Kojo chats with two reporters who spent the past year following the launch of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, D.C.'s new school for boys of color. Their stories are now featured in "Raising Kings," a collaboration between NPR and Education Week.
From Prohibition to seat belt laws and smoking bans, government has long been in the business of policing personal behavior through law. But cries against so-called ‘nanny state’ legislation have cropped up in small localities — like San Luis Obispo, CA, where it’s illegal to feed ducks — and on the national stage, where recent healthcare legislation makes health insurance mandatory. We discuss how states are handing the precarious balance between paternalism and personal freedom.
- David Boaz Executive Vice President, CATO Institute
- Ken Ulman County Executive, Howard County, Maryland
- Dr. Georges Benjamin Executive Director, American Public Health Association; former Secretary of Health for Maryland; former Health Commissioner for Washington, D.C.
- Stephen Fedorchak Co-owner of Liberty Tavern, Lyon Hall and Northside Social restaurants, Arlington, Va.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. California this month became the first state to ban indoor tanning for minors, but the inspiration for this law didn't come from the bronzed teens baking under the golden state sun. It came from our own backyard. Howard County, MD was the first locality in the nation to pass the ban nearly two years ago. And depending on who you ask, that measure was either progress for public health or yet another example of the government meddling in our personal behavior, from tanning beds to nutritional labeling on our menus and mandatory health insurance.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe cries against so-called nanny state style laws have reached a fever pitch. So, how do governments weigh the precarious balance between paternalism and personal freedom. Are we really over-nannied or is the government just protecting us from, well, ourselves. Joining us in studio to discuss all of this is Ken Ulman, county executive for Howard County, MD. Ken Ulman, good to see you again.
MR. KEN ULMANThanks so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIDavid Boaz is with us. He is executive vice president of the CATO Institute. David Boaz, good to see you.
MR. DAVID BOAZThank you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from NPR studios in New York is Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. Georges Benjamin, thank you for joining us.
DR. GEORGES BENJAMINKojo and others, I'm glad to be here with you.
NNAMDIStarting with David Boaz, cries against government interference into our everyday lives as old as democracy itself, recently we've seen government weighing in on texting, lighting shopping bags, nutrition and even tanning beds. Can you give us an idea of where we are in the historical arc, if you will, of legislating these kinds of activities? Is there more of it now than there was in the past or less compared to the days, say, of Prohibition?
BOAZWell, that's a good question. And if you go back that far, then it's hard to make the case that what we're doing now is bigger in overall terms than, say, Prohibition or the blue laws that prevented stores from opening on Sundays or bans on homosexuality or bans on interracial marriage, all kinds of things that you might consider nanny state intrusion into people's lives. However, having gotten rid of all of those things except the drug laws and that's prohibition that continues today.
BOAZHaving gotten rid of many of those other things, I do think we have a growing nanny state today of niggling little regulations where politicians and bureaucrats tell people that they know what's good for you better than you do and that they can make rules to force you to obey that. One of the things that's happened historically is that a lot of the bans and personal regulation used to be about sin. They were about protecting our souls.
BOAZAnd that included laws about sex, laws about mandatory church attendance, if you go far enough back, or bans on interracial marriage. That's sort of also about our souls. These days it's more about our bodies. And so we get smoking and transfat bans and seatbelt laws and tanning bed bans. And all of these things are not so much about saving our souls, they're about saving our bodies. Except when you poke the people who advocate them, it sure sounds like a religion.
NNAMDISo, you're saying that what we are experiencing now is, I think you characterize it as an increase in busy-bodyism.
BOAZYes, that's right. And in a sense, I don't like the term nanny state, because a nanny is hired to guide the upbringing of a child. But I didn't hire any of these county executives to guide my upbringing and I'm not a child. So I prefer busybody, I think, to nanny.
NNAMDIWell, for the most part, laws legislating smoking in public places or helmets or, for that matter, tanning beds do not restrict the majority of us, so does the public at large accept these laws and acclimate or do these laws push behavior underground like they did in the Prohibition Era?
BOAZWell, there's no question that they push some of it underground. I mean, I'm sure there are people who will figure out how to get tanning one way or another. Obviously drug laws pushed the entire drug business underground with terrible consequences. Smoking, we already have a problem, the high taxes on cigarettes in the north are creating a big smuggling problem, which creates some crime that goes along with it. So, there's a lot of that.
