Allowing Representative Democracy at Outdoor Restaurants

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Reviewers of legislation for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s annual Freedom Index had some mild disagreement about H6210, which passed the Rhode Island House but didn’t make it over to the state Senate before the end of the session.  Basically, the bill would have given restaurants with outdoor tables some flexibility to allow patrons to have leashed dogs with them.

The negative view of the bill begins with the (appropriate) belief that it is ludicrous for the government to be getting involved with this question at all.  On the other hand, the positive reviewers assumed that this was a legislative attempt to return some freedom to Rhode Islanders, providing relief from rules already on the books.

It turns out that the assumption is correct.  Regulation 6-501.115(A) of the state Dept. of Health’s “Food Code” is the culprit:

Except as specified in (B) and (C) of this section, live animals may not be allowed on the PREMISES of a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT.

The exceptions are edible or decorative fish, patrol dogs, security dogs in outside fenced areas, service animals, and pets in institutional care facilities.  Arguably, the additional relief that the House bill sponsors sought to provide was so narrow and minimal that it didn’t justify inclusion on the index at all, but lovers of freedom in Rhode Island have to take whatever hints of light they can get.

Upon consideration, the bill actually raises an indictment of the depths to which we’ve allowed our government to sink.  Apparently, the process for law is for regulators to issue decrees, and people can appeal to the legislature for relief on specific grievances.  That’s more like a parliamentary monarchy, or something, whereby the emperor pronounces rules, but people can go to the parliament (or senate) to argue for mild relief.  That is, the representative aspect is effectively secondary.

In June, I noted a similar encroachment when it comes to the bureaucracy-decreed mandate for all seventh graders to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted HPV disease.  In that case, it appears that Rhode Island is one of only two states to mandate the vaccine, and the other, Virginia, did so by legislation, not by bureaucratic fiat.

What legislators ought to begin doing — and what Rhode Islanders ought to begin demanding that they do — is going through the Rhode Island General Laws and tightening whatever language it is that allows unelected agencies to assume the authority to issue such edicts.  The basic assumption is that experts in the government have a need, and the right, to comb through our society searching for anything that might cause harm to anybody and implementing rules to protect us from ourselves.

If we don’t demand that such a bureaucracy be pulled back, then we can’t claim to be a society that values independence and freedom.

 



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