The Hill: Welcome to California, land of 1,000 laws — and that’s just this year

February 11, 2019 | By TIMOTHY SNOWBALL

This article was originally published in The Hill on February 6th, 2019.

I’ve lived in California almost my entire life. And if there’s one thing you can count on in this glorious state, it’s the ability of the people to join together to overcome adversity in pursuit of the common good.

But that healthy sense of community and solidarity too often is hijacked by a legislature hell bent on pushing a steady stream of legislation designed to take the bread from our mouths and money from our pockets in pursuit of some grand democratic and progressive utopia of cradle-to-grave entitlements coupled with complete freedom from all things offensive or even slightly conservative.

Whew! Ran out of breath there for a moment.

The California Legislature’s accomplishments were a mixed bag in 2018, but there’s no denying the sheer volume of activity: In total, 1,016 new laws will take effect in California in 2019. In most cases, these range from the unnecessary to the silly to the sad.

In the “unnecessary” category, we have the requirement that only milk and water be published as beverage options on kids’ menus in sit-down restaurants. While childhood obesity is a huge problem, what do they actually expect to accomplish with this? When was the last time you saw a kid actually read the menu or order their own food and drinks? Parents aren’t actually prohibited from ordering their child a soda, milkshake or whatever else they want. The options are simply removed from menus.

As for “silly” new laws, the most notorious, of course, is the requirement that restaurants no longer automatically offer patrons plastic straws when they order a drink. Never mind the expectation that you are supposed to put your mouth on the side of a questionably clean glass every time you take a drink, but the law will be as ineffective as not listing soda on kids’ menus. Ask and you shall receive anyway.

Finally, when it comes to “sad” laws, the familiar is often the most depressing. It’s an established economic fact, demonstrated time and again, that raising minimum wage depresses the availability of jobs to entrants, who are simply priced out of the market as firms tighten their belts to offset the increased labor cost. And yet states such as California continue to pursue policies that will guarantee harm to those they claim they are trying to help.

Thankfully, not everything that comes out of the California legislature is bad. There are a few bright spots.

In a welcome turn of events, the legislature took action in 2018 to increase the economic liberty and opportunities available to food entrepreneurs across the state. The state not only legalized the sale of non-perishable food products produced in home kitchens, it also decriminalized the selling of food items and other goods on sidewalks and parks in California.

Incidents such as a viral video from 2017 showing a bacon-wrapped hot dog vendor named Juan having his money taken away and being cited by campus police at UC Berkeley for operating his hot dog cart without a permit will become a thing of the past. Both food-freedom bills in California will allow hardworking, entrepreneurial individuals to improve their lives and the lives of their families by providing goods and services to a hungry public.

However, given the current composition of the state legislature, there’s no telling what lawmakers will attempt next. In 2018, California became the first state to propose regulating online speech with S.B. 1424, the “Internet: social media: advisory group” act. If outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown had not vetoed this measure, it would have required the state attorney general to establish an advisory committee to review and create a plan to stop the “spread of false information through internet-based social media platforms.”

Government regulation of speech is a slippery slope. Once the government takes a step toward deciding what is true or false, or what views are worthwhile and worthy of being shared, it’s only a matter of time until politicians with ideological agendas attempt to elevate their own views to the detriment of individual rights and democracy. Somewhere George Orwell is shaking his head.

California still has a lot to offer residents and visitors alike: our beaches, mountains and flowing plains are beautiful; the people are friendly; the food and wine are among the best in the world. But when it comes to sensible policymaking, last year’s legislative performance suggests the Golden State is fast losing its luster. Here’s hoping for a better outlook in the year to come.