Gov. Brown Signs Stupid Straw Bill

California in a nutshell: Laws that "feel good" but don't work pass. One that might actually help kids gets vetoed.


Silly straws
Tim Gray /

We're still waiting to see if California Gov. Jerry Brown has the courage to sign legislation requiring greater transparency about police misconduct. But he's clearly happy to meddle in what and how Californians drink. Yesterday he signed legislation that adds tiresome new rules about the straws used in restaurants and the drinks offered in kids' meals.

AB 1889 doesn't go so far as to ban straws entirely, but it does forbid full-service restaurants from giving customers plastic straws unless the customers ask for them. Violators face fines of up to $25 a day, up to a maximum of $300 annually. So it's essentially a tax on giving out plastic straws, should a restaurant decide to ignore the law.

That the law is so mild and inconsequential is a testament to how much the posturing around plastic straws is a symbolic gesture rather than anything that actually helps the environment. Brown rarely puts out statements when he signs bills, but he specifically did for AB 1889, noting that plastics are killing ocean life.

Reason's Christian Britschgi has been documenting the absurd, unscientific foundations of the push to ban straws. Faulty statistics and a poor grasp of where most of our ocean pollution comes from (not the United States, and certainly not from straws) have led to inane bills like this. We should be glad it isn't harsher. But the law also permits California cities to implement stricter regulations, and we've already been seeing that happen as well.

The tiresome top-down food controls don't stop there. Brown also signed SB 1192, which requires restaurants that offer children's meals to offer water or unflavored milk as the "default" drink rather than soda or juice. It further requires them to display water or milk as the drink in images and in menus. At least it doesn't forbid restaurants from providing other choices if they're asked.

We have no reason to believe that this law will stop kids and their parents from ordering sodas instead if that's what they want. Indeed, Brown embraced this paternalism the same week a bunch of nutrition studies that supposedly justified other nudge-style controls on kids' school lunch choices were retracted as junk science.

But the important thing is that California cares about the health of children, right? Well, no. In the same round of bills, Brown vetoed SB 328, which would prohibit non-rural middle and high schools from starting classes earlier than 8:30 in the morning. There are scientific studies that show later school start times allow children to get more sleep, which results in increased academic performance.

You'd think Brown would be all over this bill to help children do better in life, right? But in his veto note, Brown says that it is "opposed by teachers and school boards," some of which "prefer" to start the school day earlier. The message is clear. It's fine for the state to inconvenience restaurants and interfere with your decisions in the name of sketchy studies about kids' health, but don't start meddling with the preferred work schedules of public employees. California in a nutshell.