Local News

January 30, 2010

Gov't has long history of protecting people from themselves

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants restaurants and processed-food makers to cut the amount of salt in the food they sell by 20 percent. He says the effort will be purely voluntary.

Of course, just a few years ago, New York City tried to get people to voluntarily cut down on the amount of trans fats in their diets. But when people didn’t cooperate and kept eating snacks, fried foods and baked goods containing the fats, which some people say makes food more tasty, the city banned trans fats.

From banning smoking in businesses to forcing people to wear seat belts to imprisoning people caught selling or consuming certain drugs to criminalizing gambling, government at all levels seems intent on protecting us from ourselves.

But is there a limit to how far lawmakers will go or should go?

State Rep. Roger Williams, R-Dalton, said it’s always a challenge for the Legislature to balance individual rights with the need to protect public health and safety. He says a bill that the Legislature is considering to ban sending text messages while driving makes sense because such texting endangers not only the driver but others on the road.

On the other hand, he says he would oppose banning trans fats as some cities and states have done.

“We don’t need to get into telling people what they should eat,” he said.

But Williams says he has “no hard and fast rule.”

“I don’t like to take away anybody’s freedom, but at the same time, we don’t need to have things so loose that they infringe on other people’s rights,” he said.

State Sen. Don Thomas, R-Dalton, said he, too, doesn’t like government imposing rules to protect people from themselves. Thomas sponsored a bill that became law four years ago banning smoking in most buildings open to the public. But he says that bill was aimed not so much at protecting smokers from themselves but at protecting those who don’t smoke from “second hand” smoke.

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