BOAZBut you said behavior only engaged in by a minority. And that is one key aspect of this. In general, a whole lot of things get banned when the number of people who want to do them falls below, say, one-third of the population. That's absolutely what happened with all these smoking bans. The fewer smokers there were, the more we non-smokers could gang up on them. And there's also some class analysis that goes on here.
BOAZA lot of the activities that are being targeted for bans or for pressures, smoking, overeating, tanning beds, holding bible study in your home are more engaged in by working class people than by educated upper middle class people, the kind of people who usually run local governments.
NNAMDISo it is majority dictating to the minority and the better off dictating to the poor. Ken Ulman, in addition to how you feel about this in general, more particularly Maryland has been at the forefront of legislating public health measures, including texting while driving and smoking. But Howard County in particular has passed a measure that have put it in the national spotlight. Tell us some of the laws you've passed recently that have raised the hackles of those who say you're policing their personal freedom.
ULMANSure. Although, frankly, we don't hear those hackles being raised by very many people in Howard County. In fact, on the tanning bed ban, which I want to talk about for a moment.
ULMANWe got probably more e-mails and positive feedback from parents who were very concerned about their minor children, you know, going tanning. Let me just phrase this from the big picture, because I agree with much of what was just said. We should be very, very careful in government in all levels of when we take the -- it ought to be very rare that we take the step to ban something.
ULMANIn the case of the tanning beds, when the World Health Organization changed the sort of definition to a carcinogen -- basically the same exact category of danger for cancer-causing carcinogen as smoking, Peter Beilenson, our health officer, brought that issue to me. And we took a look at it and we did decide to take the very rare step to say 18 years and under, you cannot go to tanning facilities.
ULMANI will say in my own personal background, my younger brother Doug is a three-time cancer survivor. He runs the Lance Armstrong foundation in Austin, Texas, Livestrong. And I've made public health a major priority of ours. But, again, it should be rare. I mean, I just came two hours ago from an elementary school Columbia where we launched our Soda Free 30 Campaign, totally voluntary.
ULMANWhen you look at the amount of sugar and excess calories that come from sodas and sugar sweetened drinks, it's dramatic of how that causes so many health issues. That's all voluntary. We didn't pass a soda tax. We didn't ban sodas. We went and said, you know what, kids, would you all agree that for 30 days you won't drink sodas and we'll talk about the positive health benefits of doing that.
ULMANAnd so most of what we do is voluntary. It's raising awareness. But we have taken the rare steps on occasion when it comes to smoking and when it comes to tanning beds of taking that action to ban.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. What role do you think government should play in promoting our health and safety? 800-433-8850. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet @kojoshow. Ken Ulman, what kind of research, what kind of public outreach do you do when weighing these kinds of measures?
ULMANWe do a lot. Our health officer Peter Beilenson, I mean, it's his job to be the county's health officer, to engage the public in these kinds of discussions. And so, he brings together his team, a lot of research. We do a lot of outreach with organizations in the county. Not everyone comes onboard. But, you know, usually we're able to convince the vast majority that this is in the public's interest.
ULMANBut, again, it is rare that we take the step. I mean, I know it makes better news when you take the rare step to ban something. But, for example, we have a Healthy Restaurants program. It's all voluntary. We went to the Restaurant Association and said, you know, we're not going to ban trans fats. We're not going to require you to put all the calorie information up, but we are going to say that if you agree to do those things, we're going to highlight you and promote you as healthy restaurants. And so...
NNAMDIDid you go to the restaurants over the smoking ban?
ULMANWe did. And we didn't agree on it. But they're still good friends of mine today and sometimes you agree to disagree.
NNAMDIGeorges Benjamin, one of the biggest challenges in pushing through public health laws, is collecting data to make the argument strong. After years of research, there was little doubt about the effects of smoking. But what kinds of challenges do you face with the public health issues that aren't quite as clear cut?
BENJAMINWell, that is one of the challenges. And what we try to do, of course, is try to educate people first to try to find out what's going on and we try to do things based on our best experience and if you can get it done on a voluntary basis, absolutely wonderful. But, you know, I remind folks that smoking remains the single leading preventable cause of death with over 400,000 premature deaths every year.
BENJAMINWhen the science first came out on smoking, it's important for people to know that it came out of a smoke filled room. The surgeon general himself, at that time, smoked. And physicians were actually promoting smoking as a healthy thing to do. Of course, we learned very quickly that that was not the case.
