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Asm. Bill Brough

SB 1400 punishes businesses for enforcing the law

In January of this year, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released a poll that measured the approval rating of the State Legislature, and the results were interesting, to be sure.

According to the survey, voters were evenly divided on the question, with 44 percent siding with approval and the same number saying they disapprove. If the voters take a good look at Sacramento’s recent performance, however, I predict the Legislature’s approval rating won’t be evenly divided for long.

Just to cite one example, I believe that the recently introduced Senate Bill 1400 will strike many as at once unfair, unnecessary and unable to deal effectively with any of California’s real problems. To be sure, it isn’t the only bad idea in the Capitol building, but I believe it so clearly represents the flawed and failing way some of my colleagues tend to approach their lawmaking choices.

Specifically, the bill will only allow the sale of tobacco at certain tobacco stores, rather than any of California’s tens of thousands of supermarkets, general stores, gas stations, chain drug entities and convenience retailers. This is the classic lose-lose proposition: it will penalize hardworking, law-abiding businesses and reduce current revenue to the state while doing it.

A personal point: I don’t use tobacco products and believe wholeheartedly that we need to take strong and consistent measures to keep it out of the hands of minors. But that is my personal choice and support for the law. This bill, while ostensibly seeking to keep tobacco from minors, will have the opposite effect.

According to 2014 data from the California Department of Public Health, 18.4 percent of tobacco stores did indeed sell tobacco products to minors, while all other categories of stories that were much more successful – less than 7.6 percent on average. SB 1400 fundamentally fails its first test, because it would flood tobacco demand to an array of stores with a worse track record of preventing sales to minors.

Also of note is the fact that the data also demonstrated that tobacco sales to minors has dramatically decreased. In 1997, it was more than 21 percent; today, it is nine percent, a massive drop that is nothing less than a victory for public health and clearly shows where we are getting the most effective kind of compliance with important state law.

Why would we want to do anything to change that? And why would we take away revenue from these stores who are selling legal products to adults and keeping them away from kids in a way that the state asked them to? This is the quintessential definition of a job-killer.

Finally, we are compelled to address the other main concern with this bill and others like it: When are we going to call on the concept of personal responsibility and allow adults to engage in legal behavior? As one of the representatives for state stores recently wrote: “For many years our member companies have also sold many other restricted products such as alcohol, guns, controlled medications and spray paint, and have done so successfully and responsibly.”

Shouldn’t that matter?

The time has come for California to have a serious conversation and to determine a rational answer. Are we a state and a society that allows people to live their lives in a responsible way? Or are we a reckless regulatory state that punishes people because we don’t want people to purchase legal goods from their establishments?

Of course we should be open and welcome to new ideas that enhance public health, keep adult products out of the hands of kids and reward merchants for doing the right thing.

But SB 1400 doesn’t do that. It isn’t a bill that wants to tell us a way to live better. It wants to tell us how to live.

Asm. Bill Brough represents California’s 73rd District in the State Assembly.