Missouri Legislator’s Fishy Plan to End Food Stamp Abuse

Rick Brattin (Public Domain: Missouri House of Representatives)

Rick Brattin (Public Domain: Missouri House of Representatives)

In Missouri, state Rep. Rick Brattin wants to put an end to food stamp abuse or, as it is currently known, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The abuses are legendary – expensive foods purchased by supposedly cash-poor individuals and families. Anecdotal stories abound throughout the country, but it is hard to distinguish fact from myth.

House Bill 813 would seek to put an end to these abuses as “A recipient of supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits shall not use such benefits to purchase cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak.” Brattin’s goal is to halt the purchase of luxury, unhealthful or unnecessary items.

“The intention of the bill is to get the food stamp program back to its original intent, which is nutrition assistance,” Brattin said.

That’s a laudable goal. The poor should eat healthy. Many people do no believe that taxpayers should foot the bill for luxury items like crab and filet mignon when cheaper foods are available. Yet, tinkering with personal choice on something as basic of a human need as food opens up a plethora of questions.

First of all, if the goal is to have people eat healthier, eliminating fish is not the way to go. If anything, people should eat more seafood. It should not be banned from it because it is considered an elite food not to be shared with the poor.

How does canned tuna fit into this law? A tuna sandwich is a basic childhood meal that is nutritious, inexpensive and tasty. According to Brattin’s law, it is an abuse of taxpayer dollars.

Then there is steak. That is a broad term that means anything from a prime hindquarter cut to lower quality beef cubed and stewed. Limiting beef to only hamburger for food stamp recipients isn’t going to expose their children to the variety of foods they need to learn to eat for a healthy and well-balanced diet..

Limiting the amount of cookies, chips, energy drinks and sodas might improve the health of many people, but why ban it for food stamp recipients and keep it legal for taxpaying Americans if the goal is to create healthier lives? These snacks are not the only unhealthy items available for food stamp recipients. Are pies, cakes, ice cream and donuts still okay? The food police would have a field day with this one.

In Brattin’s bill, energy drinks are defined as a drink having sixty-five milligrams of caffeine in an 8-ounce drink meant  an increase to “the consumer’s mental or physical energy.” That language is questionable. Shouldn’t good nutrition help a person’s mental or physical energy? Energy drinks may not be good nutrition, but that isn’t the language to use to condemn them.

Brattin also leaves a big exemption: coffee. Many studies have pointed out coffee’s health benefits, but coffee isn’t cheap. If the goal is to provide nutrition to children, as Brattin claims that he wants by excluding single people without dependents from SNAP, then what good is coffee to a child’s nutrition? Besides, pouring a bunch of sugar into coffee as many people do and doesn’t become much different than any over-the-counter energy drink.

There is also the question of how accurate the anecdotal stories of food stamp abuse are. Conservatives like to believe there is widespread fraud by able-bodied Americans wanting to live on the dole. They point to sharp rise in SNAP benefits since 2008 and blame the giveaway Obama administration as the reason. None of this is true. Food stamp programs have always risen as the economy dives, and it did that during the Great Recession. As the economy improves, then so will SNAP benefits decline.

A recent study found that only 3% of the recipients are guilty of fraud. Another 7% is attributed to administrative mistakes or errors by applicants. That means 90% of the SNAP program is doing what it is supposed to do. If anything needs legislation, then it is legislation to improve the administration of SNAP.

The decades-long food stamp programs remain a success against poverty and poor nutrition. If some politicians want to alter the program, they should investigate the abuse in a coordinated, planned manner with a good study and not what a handful of their constituents tell them they saw in someone else’s cart at the grocery store.

Despite the criticism of food stamp abuse and the cost on taxpayers, the same concern is not raised with another burden upon taxpayers. That is agricultural subsidies. Corporate agribusinesses rack in billions every year for a few exclusive crops, such as wheat and corn. These companies don’t need agricultural subsidies to survive. If they did, then there business model is flawed. No one questions how these federal monies are spent or whether luxury food items are being purchased from the enhanced farm profits.