BENJAMINAnd in addition to that, it was also discovered that the industry itself was promoting smoking, even though they knew that it had these terrible, terrible health effects. And so what we try to do is balance it. Look at the bad outcomes, look at what good things can happen and we try to balance this when we do regulatory activity.
NNAMDIHow do you walk the fine line between that balance -- between keeping people informed about healthy choices and actually mandating that they make them? First you, Georges Benjamin.
BENJAMINWell, you know, what I've always done is get out and get on shows like this and get on the radio and get in the media and educate people first. Tell them that this is what we do. So, for an example, nutritional labeling. The idea of trying to make sure that people can become informed of what's in their food and how much they're eating goes a long way toward helping people make informed decisions.
BENJAMINAnd so when you can do that in a voluntary market, that's absolutely wonderful. I can tell you, myself, I use those nutritional labels to make decisions every day now, now that they're there.
NNAMDIAnd David Boaz, how do we walk that fine line between keeping people informed about healthy choices and actually forcing them to make those choices?
BOAZWell, I think you ought to treat people with respect. And respect means that you may offer them information that they don’t already have but if they're adults, they get to make their own decisions. And I think that's a principal that goes back very deep in Western civilization. And if there are things that I do that might hurt you and that would include, for instance, driving with bad brakes on roads that you might be on, then it's legitimate for government to make rules like that.
BOAZBut when you take something that's only to protect me, like a mandatory seatbelt law, my being strapped in doesn't make you any safer, it does make me safer. I think that should be my decision and similarly, going to restaurants with smoking. I would say if a lot of people want non-smoking restaurants, and I guarantee you they do, I hate smoking. I can pick up the whiff of one cigarette across a crowded restaurant, I hate it.
BOAZI would choose to go to non-smoking restaurants and non-smoking bars. But some people wouldn't and I don't see why I should impose my views on people who do like to hang out in a bar and smoke.
NNAMDIAllow me to complicate that a little bit with Hasio (sp?) in Rockville, Md. Hasio, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HASIOYeah, thank you so much, Kojo, and a pleasure to be on your show. Basically, I feel like there's a key component that we need to consider. Which is that we all -- we have to recognize that we are interconnected and a lot of these issues, like, smoking, does effect, even though I don't smoke, other people smoking does affect me because my health care costs go up.
HASIOYou know, against trans fat and other issues, you know, obesity, all of those issues, even though I may protect myself, if the society is made up of people that are going to pursue those type of issues, it will affect me indirectly in terms of health care costs, et cetera. So I think there is a public problem...
NNAMDILet me make the broader argument about that and put it out to our guests, David Boaz, Ken Ulman and Dr. Georges Benjamin. In the discussion over mandatory health insurance, the argument is made that for all of those people who don't have insurance who show up in the emergency room, those of us who do have insurance are paying for them.
BOAZWell, in some cases, that's right. It turns out, though, if you look at it statistically, the number of people doing that and the cost that it imposes is actually fairly low. It's a couple percent of our health care bill. It's not nothing, but it's not that much. When you get the government involved in doing things like mandatory health insurance -- and remember, mandatory health insurance is going to come up -- is going to come with mandates for more and more services to be covered, that is going to raise health care costs far more then the small number of people who go to emergency rooms.
BOAZThis is a good example of where I think you trust adults to make their own decisions and accept the consequences. I've got a friend right now who didn't get health insurance and now he's sick and this is a problem. And some of his friends are chipping in and there's charitable help, but he should have had health insurance. But these are decisions, I think, you let adults make.
BOAZAnd I do want to say, the argument that our health insurance rates will go up, if you overeat or if I smoke, proves too much. It allows you to regulate every aspect of a person's life. I shouldn't be able to drive a more dangerous car. I shouldn't be able to go rock climbing.
NNAMDIKen Ulman, talk about the approach that -- because from the very first time we had you on this broadcast, it was about the issue of health insurance in Howard County...
NNAMDI...and universal health care.
ULMANSure. You know, it's a great conversation and it's a very fine line between, you know, what is in your own interest and there are very few things that don't also then affect others. And we ought to be very careful about, sort of, understanding the complexities of how that works. We, in Howard County, created something called Healthy Howard. We didn't do it through a big government bureaucracy, by the way, we spun off and helped seed fund a non-profit that offered access -- affordable access to health care.
