A state lawmaker on Monday promised a quick death for a bill that would prohibit Mississippi restaurants from serving obese people.
House Public Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Steve Holland announced his intention to kill House Bill 282. The proposed legislation has outraged advocacy groups critical of the legislation and intrigued the national media.
"It's dead on arrival at my desk," Holland, D-Plantersville, said in a news release. "While I appreciate the efforts of my fellow House members to help curb the obesity problem in Mississippi, this is totally the wrong approach."
The bill filed by State Reps. Ted Mayhall, R-Southaven, John Read, R-Gautier, and Bobby Shows, D-Ellisville, would make it illegal for restaurants with more than five seats to serve people who are obese. The criteria for obesity would be set by the state Department of Health, and restaurants that do not comply would have their permits revoked.
The legislation has been referred to a subcommittee, where Holland said he will use a "pocket veto" to kill it. It would have advanced to his committee if it had survived.
Mayhall said Monday he wouldn't vote for the bill. He said he and his colleagues filed it to bring attention to the state's obesity problem, but he never expected to hear from so many people. Media from New York, Australia, London and Ireland have called him since The Clarion-Ledger reported on the bill Sunday, he said.
"You take food away from fat people ... my gosh," Mayhall said.
Obesity makes people more susceptible to diabetes, which puts a further strain on the state's financially-challenged Medicaid program, he said.
A 2007 report put the state's obesity rate at 30.6 percent - the worst in the nation.
Dr. Ed Thompson, state health officer, has previously said Mississippi's obesity rate cost Medicaid alone $221 million each year.
But the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance issued a news release Monday blasting the bill as "a clear and shameless violation of (Mississippians') human and civil rights."
The group described itself as a "nonprofit human rights organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for fat people," and urged voters to boot the lawmakers who filed the legislation.
"These men are wasting their time, which is your money, and could potentially bankrupt your state. Are these the kind of men you want to continue to represent you?" the news release said.
In a separate news release, the Coalition of Fat Rights Activists president Paul McAleer said the bill would "have substantial and negative side effects on Mississippi's economy and health."
"Anyone who supports human rights and freedoms should be opposing this bill - and any subsequent bill," he added.
Cheryle Evans of Clinton said the legislation is "very short-sighted." She said restaurants should be required to provide details of calories, fat grams and carbohydrates on their menus instead. Evans also said more bike paths and sidewalks should be made available.
Holland, who has described himself as obese, said, "I am working on my own health issues, and I need to do that. I think (Gov. Haley Barbour's) take on this is a good idea. Let's all go walking instead of trying to tell restaurants who they can serve."
Barbour appears in television commercials that promote physical activity. Last session, state lawmakers mandated exercise and health education for students in kindergarten through middle school.