attractive than a private concern like Paypal?"

Drug War Doctors

By Michael W. Lynch

While Congress frets about how insurance companies use medical information, the Supreme Court is considering a case with far more worrisome implications. Ferguson v. City of Charleston asks not just whether some people have the right to take secret peeks at your health but whether they can compel you to provide medical evidence against yourself.

At issue is a drug abuse intervention program hatched in 1989 by the Charleston cops and the Medical University of South Carolina. Under it, pregnant women seeking prenatal care were tested for cocaine with neither warrants nor the women's consent. Originally, if women tested positive, they were arrested for child neglect or for distributing drugs to a minor, sometimes just hours after giving birth. In 1990 the program was changed to offer drug rehabilitation before sending new or expectant mothers to the slammer.

Ten women are challenging the program on the grounds that, by neglecting to establish probable cause and secure a warrant before searching them, the health care workers who cooperated with the police violated their Fourth Amendment right to privacy. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found the searches constitutional under a "special needs" exemption that the women's attorneys say leaves pregnant women with less constitutional protection than other Americans-a situation they asked the Supreme Court to correct in October.

The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, the public interest firm that is representing the women, points out that the program is not just bad law: It's counterproductive policy. Once word gets around that going to the doctor can mean going to jail, some pregnant women will shy away from important prenatal care. "I will never trust a doctor again," says Lori Griffin, who was arrested in 1989 during such a visit and spent the last three weeks of her pregnancy in jail. "They tormented me."

Child Proof

By Sara Rimensnyder

Employees of a Head Start program in Cleveland found a surefire way to recruit the most well-behaved youngsters: They invented make-believe kids. Faced with flagging enrollment, employees of the Ministerial Day Care Association, a non-profit provider, padded 1997 class rosters with more than 60 fake names-enough extra toddlers to bring the program an additional $250,000 in state and federal funding, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last fall. Former employees informed state and federal officials that the ruse was encouraged by the association's board of trustees, all of whom were local ministers. (The ministers responded by suing eight workers for character defamation.)

As of press time, the association still hadn't produced records documenting the services it insists it provided to approximately 1,600 children in 1997. In a letter, association officials informed investigators that the files were lost, destroyed, or stolen.

Head Start fraud certainly isn't unheard-of. But rarely is it so creative. The Cleveland scandal may be matched only by the industrious director in New York who embezzled a quarter million in Head Start funds in 1999, to subsidize a film studio, a record company, and a clothing business.

Saving Indianapolis

By Charles Paul Freund

Is Indianapolis safe yet from the menace of arcade video games? Certainly, the town is doing everything it can to protect itself. As of September 1, any coin-operated game that featured sexual content or graphic violence was supposed to be labeled accordingly. In addition, such machines were to be kept at least 10 feet from games suitable for families (if there are any). The sex-and-violence machines would be separated from their G-rated brothers by a curtain or a wall, so as to make them completely irresistible to minors.

OK, the part about making them irresistible was a joke; the city wanted the machines to be hidden so minors wouldn't be able to see them. That's a joke, too, but at least it's Indianapolis' joke.

The punch line, of course, would come at the expense of arcade operators. They could be fined $200 per day for violating this ordinance. If a business is cited for three violations in a year, the city lifts its license.

Before this ordinance was able to save Indianapolis, however, the game industry sued. Although the city won the first legal skirmish, the industry has asked for an injunction. Hearings were set to begin after Thanksgiving, with a stay in effect until then.

This is a remarkably late battle in the 20-year-old video game wars, and it is taking place just as Sony's PlayStation2 is beginning to sweep the country. PlayStation2 allows people to engage in video game mayhem in their own homes, with impressively realistic graphics, and to do so without labels or intervening curtains or walls.

It's a miracle, or at least a wonder, that Indianapolis has survived this long, given that arcade games have been threatening the nation's youth for decades. Pinball, for example, may not have had graphic-violence problems, but any time one or more people are observed enjoying themselves, officeholders understand that it is their grave duty to do something about it.

Thus, pinball was often banned because it was perceived as a mob-controlled game of chance. Indeed, it was "a vicious racket" that "bleeds millions of dollars each year from youngsters." It "fleeces children of their carfare, their lunch money, their allowances, and in some cases drives them to crime to obtain the funds for their craze." Or so said Better Homes and Gardens magazine back in 1957.

Such insights got pinball banned in many communities over the years, at least for a while. Which probably explains how the country survived at all.