Friday, August 06, 2010

Regulation run amok 

When local enforcement officials shut down lemonade stands and make a 7 year-old girl cry, something is really wrong.

It is worth reading the entire story from The Oregonian, keeping in mind that Portland is not exactly a hotbed of right-wing activity:
It's hardly unusual to hear small-business owners gripe about licensing requirements or complain that heavy-handed regulations are driving them into the red.

So when Multnomah County shut down an enterprise last week for operating without a license, you might just sigh and say, there they go again.

Except this entrepreneur was a 7-year-old named Julie Murphy. Her business was a lemonade stand at the Last Thursday monthly art fair in Northeast Portland. The government regulation she violated? Failing to get a $120 temporary restaurant license.

Turns out that kids' lemonade stands -- those constants of summertime -- are supposed to get a permit in Oregon, particularly at big events that happen to be patrolled regularly by county health inspectors.

"I understand the reason behind what they're doing and it's a neighborhood event, and they're trying to generate revenue," said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department. "But we still need to put the public's health first."
With all due respect, Mr. Kawaguchi, try to gain some perspective. You can empower your inspectors to quickly see if there is a reasonable threat to public heath, and exempt kids such as Julie from the heavy hand of business regulation. Perhaps the question really is, had the $120 license fee been paid, would there have been any rigorous examination of the public health threat that Julie's lemonade stand posed, or is the license fee just a shakedown to finance and perpetuate a local bureaucracy? I ask that question as someone who believes that there should be an FDA, and in fact, years ago, I met professionally with FDA officials, reviewing reasonably complex sets of non-parametric statistics. However, there has to be some common sense involved and a thought process that recognizes proportionality -- you don't need to know how to measure the heteroscedasticity of a data set as a part of an expensive clinical trial to realize that shutting down a kid's lemonade stand seems foolish on so many levels.

CWCID: Hot Air


By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Fri Aug 06, 03:01:00 PM:

So Orwell missed it by 25 years...  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Fri Aug 06, 03:29:00 PM:

Well said, TH.

Shakedown is in all probability the correct word. My sister has to pay a similar fee to have the sign to her business inspected. The rationale being that the sign might fall on someone. Never mind the fact that the sign is built into the wall and can't fall on anyone.

One wonders how much profit there would have been for the little girl had she paid the fee? It is a good microcosm illustrating how regulation strangles business.

As for regulators using commonsense, I will cut them an iota of slack here. My experience in a large corporation taught me that using common sense and intentionally waiving the rules can leave your organization wide open to a lawsuit and the decision maker subject to discipline/termination, should the improbable happen.

If we want common sense to prevail in such situations we need tort reform.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 06, 06:45:00 PM:

You can laugh at this, but it's the mentality that contributed to the Deepwater spill debacle. Just wait for ObamaCare: Here's a trailer  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Aug 06, 06:50:00 PM:

Fixed link:
Here's a trailer  

By Anonymous DrTom, at Sat Aug 07, 12:33:00 AM:

At the risk of sounding like a stick-in-the-mud, let me please offer a different perspective. I spent a career in the public sector and I would maintain that, once the public inspector became aware of her operation, he was obligated to take action. I know, I know...I can hear you booing from here (Ventura, CA). But let's interject a possible lawyer into this situation. Let's suppose that the inspector merely smiled and drove away, doing nothing. And then let's suppose that someone else came along, drank some lemonade, and became violently ill for whatever reason. The lawsuit (for their will always be some POS lawyer out there who would file) would be against the CITY and it would maintain that the CITY was aware of the illegal and potentially unsafe operation and negligently failed to take appropriate enforcement action which directly led to the poisoning of the plaintiff. Think I'm joking? Think this couldn't possibly happen? Guess again, my friends.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Sat Aug 07, 01:53:00 AM:

DR. Tom makes the case that we need tort reform, which we do.

The building code handled this type of situation differently. They made buildings less than 120 sq ft excempt from the code. This keeps building inspectors from having to condem tree houses.  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Sat Aug 07, 09:16:00 AM:

Victory: County apologizes to little girl for shutting down her lemonade stand.
Multnomah County’s top elected official apologized Thursday for health inspectors who forced a 7-year-old girl to shut down her stand last week because she didn’t have a food-safety permit.
Chairman Jeff Cogen also said he has directed county health department workers to use “professional discretion” in doing their jobs…

DrTom brings forth a good point. Many acts in our society come from an attempt to avoid lawsuits. I have read estimates that an extra ten percent of our health care costs come from physicians ordering tests not because they consider them necessary, but because they are covering themselves in case of a lawsuit. The health inspector's acts towards the lemonade stand may well have been motivated by that. OTOH, would there have been any verification of safety along with the $120 permit?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Aug 07, 10:30:00 AM:

So when a Taco Bell operating in Portland with the blessing of the city gives someone food poisoning, is that also the fault of the city? Will they get sued every time someone gets ill from a restaurant? Or is that particular crucible reserved only for little girls?  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Sat Aug 07, 11:07:00 AM:

I think Dr. Tom's claim that the city would be sued is unlikely. Health inspectors are typically free of liability for what they see and do not see. It is the same with building inspectors. They don't see much and are not responsible for what is built.

The people that would get sued in the lemonade stand case would be the girl's parents. So, they are the one's that should inspect the operation. Can we trust them to act like adults even without public sector oversight? Hoo boy.

Can we as a society allow parents to be responsible for their children? I suppose we could have a bureau where parents could go to get a license for responsibility---after filing a fee and posting a bond.


By Blogger JPMcT, at Sat Aug 07, 11:45:00 AM:

Heh...she thinks THIS is bad?!

Just wait until she's seventeen and gets appendicitis, or has a serious car accident.

It will be lot harder to find a competent surgeon in her town than a glass of lemonade.  

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?