ULMANAnd we learned a lot in that process. We did learn that, if you do invest appropriately in health coaching and wellness, you do drive down the costs for everyone. And so we've learned a lot in that process. We have a very robust plan for our own employees. And last year, we had zero increase in our health insurance rates from our carrier. This year, it's a couple percentage points. I know that I was just in Anne Arundel County where theirs, for their employees, the last three years have each been 12 percent.
ULMANAnd so if you do invest appropriately -- and, yes, I'm talking about sort of our county government employees. So that's one subset. If you do it more broadly and you invest the right way, it does bring down the cost for everyone. But you do need to be careful how you do that. And it's a complex equation of how you invest and how you do it in a proactive sort of cajoling and encouraging way with taking the rare step of banning and requiring. And it's a tough balance sometimes.
NNAMDIHere is Trisha in Washington, D.C. Hi, Trisha.
TRISHAThank you for having me.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, Trisha.
TRISHAOkay. So what I hear from your first guest is, he put this as kind of a dichotomy of protecting us from ourselves, the sin protection regulations.
NNAMDIYeah, those were my words but go ahead.
TRISHAVersus today's -- versus protecting our bodies. But what I think the real difference is, is that these regulations are protecting us from the undue influence and miseducation created by industry. For example, with smoking regulations, we know, for decades, the tobacco industry has had a public campaign of misinforming people about the real dangers of secondhand smoke. Which, frankly, the smoking regulation, that's what's designed to protect, not necessarily the smokers themselves.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, David -- oh.
TRISHASo I think he's overlooking the power of advertising and the difficulty that people have in becoming educated on these issues that we regulate (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, let me first put that question to Dr. Georges Benjamin and then to David Boaz. First you, Georges Benjamin.
BENJAMINYeah, we -- part of the caller's right. I mean, one of the reasons we do this is to try to level the playing field. It's absolutely true. The tobacco industry has obviously, actively, marketed their product and it is a legal product and they have the right to market it for -- to adults. The problem is, is that much of their marketing has been shown to be targeted at children and adolescents.
BENJAMINAnd, of course, they'll argue that they don't do that. But Joe Camel and some of the marketing that was -- been done at adolescents and the people that are just beginning to go to school, particularly college and young adolescents, young women, shows that they've really figured out how to segment the market and do that. You see the same thing with food advertising for children. Now, there's a balance.
BENJAMINObviously, these are legal products and they have absolutely the right to advertise their products and we all love their advertising. Having said that, we want to make sure the public is adequately informed and -- so we're in the health education business and that's one of the reasons we do some of the things that we do.
NNAMDIDavid Boaz, then we got to take a break.
BOAZWell, it's interesting if you don't think citizens are competent to weigh the messages they get from various different places, preachers, teachers, doctors, healthy Howard, the advertisers. Then why do you think they're qualified to weigh the messages they get from political advertisements and elect the politicians who are going to make these laws restricting our freedom. Political ads are much less regulated then commercial ads, they're full of, if I may say so, mis-representations of fact and yet...
NNAMDIExcept for Ken Ulman's.
ULMANNot mine (unintelligible) .
BOAZ...and yet we trust people to elect democratic leaders. I think we can trust people to make their own decisions as well as decisions for the whole society.
NNAMDIDavid Boaz is executive Vice President of the CATO Institute, he joins us in studio with Ken Ulman, County executive for Howard County, Md. And Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association joins us from NPR studios in New York. We'll be taking a short break. But if you have called, stay on the line because we will be returning to our conversation on nanny, state and personal freedom. Trisha, thank you very much for your call. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on the nanny state and personal freedom. We're talking with Ken Ulman, county executive for Howard County, Md. David Boaz is executive vice president of the CATO Institute. Dr. Georges Benjamin is executive director of the American Public Health Association, and joining us now by telephone is Stephen Fedorchak, co-owner of the Liberty Tavern, Lyon Hall, and Northside Social restaurants, all in Arlington, Va. Stephen Fedorchak, thank you for joining us.
MR. STEPHEN FEDORCHAKThanks for having me on. Pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIStephen, many of us never thought we'd see the day when tobacco-loving Virginia would ban smoking in public places, but we're now more than a year into the ban. How has it affected or impacted your restaurants in Arlington?
FEDORCHAKWell, I think you would hear a different perspective depending on who you asked. We have a little bit of a unique position in the sense that we opened up the Liberty Tavern prior to the smoking ban going into effect as a non-smoking restaurant, but it was not to be at the forefront of robbing anyone of their own personal choices. We provide smoking options for outside and things of that nature. We simply wanted the restaurant environment to smell like food, smell like great food cooking, wood oven -- wood-burning ovens roasting, things of that nature.
