Soda Warning Bill Barely Clears Hurdle

When his bill finally passed a Senate floor vote, Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) sat down hard. That one had taken a lot of work.

It took three votes during the May 29 Senate floor session for SB 1000 to garner enough votes to stay alive. The controversial measure calling for health-risk warning labels on soda and other sugary drinks needed 21 yes votes to pass. On the third vote, the bill had mustered only 19 as the call for votes neared an end.

As the remaining legislators’ names were called out, one after another with no response, there was finally silence as the roll finished. But at the last second, two senators spoke up and voted for the bill. Marty Block (D-San Diego) and Norma Torres (D-Pomona) gave Monning his 21 votes.

“It should be our job as a Legislature — when something has been proven to be a major contributor to diabetes, obesity and tooth decay — it should be our job to do something about it, and it should be the right of consumers to know about it,” Monning said.

The bill still needs to clear the Assembly and get the governor’s signature before becoming law, but squeaking through the Senate was a major step.

‘Not the First, Not the Last’

The bill is one step among many needed to address a tough, complex problem in California, Monning said.  

“This is not a silver bullet. It’s an important contribution to a broader strategy to make sure children and parents have an informed choice. Not just with soda products but with juices and other drinks that have added sugars,” he said.

Monning last session floated legislation to tax soda at one cent an ounce, but the bill failed. There have been a number of other attempts to regulate contributors to obesity and/or diabetes in California, beside the two Monning bills.

“The very first bill I introduced was the menu labeling bill,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). “That was a bill that requires chain restaurants to post nutritional information, particularly calorie information.”

The menu and soda warning label bills — as well as a number of other bills — are designed to educate consumers, Padilla said. The bills are aimed at making consumers aware of the choices they’re making, not to regulate them, Padilla said.

“By no means is it the first or last piece of legislation in this comprehensive effort to tackle obesity and diabetes,” Padilla said.

California was first in the nation to regulate trans fat. California’s 2008 law partially banning the use of hydrogenated oil was enacted the same year as Padilla’s menu labeling bill. The California trans fat law didn’t go as far as the FDA’s recommendation earlier this year that all hydrogenated oils should be avoided. California aimed a little lower, limiting the use of partially hydrogenated oils in restaurants and in some food-preparation facilities.

Ten years ago, California banned soda from being sold in vending machines in schools. A follow-up effort to remove sweetened sport drinks from vending machines did not pass. Legislation requiring water fountains in schools to be in good working order was passed and signed into law.

“If we’re trying to wean our kids off sugared drinks and encourage them to drink water,” Padilla said, adding, “Wouldn’t it be nice if our water fountains actually worked?”

Incremental change is how major movements begin, Padilla said.

“The issue that Sen. Monning is trying to address, to tackle obesity rates and the effects of diabetes on the California population, is an ongoing issue,” Padilla said. “Could it be part of an overall comprehensive strategy and solution to reduce obesity rates and the rate of diabetes? Maybe. Put a [warning] label on, that’s one step.”

More Steps Planned

Even if the soda warning label bill fails, advocates hope public awareness will be raised.

Advocates last month staged a rally on the Capitol steps to push four bills in the Legislature, including Monning’s soda warning label bill.

The other three measures are not as directly tied to consumer awareness, but do share concern for the health of children in the state:

  • AB 2449, by Assembly member Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), is aimed at ensuring students in California have enough time to eat lunch;
  • AB 1179, also by Bocanegra, would add the Superintendent of Public Instruction to the Strategic Growth Council in order to keep schools involved in land-use decisions; and
  • SB 1151, by Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), would increase the fine for traffic violations in school zones and use additional revenue from that to benefit Safe Routes to Schools.

The coalition of 40 organizations has laid out a prevention platform called, A Healthy Future for California.

Monning said if his bill fails this session, he’ll sponsor other legislation that tackles the problem in a different way. If it succeeds, he said, that’s not an endpoint, either.

“We face an obesity and diabetes epidemic in the state of California,” Monning said. “The causes of obesity and diabetes are multi-factorial … This is part of a broader public health campaign that is underway in this state. Public health interventions have saved lives. And it is the government’s responsibility to protect the public health and safety.”

For more information on health problems related to sugar-sweetened beverages, see today’s Capitol Desk.

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