Thursday, July 21, 2011

Zero-Tolerance Lemon Laws

Kenneth M. O’Brien

I have made no secret of the fact that I am an outright liberal (or, in today’s micro-parsing of a once comprehensible language, a progressive).

In that regard I have argued for the need to regulate corporate, individual and political behavior that destabilizes society.

But there is a point where reason has got to take precedence.

 Take the following for example.

The associated Press reported:

MIDWAY, Ga. — Police in Georgia have shut down a lemonade stand run by three girls trying to save up for a trip to a water park, saying they didn't have a business license or the required permits.
Midway Police Chief Kelly Morningstar says police also didn't know how the lemonade was made, who made it or what was in it.
The girls had been operating for one day when Morningstar and another officer cruised by.
The girls needed a business license, peddler's permit and food permit to operate, even on residential property.
The permits cost $50 a day or $180 per year.
One girl, 14-year-old Casity Dixon, says the three had to listen to police and shut down.
The girls are now doing chores and yard work to make money.”

Now, there are those who will exploit this incident to illustrate the problem with big government and regulation run wild.

Rather, it is an illustration of the continual escape from accountability by public officials.

Their answer, “The law says so-and-so and I’m going to enforce it – period.”

Over the last decade, this escape from accountability has resulted in a variety of resorts to “zero-tolerance policies”.

We have seen numerous illustrations of this absurdity, whether it is the case of a virtual toddler who was suspended from school because he had an aspirin in his backpack in violation of a “zero-tolerance drug policy”, to a teen who was expelled because he had a Swiss army knife in the bed of his truck.

Now, I’ve discussed this particular incident with local health officials.

I do need to say that their views are not based on Georgia law. Rather, they address local enforcement issues.

First, all consulted said that they would never send the police to enforce such a matter.

Second, existing health regulations do require permits to engage in the business that the girls were practicing.

This is to protect the public. There is a need to guarantee that the water is safe.

However, at least under Massachusetts law, Boards of Health have the power to waive fees related to the issuance of the licenses necessary to engage in such traditional childhood entrepreneurial pursuits.

Consequently, all of those with whom I consulted said that, provided that they could verify the wholesomeness of the product, the children would have been allowed to proceed without interference.

However, I am not done.

To those who would triumph in the belief that this constitutes an illustration of the absurdity of government regulation I would point out the following. In my youth, there was no need to have to evaluate the quality of water used in a child’s lemonade stand.

Regulations have been instituted, and constantly thwarted by big business and their minions, that have resulted in this situation.

And to those who institute and then hide behind “zero-tolerance policies” I say that you are precisely the problem that infects our government at every level – “It’s not my fault”.

Obviously, the buck doesn’t stop anywhere any more.

The most ironic thing about common sense is how uncommon it truly is.


  1. Ken,

    At some point the IRS will stop by garage sales and demand the income on your return and the state dept. Of rev. Will want the sales tax as well. There is common cent$ and it starts with kids trying to earn their own money opposed to having it handed to them from others. I think the right thing the girls should do is go and collect unemployment. Common sense can and should be upheld by local officials and applaud efforts of young enterprising kids not taking handouts.

  2. How does getting a permit guarantee that the water is safe?

    When innocent kids set up a lemonade stand to earn a few bucks, I highly doubt that they can or should get their water sampled.

    When people hand out water to runners in a race, do they need a license to guarantee safety?

    When a school has a fundraiser, and sells cookies, should we test for safety?

    My daughter and her friend recently made trail mix to raise $700 for Tornado victims..oops, forgot the safety license.

    My point is that the message we're sending kids is ten times worse than the worry about water safety.

    If your concerned, don't drink it.

    But don't drive our kids to drink at an early age by teaching them about the absurdity of government.

    They have the rest of their lives to experience that.

    What's a kid to do?

  3. The problem with giving government all the power you want them to have Ken, it is is their "common sense" not yours that prevails. And because they have so much power, their "common sense" is generally dictated by those who pay for their re-election.

    But hey - in a perfect world...

  4. Ken, what does you being a liberal have to do with this story? I see this incident happened in Midland, Georgia, not exactly a hub of liberal thinkers. Also, you say you talked to local health officials about this story. Who would that be? Jim Morin? Oh yes. Mr. Health himself. Did you ask him about the chloramine scheduled to be put in our water on August 1? I wonder what affect that will have on lemonade sales in Southbridge?

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