SNAP and farm subsidies are both government handouts. The difference lies in that one program goes to help children and needy people who don’t have a job, are down on their luck or are part of the working poor. The other is primarily for large farming enterprises that have built businesses on receiving government dollars. It is clear where the real abuse and waste in taxpayer dollars are going. It isn’t with the family struggling to put some food on the table and enjoying some fish now and then.

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Georgia Bill would Allow Anyone to Reject a Law Based on Religious Belief

Georgia State Capitol (CC: Ken Lund)A bill in the Georgia legislature threatens to upend discrimination protections in that state. Compelled by the growing acceptance and legality of same-sex marriages, State Senator Josh McKoon introduced SB 129, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Of course, there haven’t been any religious freedoms taken away, but legislative bill titles are never bound by the truth anyway.

Basically, the proposed law is about people with anti-gay religious convictions being able to opt out of laws that require them to treat gays without discrimination. However, SB 129 goes beyond that. It gives a carte blanche for someone to pick and choose laws as it pertains to his or her religious belief. The bill specifically states that the exercise of religion “means any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.”

The “religious freedoms” of the bill open an unlimited amount of complications. This bill would allow anyone to challenge nearly any law based on religious beliefs, and that person does not have to be part of Christianity or any other organized religion. It allows Muslims, spiritualists of any type, Satanists or even atheists to reject laws. Although it’s good that the bill was not written so narrowly that only organized religion benefited from it, the suggestion that someone can discriminate against anyone in the name of religion is absurd for a smooth-functioning society. Realistically, only constitutional protections are ensured against this bill.

Some critics have gone as far as to complain that this bill could increase domestic violence. For example, conservative Christians often favor corporal punishment for children, referring to the Bible as support for using the rod. Increasingly restrictive state laws limit the degree that corporal punishment can be used. Some believe those laws could be jeopardized. There are believers even more extreme. Some believe in “wife spanking.” Since infringing on one’s religious liberties is not limited by organized religion in this bill, the infringement is limited only by the imagination.

These critics are going to far. No law in modern day America is going to allow the justification of spousal or child abuse. When it comes to physically hurting another person, there are laws in place that no law enforcement official is going to ignore when someone is placed in danger. However, the fact that this bill could conceivably justify such actions is clear proof that it is poorly written.

When it comes to catering a wedding for a same-sex marriage, performing a marriage for the same couple or even selling a flower arrangement for such an event, the bill would allow those who think that gay people getting married infringes on their religious beliefs can opt out. The same can be said for employers ignoring contraceptive mandates in health insurance, parents rejecting laws that require vaccinations or the teaching of evolution to their child at a school, and anyone with a religious excuse overriding laws relating to the use drugs.

There is even a valid argument that the bill would override Georgia’s laws against wearing masks in public, thereby, allowing the Ku Klux Klan to legally put on their hoods.

An individual’s right to exercise religion trumps the intent of most laws because the bill states that the government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” without a “compelling government interest.”

Obviously, when someone’s life is in danger through violence or a public health matter, such as ignoring food safety laws, the government is going to have a compelling interest. Outside of that, it rests on whatever Georgia courts are going to interpret. Let’s not forget who is at the top of Georgia courts: Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. Moore is the man who tried to place a Ten Commandments statue at a public building years ago and recently issued a ruling forbidding same-sex marriages. Anyone who thinks that Moore would rule in an inclusive and fair way on this proposed law….Well, Florida is just south of Georgia, and there is some nice swamp land there.

The bill is also designed to be a cash cow for those who feel offended by Georgia laws. This means that if someone feels that a government law is imposing a burden on a religious belief system, then that person may “assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against government.” Appropriate relief is simply requiring the government to write a check because someone’s religious beliefs have been interfered with by a law. For a law as broad as this one, it may as well be a demand that the state of Georgia keep signed, blank checks nearby.