FEDORCHAKAnd then subsequently we've opened up two restaurants that are also non-smoking. Those were subsequent to the ban being put into place. So we've never really had an opportunity to see the impact of the before and after. But from what I hear, people have adapted relatively quickly, at least in Arlington where we do business. And I think it's worked out okay, though there was certainly a lot of trepidation leading up to the decision.
NNAMDIWell, more Americans drink wine regularly with meals. Many states are reconsidering their corkage laws. Corkage, of course, allowing restaurant patrons to bring their own wine. On July 1, Virginia started allowing corkage in restaurants. Has this been a boon to your restaurants, or do you think the government is overreaching by impacting your ability to sell your own wine in-house?
FEDORCHAKYou know, I'll preface my comment by saying that I think myself and most of my peers in the industry would prefer to be allowed to make our choices on a restaurant by restaurant individual basis. That being said, the corkage legislation I think is a benefit for both restaurants and guests alike, and a classic win-win situation if you'll allow a cliché. You know, in our experience, people who choose to take advantage of a corkage opportunity tend to be people who dine out frequently, tend to have an appreciation for great food and wine, and community at the table, and those are the kind of guests that you want in your restaurant.
FEDORCHAKThe portion of people who do take advantage of the opportunity is so infinitesimal that it doesn't really have a material impact on the economics of your restaurant. So in that case, when people show up with a special bottle that's reminiscent of a special time in their lives, it generally provides a great opportunity to have a great evening that the restaurant can become a part of.
NNAMDIYou might be doing Ken Ulman's research for him. Ken Ulman, how would you feel about a corkage law in Montgomery County that allowed people to bring their own wine to restaurants?
ULMANWell, you know, in Maryland, I think there's a web of alcohol beverage regulations that don't always make sense. They vary from county to county.
NNAMDII meant Howard County, of course.
ULMANIt's okay. I love Montgomery County too. It's a challenging situation. We've, you know, I think there's a lot of laws that are a vestige of the past that, you know, ought to be looked at, and there ought to be more sort of freedom for restaurants and bars to be able to do different things. I know that there's a great restaurant in Baltimore County that couldn't get a liquor license, so they created, you know, bring your own wine, and it's become a hot spot for people to bring their own wine, and it's worked for them, but they really want a liquor license, and in that county there's just -- the laws regulate how many you can have.
ULMANWe've had to change our laws as you've seen more wine bars where you can also purchase a bottle of wine when you're there, and so we want to make sure we have an even playing field and there's a lot of freedom for folks what they serve. My feeling on it is candidly you should just, you know, crack down and enforce underage drinking and then let, you know, bars and restaurants serve as they choose.
NNAMDIDavid Boaz, this is a government intervention that I guess promotes personal freedom. How do you feel about corkage laws?
BOAZNo. I don't like the government intervention. I agree with Stephen, it ought to be up the restaurants to decide on a restaurant-by-restaurant basis whether to allow corkage or not, and customers will provide feedback. If it turns out lots of people want to bring their own wine, then if you don't allow it, you're gonna lose customers. If you do allow it, you'll get more customers. Let them decide what it should be, and then I would just say I'd do the same rule on smoking.
BOAZLet restaurants decide whether to be nonsmoking or not. I live in Clarendon. I remember when Liberty Tavern opened, and it was non-smoking, and I thought that was great, and I went right over there, and then I was very disappointed when the owners of a non-smoking restaurant called Liberty Tavern spoke out in favor of a countywide or statewide ban on other restaurants allowing smoking.
BOAZI don't know why they couldn't have just allowed Liberty -- for them to be non-smoking and get the custom of those of us who don't like being around tobacco, and let other restaurants go for smoking if they want.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Stephen Fedorchak?
FEDORCHAKAs you can well imagine, I take issue with that representation. We did not enter into a position of advocacy on our choice, and Liberty Tavern has nothing to do with the principles of personal freedoms or personal choices. My grandfather owned and operated a business called the Liberty Hotel for 50 years, so that's where that comes from. So this is not perhaps as calculated as our fellow panelist may suggest.
