Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Council snubs menu labels

Two more votes could stop plan of health board By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • March 18, 2009 A move to undo a new rule requiring chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus narrowly survived Tuesday as the Metro Council's fill-in presiding officer cast the tie-breaking vote. The council bill would overturn a recent vote by the Metro Board of Health, which decided to take on obesity by requiring chains with 15 or more outlets nationwide to put calorie counts next to menu items. Several council members said the health board had overstepped its bounds, despite an opinion from city attorneys that the board has the authority to put the requirement in place. The council typically approves bills with no discussion on the first of three required votes, sending them into the committee system for debate. But Councilman Erik Cole pulled out the menu-labeling repeal bill for debate in hopes of defeating it Tuesday, arguing that the council shouldn't "start following this path" of overturning regulations that have been legally adopted by Metro boards. When the vote came out at 14-14, the council's president pro tem, Greg Adkins, didn't hesitate in breaking the tie in favor of overturning the regulation. The bill will be up for a second vote next month. Adkins was presiding because Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors was out sick. A co-sponsor of the legislation, he said menu labeling would hurt restaurant chains already contending with the recession. "In this day and age of where we are with the economy, I don't want to punish restaurants in any way, shape or form," he said in an interview, adding that any labeling rules should be consistent across the state. Dan Haskell, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Hospitality Association, which includes restaurants and hotels, said it could cost $225,000 for a restaurant chain with table service to determine how many calories are in each of its dishes. Action reaches far The chain would have to hire scientists to do research and make the determination, Haskell said. Several council members argued that the Board of Health's appointed members shouldn't have adopted the labeling regulation. They said the elected council should handle changes of that magnitude. But Councilman Jason Holleman, whose wife formerly served as the Health Department's policy director, said the board's three doctors, one nurse and two other citizens have a better sense of what's best for public health. "This is a dangerous road to start down," Holleman added. In other business, the council voted 23-3 to allow Goodpasture Christian School in Madison to post a controversial light-emitting diode, or LED, sign. Some members said the council should wait for a sign ordinance task force it appointed to come back with recommendations before deciding the issue.

No comments: