The Salt Ban.

What manner of criminal, what thief, what embezzler, what robber, what glutton, what desecrator of fashion, what panderer, what philanderer, what abuser of power, what abuser of women, what traitor to party, what traitor against the laws of man and matrimony, indeed what low murderer can claim that he is not well-represented in the government of New York?

Yet the most frustrating sins of that den of vice and villainy are the immortal crimes of stupidity and rank incompetence that plague Albany. Just today I read of a new bill proposed that would place a ban on salt!!

    1    Section 1. The general business law is amended by adding a new section
    2  399-bbb to read as follows:
    3    S  399-BBB.  PROHIBITION ON SALT; RESTAURANTS. 1. NO OWNER OR OPERATOR
    4  OF A RESTAURANT IN THIS STATE SHALL USE SALT IN ANY FORM IN THE PREPARA-
    5  TION OF ANY FOOD  FOR  CONSUMPTION  BY  CUSTOMERS  OF  SUCH  RESTAURANT,
    6  INCLUDING  FOOD  PREPARED TO BE CONSUMED ON THE PREMISES OF SUCH RESTAU-
    7  RANT OR OFF OF SUCH PREMISES.

Each violation could result in a fine of up to $1000! What even constitutes a single violation, I wonder? A day? A dish? A dram of salt sprinkled?

Of course, this has no chance in passing.

The bigger problem this represents is our politicians getting away with making dumb, time-wasting legislation like this. The Brooklyn Assemblyman who proposed this bill said it was inspired by his father, who overused salt and developed heart complications as a result. Yet not since the Volstead Act has there been a law contrived that so blatantly violated our basic freedoms and liberties. Salt is not just a simple flavor enhancer; it is the flavor enhancer. It preserves food from spoilage. It is a component of religions. It is a garnish to that most patriotic of foods: freedom fries. It is a fundamental ingredient to our consciousness, a cause for war, and a symbol for peace. In moderation, salt is healthy and wonderful. The task of balancing internal salt levels is an important job for every cell in our bodies or microorganism in the planet; Evolution gave us not one, but two kidneys to maintain an even salt concentration in our blood. Surely fully sentient humans can be trusted to consume it in safe amounts, incentivized to moderate, or be educated on doing so, without the state using its police powers and resorting to an outright ban. Even used in excess, it is solely a personal evil, and not a public harm.

I think a beautiful solution to this problem is simply to pass the ban–but only in the districts of the three sponsoring members. This includes Felix Ortiz, from Brooklyn; Margaret Markey, from Queens; and N. Nick Perry, of Brooklyn. Imagine their constituents waking up after this legislation is passed. The lox isn’t cured. The bread doesn’t rise. Salami? Pickles? No more. That awesome Thai food in Woodside is out the window–sorry, Caitlin. All restaurant food tastes like unseasoned crap.

Can you imagine the uproar when the constituency finds out they’ve been had… by their very own elected representatives? There would be rioting, calls of complaint, calls for recall! The small business community would be positively livid. Voter turnout in the next election would approach 100% as they are driven to the polls by their stomachs and palates. And politicians would know that proposing dumb legislation in the future would have consequences.

Is this method for defeating dumb legislation, by selectively routing it, feasible? The conversation would go like this: “Hey, so do your constituents support this bill? Are you representing them and doing your job?” “Yes.” “Ok, well ours don’t, so let’s add a friendly amendment so it only applies to those people who want it. Good luck!” Unfortunately, any smart party leader would cut off discussion on this bill before it cut down party membership, but perhaps a large enough majority could stuff this down the throats of a very small, but willing, faction of the minority, like geese being raised for foie gras.

Is it legal? Can the law be applied differently among, or selectively to, separate towns and jurisdictions? I solicited advice from legal-minded friends on this topic today via Google Buzz, and got a few answers to this question. As a matter of state law, the New York State Constitution does in fact allow individually-tailored special legislation in Article IX, section 2.2b, subject to some procedural requirements:

[The legislature s]hall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs or government of any local government only by general law, or by special law only (a) on request of two-thirds of the total membership of its legislative body or on request of its chief executive officer concurred in by a majority of such membership, or (b) except in the case of the city of New York, on certificate of necessity from the governor reciting facts which in the judgment of the governor constitute an emergency requiring enactment of such law and, in such latter case, with the concurrence of two-thirds of the members elected to each house of the legislature.

The other consideration is, of course, compliance with the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment guarantees persons residing in States “equal protection of the laws”. For most mundane purposes, the fact that one town is affected by a spending program or anti-dumping regulation and not another does not deprive residents of those two towns of equal protection. The State must simply show a rational basis to discriminate between say, a railroad corporation’s liability vs. a regular corporation’s, or a large town vs. a small town, or town X that contains a toxic waste dump vs. town Y that doesn’t. On the other hand, the State must pass strict scrutiny, and show a compelling state interest and a narrowly-tailored law, when the legislation regulates “suspect classifications” (minority, religious group, group with history of discrimination, etc.) or regulates fundamental rights protected in the Bill of Rights.

While there’s normally significant deference given to the states and their accounting of rational basis, unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s a rational basis for only applying a no-salt provision against Brooklyn and Queens, aside from the fact that their represented officials need to be taught a lesson, and they’ll feel the pain when their constituents feel the hunger. On the other hand, by the time that case gets to court the voters will have experienced, if only for a few days, the bland taste of political recklessness, and that memory should last them until the next election time.

I can only hope that one day I’ll get to see a legislature make this happen and strike fear into the hearts of dumb politicians everywhere, evermore.

Until then, keep your grubby hands off of my salt grinder!

(Hat Tip to Ryne, Rob, Josh, and Grace for some legal insights, and Kimel/Cicero for rhetorical inspiration.)

::update::

Ortiz now attempts to clarify the intention of his law.

My intention for this legislation was to prohibit the use of salt as an additive to meals. If salt is a functional component of the recipe, by all means, it should be included. But, when we have meals prepared by restaurants that pile unnecessary amounts of salt, we have a problem.

Did you read the text of the law you wrote, Assemblyman? How would you even distinguish a “functional component” of a recipe from an “unnecessary” amount of salt? Someone call Toby Ziegler; this man needs a communications director.

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