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Mississippi Legislature Passes ‘Anti-Bloomberg’ Bill

Mayor Mike and his public health edicts are having a rough ride. On Monday, a state judge in Manhattan knocked down the rule capping soda sizes that Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed. (Here’s a PDF of that ruling.) Lawmakers in Mississippi are taking things one step further.

A bill on the governor’s desk would bar counties and towns from enacting rules that require calorie counts to be posted, that cap portion sizes, or that keep toys out of kids’ meals. “The Anti-Bloomberg Bill” garnered wide bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature in Mississippi, the state with the highest rate of obesity in the nation.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. It was the subject of intense lobbying by groups including  the restaurant association, the small business and beverage group and the chicken farmers’ lobby.

Mike Cashion, executive director the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, says the bill is a direct reaction to Bloomberg-style government intervention in public health.

“If you look at how menus have changed, whether it be in fast food or family dining, you are seeing more and more healthy options,” Cashion said. “Not because of legislative mandates or regulator mandates but because of consumer demand. Our industry has always been one to respond to the marketplace.”

Rep. Gregory Holloway, a Democrat, ushered the popular bill through the state House. He says the goal is to create consistency in nutrition laws across the state. “We don’t want local municipalities experimenting with labeling of food and any organic agenda. We want that authority to rest with the Legislature,” Holloway said.

But the measure does have detractors in Mississippi: local politicians who say it steps on an ideal Mississippians hold dear — the right to govern themselves.

Chip Johnson, mayor of Hernando, Miss., near the Tennessee border, is no fan of a  soda ban, but he doesn’t like the anti-Bloomberg bill either.

Hernando has built biking and walking paths all over town and has received national attention for the work.  Johnson bristles at the Legislature’s efforts to dictate what he can do in pursuit of a healthier community, including  restricting the ability to put nutritional information on menus.

“You know what? If little Alligator, Mississippi, wanted to do that, that is up to the people that live there. It is not up to the state to tell the people at the local level what to do,” Johnson said. “They are using this to mask what the bill is really about, which is taking away home rule.”

Johnson says he resents that the measure even puts some restrictions on a town’s ability to zone where a restaurant can go.

Still, the bill passed the state Senate, 50-to-1, and the state House, 92-26.

This story is part of a collaboration that includes Mississippi Public Broadcasting, NPR and Kaiser Health News.