If you weren't paying attention, you could be excused for thinking that the only thing the County Council did Monday night was approve and table County appointments. However, the biggest news of the night was the passage of Howard County Nutritional Standards by a 4-1 vote. This is a surprising turn-around considering that as of two weeks ago, that number may have been much closer to 2-3 against passage.
Over the past month, Council-member Calvin Ball worked with other members of the Council to amend the bill and remove provisions that made them uncomfortable, such as regulations on concessionaires and "free water". Nevertheless, the core provisions encouraging healthier options and changing what is offered in Howard County vending machines remain.
As of two weeks ago, this bill was in so much trouble that the County Executive refused to meet with Council-members to discuss amendments to the bill, telling them that he didn't think the bill had a chance to pass. Well...it passed.
Two questions remain: 1) What is the County Executive going to do with this bill? and 2) Why can't we make water available to citizens at County events?
As to the first question, we've already seen the Executive reexamine firm positions he has taken in the past, such as the gun ban. Four-to-one Council votes have a special ring to them that make you want to get on board. It bears returning to a post I wrote in May on that subject to note that the Executive can simply let the Council bill pass into law by failing to veto within 10 days. He doesn't sign it. He doesn't veto it. Sort of like seeing someone you don't really feel like talking to in the grocery store - you just let them get over into produce and then go about your business.
Anyone who saw the Council hearing may have thought this bill was much more endangered than the final tally may suggest. Council-member Jen Terrasa took the Council to task regarding the amendment to remove the "free water" provision. I agree with her on this. Of all the over-blown nonsense that has ever been over-blown, the "free water" controversy will forever hold a place of special regard for me. Administration testimony suggested this would have cost the County hundreds of thousands of dollars. Poppycock.
You put water in a cooler with a spigot and you put some cups next to it.
Whatever trouble and expense may relate to this offering will surely be outweighed by the benefit of Howard County citizens being able to have water at County events without having to pay $2 a bottle. And is it really all that bad to make people pay for water? Absolutely not. But isn't it easier to make water available in a more cost-effective way via water fountains and coolers? Yes. Which is probably why at just about all of our County buildings and parks we already offer "free water" by those means.
The bottom line is that this is a big win for health advocates in the face of numerous predictions, including those in the comments on this blog, that this bill didn't have a chance to pass. You couldn't be much more out of touch with the Council than predicting a loss and seeing a 4-1 vote go the other way.
That's all for today. Have a great Thursday doing what you love!