Kentucky legislators are in recess right now. When they return, they’re gonna have a food fight.
Lawmakers are battling over whether to restrict the sale of soda and junk food in the state’s public schools. A bill to require that schools stock their vending machines with healthy snacks and postpone soft drink sales until after lunch in the upper grades has some strong backing. It would also ban soda sales outright in elementary schools.
Even though the House approved the bill overwhelmingly, 87-5, and the state’s lieutenant governor is promoting it, the proposal is languishing in the Senate.
Opponents there say the bill would force principals and teachers to be “pop cops” trying to decide whether students had brought their own bottles or somehow cracked the code of a vending machine. They propose an alternative that would require school boards to study their policies but not force them to change.
But the Senate bill lacks punch, supporters of the House plan say, because it would keep decisions in the hands of school boards that allow vending machines in 97 percent of the state’s high schools and 88 percent of middle schools.
School boards “haven’t handled it,” said Lt. Gov. Stephen L. Henry, a practicing surgeon. “They’ve mishandled it.”
“The diet of our youth is just as unhealthy as cigarettes are,” the Democrat said.
But the anti-junk-food bill’s supporters know they will be in for a tough fight when legislators return for a one-day session on April 15. Lawmakers still must come to terms on the biannual budget and decide on locations for future power plants and cellphone towers—issues with huge consequences for individual lawmakers.
They know their foes may be able to stall and let the issue die until the legislature reconvenes in two years.
“I remain hopeful,” said Rep. Tim Feely, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill. “That’s the best I can say.”
—David J. Hoff
A version of this article appeared in the April 10, 2002 edition of Education Week