State governments from California to Massachusetts and city councils from San Francisco to New York City enact nanny-state measures with such regularity that many of those measures go unnoticed (New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent move to ban large soft drinks being an exception). But in recent years, traditionally conservative states and municipalities have begun to enact their own nanny-state laws. This troubling new trend is a reminder of how much power those who prefer government control to individual freedom have in this country.
My home state of Georgia — long a place where candidates and elected officials seeking re-election have earned their chops by railing against Washington busybodies — has succumbed to the notion that the role of government is to protect people by controlling them. From small towns to the bustling and largely Republican-dominated Atlanta suburbs, helmet laws and smoking and “texting” bans are becoming the norm.
Last year, the Republican-dominated Georgia General Assembly enacted a ban on texting while driving despite numerous studies, including a 2010 report from the Highway Loss Data Institute, showing that such legislation does little to prevent crashes on the road.
Peach State legislators have also enacted laws limiting the sale of over-the-counter cold medications that happen to contain pseudoephedine, an ingredient used by a small number of drug dealers to make methamphetamine. Those same legislators also mandated the establishment of databases containing the names of purchasers of many such medications. And, not content with seat-belt laws long on the books, Georgia legislators recently went so far as to mandate that children as old as eight sit in government-defined car seats.
In the Atlanta suburb of Villa Rica, the city council recently tried to make it illegal to drive while talking on a cell phone unless the driver is using a hand-free device. The mayor vetoed the measure, but not because he believed it was a bad law. Rather, he vetoed it because in his view driving while talking on a cell phone is “something that the state should address.”
Closer to the state capitol, within the city of Atlanta itself, the Big Nanny crusade against smokers continues to expand — even on private property.
Atlantic Station is a popular, mixed-use development in Atlanta. Unfortunately, its owners have caught the same nanny-state fever infecting the Georgia General Assembly and Atlanta’s city council. Last week, they decided to ban smoking in all “public” places in the large development, with the exception of a few bars and restaurants. Though a private venture, Atlantic Station now joins the growing list of areas in metro Atlanta — including the cities of Alpharetta, Duluth and Norcross — that have banned smoking “in public,” including open outdoor areas such as ballparks. Atlantic Station’s action no doubt will be watched closely and likely used by the city government as a basis on which to expand its own anti-smoking ordinance.
Thus would complete the circle of control from government to the private sector and back again — an ever-tightening noose strangling individual responsibility and freedom of choice.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.