NNAMDIAh, Liberty Tavern was not named recently in the interest of liberty, it was an inherited name. But I'd like to bring in Georges Benjamin on this question. Georges, and others, and first you Stephen after Georges, First Lady Michelle Obama has pushed for the nation's restaurants to serve smaller portions and healthier options on kids menus. The FDA is also pushing a law will require franchises to provide calorie information on menus. What is your view about this? Does a one size fits all approach to restaurants and to our diets work? Georges, you first.
BENJAMINWell, yeah. You know, first of all, let's start with the first lady. The first lady is being a good mother and a good role model, and I appreciate her efforts in that point. I'm a supporter of the nutritional labeling law. It isn't for all restaurants. It's for those that operate franchises more than 20 -- I think 20 restaurants of 20 sites per business, and the idea is again, to try to provide information to allow people to make very, very informed decisions.
BENJAMINSo it's in opportunity for us to educate the public. You know, it's really a good thing to do. It was put in the affordable care act. It was done that way based on some national data, and some national experiences that it works, and that people do, when informed, make those kinds of informed decisions.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that Stephen Fedorchak?
FEDORCHAKYou know, I think that again, most of my peers, most restaurateurs that are at the same level of restaurant that we aspire to be, work very, very hard to provide nutritional balance in what they serve to our guests. So that's first. The second thing, I think it's difficult for the single owner-operator, or a person who operates two, three, or four restaurants to do the amount of comprehensive research and testing that's involved in full scale menu labeling.
FEDORCHAKIt's just logistically it's difficult. So that's a tough one for me, and I think for the majority of my colleagues. I think we'd prefer that our guests come to our restaurants, be able to sense through reading the menus and then looking at the plates and enjoying a meal that there is, again, nutritional balance and appropriate portions, and a good value when they choose one of our establishments.
NNAMDIGot to go to the phones, but I'd like to get to another issue before that, because people are talking about what happened in Ohio this week as a result of the exotic animal laws in Ohio, which critics of those laws say are very weak. On Tuesday night, an individual who ultimately committed suicide released 56 animals, and among those that had to be killed were two wolves, six black bears, two grizzly bear, nine male lions, eight lionesses, one baboon, three mountain lions, and 18 Bengal tigers, all of which this individual was keeping on his property because of the exotic animal laws in Ohio. What would you say, David Boaz, to the people who say those laws need to be strengthened.
BOAZWell, I don't know that I have well thought through views on it. I think we all like the idea that lions and tigers have a place to go if they're, you know, if they've been in a circus or whatever, that they won't end up just being killed, so there are wild animal preserves. You don't want those in the middle of D.C., but somewhere in Howard County, or somewhere near Zanesville, Ohio, maybe there is a place, and obviously what happened here was a tragic thing.
BOAZIt's like somebody committing suicide by driving his car into an oncoming car. There's nothing you can really do to prevent those kinds of end-of-life tragedies. So it's a tragic thing. I'm sorry the animals were killed once they were released. I'm sorry the situation arose. But I want a place -- but I want places somewhere for wild animals to live out their lives in dignity.
NNAMDIMr. County Executive, in the Wider Animal Sanctuary Movement, Ohio is known for inadequate regulation when it comes to exotic animals. It ranks on the bottom with Missouri, Nevada, and Oklahoma among 25 states that have few, if any, rules on the keeping of wild animals. That according to a 2009 report by the Humane Society of the United States which is advocating stronger laws for keeping exotic animals in the state of Ohio. David Boaz just suggested that we might want to see them somewhere in Howard County.
ULMANWell, for those of you watching on TV, I was shaking my head vigorously no that they're in Howard County. I would just say, this is an issue that really gets to the heart of what we're talking about here, right? People want personal freedoms in liberty. I do. We all do. And then there's the issue of when it comes into conflict with others, and this is a typical example where'd you say, you know what, fine, you know, have those kind of animals, what happens if they get loose? What happens if they provide a danger to neighbors?
ULMANWhat happens if then, you know, what happens is you call 911, and a taxpayer funded person answers the phone, and a taxpayer funded employer of Animal Control goes out there and deals with it. So we as a community deal with those issues and fund them, and so finding the balance is the trick. And, you know, we'd all say great, there ought to be a place for those animals. It's about finding the appropriate balance and the appropriate place and, you know, I find it fascinating that, you know, I've been in the county council for four years and now county executive for five years, and people who take the sort of position on liberties will then show up at a county council bill hearing on something in their neighborhood that, you know, affects...
