February 20, 2013 8:22:31 AM
JACKSON -- No one's trying to take away supertanker-sized soda drinks in Mississippi, but state lawmakers passed a bill Feb. 13 to make sure they never do.
House Bill 1182 would prohibit counties and cities from creating food regulations such as requiring nutritional labeling at restaurants, banning junk foods and keeping toys out of meals.
Food regulations that promote healthful eating have gained traction in cities like New York. There, Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced regulations capping soda sizes and requiring chain restaurants to display calorie information on menus.
Rep. Gregory Holloway, D-Hazlehurst, said during a House debate Wednesday that he doesn't want municipalities making food regulations "willy nilly."
"If you want to go eat 20 Big Macs, you can eat 20 Big Macs," Holloway said.
Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, opposed the bill, saying local governments should have the freedom to try new approaches to fight obesity.
"Given that Mississippi is the fattest and most unhealthy state in the USA, I don't think we should take a tool away from them if they should choose to use it," Scott said.
Heather McTeer Toney, former mayor of Greenville, told The Associated Press that the bill takes away communities' ability to tackle health problems.
"This is not indicative of what the people of Mississippi want," she said in a phone interview.
At a Chick-fil-A in downtown Jackson Feb. 13, customer Shelton Gates said he likes nutrition labeling on menus.
"I would agree with it being mandatory," Gates said. "I don't think it would hurt to know to make sure I don't stray too far off course."
Rita Kelly, a homemaker from Natchez also eating at the restaurant, said she would appreciate the labeling but wouldn't support local governments regulating soft drink sizes.
"I drink water so it wouldn't be a problem for me, but I don't think it would be right to do that," Kelly said.
The bill would still allow the state to impose new regulations. But given the hearty reception House members gave to a speech by Rep. Jerry Turner, that doesn't seem likely the near future.
"This is all about free enterprise, the state of Mississippi and people being able to make a choice in their own life," said Turner, R-Baldwyn.
The Senate on Wednesday passed a similar measure, Senate Bill 2687, to prevent local laws requiring food labeling.
The two chambers will exchange bills and must agree on a single version before anything could go to the governor.