Advocates of the bill declare that they are simply passing a law that already exists in thirty states. That’s simply not true. This bill is far more expansive and questionable than anything else in other state laws. As State Senator Greg Kirk says, “This bill restores a higher standard for the state government to restrict the free exercise of religion.” Everything is correct in that statement, except the “restores.” No one has taken away the right of people in Georgia to exercise their religion. On the contrary, this bill expands what can be considered the free exercise of religion to be whatever someone wants.

The First Amendment is the backbone of the Constitution, but there are some limits to it. Just as someone cannot yell fire in a movie theater, neither should anyone be allowed to discriminate or treat badly other people in the name of religion.

Although those limits on expression, association and religion must be narrow and well-thought out, the functioning of society does require some form of a social contract. People cannot decide which laws apply to them and which don’t. To do so violates the basic principles of self-government in a modern democratic society. This would be a nightmare for the police, courts and anyone in government. Even those outside of government who dispense essential services would be faced with a burden of enormous proportions. Doctors, hospitals, sanitation companies and lawyers are just a few who would face a confusing array of complications.That doesn’t even include the public at large, in which no one would know when they are going to step on the religious sensibilities of a fellow citizen and be called out for it. Bills like SB 129 are simply a pathway to anarchy.

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Texas Representative Pushes for Increased Use of Deadly Force in Schools

Dan Flynn (Public Domain)

Dan Flynn (Public Domain)

Texas state Rep. Dan Flynn recently introduced legislation to increase the amount of force that a teacher may use against a student. The current law limits a teacher by declaring that the “The use of force, but not deadly force, against a [student] is justified.” In Flynn’s Teacher’s Protection Act, he proposes to extend the rights of teachers to use deadly force. This law would not only allow teachers to protect themselves or another person in self-defense, but allows for teachers to use deadly force in “theft…or criminal mischief” as found in Chapter 9 of the Texas Penal Code.

Criminal mischief in the Texas Penal Code includes graffiti and any act on property that causes “substantial inconvenience” to the owner or third party. In other words, a lot of teenage pranks are justification for the immediate imposition of the death penalty.

It is hard to imagine that Flynn’s bill would not lead to some horrible tragedies in the future if it became law. The use of deadly force could not be used merely to protect a person, but to prevent a wall from being spray painted.

The law also grants civil immunity to any educator who employs the use of force in these situations.

In 2013, Flynn introduced legislation to allow both staff and students to carry concealed weapons onto college campuses. Fortunately, that bill did not pass. That was also the case with another bill by Flynn that would allow for the open carrying of firearms.

However, some of Flynn’s bills that year on guns did become law. He authored legislation that reduced the number of training hours for a concealed handgun license from 10-15 hours to 4-6 hours. Also passing was a bill that would ease the renewal of those licenses by simply having the licensee sign off on an informational sheet every five years.

Thus, Flynn wants to reduce the training required for possessing a concealed handgun license while increasing the appropriate legal use of deadly force that might involve the use of that handgun. It doesn’t take a lot of deep thought to see this is a bad mix.

Flynn touts a widely disseminated report by the FBI that violent crime has been heading down as justification for owning guns. He has used a dubious NRA claim that as more guns become available, crime is reduced. While correlation does not represent causation, that doesn’t get in the way of people like Flynn promoting their agendas with anything that they can grab from the air and claim as a fact. On Twitter, Flynn claimed that “FBI data showing increased gun ownership coinciding with a reduction in violent crime.” The FBI report did not suggest that.

Crime has been on the downswing for over two decades. Deeper thinkers than Flynn and the NRA realize that demographics, sentencing laws like three strikes and increased police spending have played significant roles in this decline. More people toting guns is not necessarily the cause of this trend but simply an incomplete connecting of the dots that these people want to connect.

As might be expected, Flynn as an A+ rating from the  Texas State Rifle Association and the National Rifle Association. He doesn’t deserve an A+ for keeping schools safer.

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