NNAMDINIMBY, NIMBY, NIMBY.
ULMANI tell you, real quick, we have one right now where we have a Cemetery Advisory Board in Howard County. We are trying to create smaller government and to look at things that have been around awhile. The Cemetery Advisory Board has not met in six years.
ULMANSo I put in a bill to eliminate it. The County Council hearing room was packed. No one knew that they hadn't met for six years, but all of a sudden when we wanted to get rid of it, people came forward and said, wait a second, you know, we need the Cemetery Advisory Board. And so it's a tough thing to balance kind of, you know, lower government and then sort of special interest of folks that come forward.
NNAMDIA lot of callers want to get in on this conversation. Here is Christina in Washington D.C. Christina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINAHi. I just wanted to raise the issue of local and state lawmaking versus federal lawmaking. I think there's a lot of rhetoric about, you know, this is -- it's inappropriate for the federal government to intervene in our lives, but this is the role of local and state governments to make those decisions. And if people feel that their freedoms are being inappropriately limited, their -- they can speak out during the lawmaking process, and they can go to the polls and tell those politicians that they feel that it's in appropriate.
CHRISTINABut if they want that kind of regulation, I don't understand why they're saying that the government shouldn't take that action if that's what the people there want.
NNAMDIYou know, a lot of people raise that issue with regard to the Civil Rights laws in the south, that if they were put up to a referendum, the majority of voters at that point would have probably said no, we don't want any Civil Rights laws here. We like segregation the way it is. And so when in fact should majority rule be, in your view, Christina, when in fact should -- on what your issues should majority rule hold sway?
CHRISTINAWell, I think the Civil Rights is a good example of where federal constitutional protections are something that restrict local government's ability to regulate the, you know, activity there, and that was actually another place where the federal government did step in under its powers of inner state commerce and I again would support that, and that was something that I think was hard fought at the federal level.
CHRISTINAAnd I hope that most Americans now support that intervention from federal government, and I hope that they can recognize that there are places where it's appropriate for the federal government to...
NNAMDIDavid Boaz, what do you say?
BOAZWell, I agree with Christina's original point that I think it is better for laws like this to be done at the state and local level than at the federal level. It is true, you can move from Arlington to Alexandria. You can move from Arlington to Nevada a lot easier than you can move to another country. Nevertheless, I still think a lot of these restrictions on individual freedom are a bad idea even at the local level.
NNAMDIAnd we got this e-mail from Angelita. "Your guest forgets that the mandatory rule for no smoking in restaurants is not primarily for the customers who do have a choice, but for the workers in the restaurant or bar who do not have an unlimited choice of places to work." How do you feel about that Stephen Fedorchak?
FEDORCHAKWell, again, I have to reference my own operations, and we don't really have that issue.
NNAMDIDid you have in mind your customers or your employees?
FEDORCHAKYou know, I think that the staff member aspect of it played into it, you know. I was involved in restaurants in New York City when a smoking ban took effect there and, you know, there were many employees who were pleased by the transition into what they felt like was a healthier working environment. You know, the reality of it is, is it's very difficult to please everybody, and, you know, I don't know if it comes down to majority rules, or restaurants have to be very nimble.
FEDORCHAKSo at a certain point you look for a seat at the table with a dialogue on what's going to lead to regulations. You do the best you can to represent all your constituencies, and then once legislation is ultimately passed, you do the best you can to accommodate all of your staff and all of your guests.
NNAMDIAnd Dr. Georges Benjamin, finally for you, how powerful is the Office of the Surgeon General in guiding some of these public health laws?
BENJAMINWell, it's a bully pulpit. The Surgeon General has a national bully pulpit to do that. It doesn't have much budget. It doesn't have much real legal authority, but has an enormous bully pulpit, and as the nation's top doc, uses that bully pulpit primarily as a health education tool to, you know, tell you thing that you may not want to hear, but that your doctor needs to tell you.
NNAMDIDr. Georges Benjamin is executive director of the American Public Health Association. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIStephen Fedorchak, co-owner of the Liberty Tavern, Lyon Hall, and Northside Social restaurants, in Arlington. Stephen, thank you for joining us.
FEDORCHAKMy pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIDavid Boaz is executive vice president of the CATO Institute. Good to see you.
BOAZThanks for being here.
NNAMDIAnd Ken Ulman, county executive for Howard County, Md. Ken Ulman, always a pleasure.
ULMANThank you again for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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