Friends, it’s good to know our wise and benevolent state and local governments are always looking out for us, particularly in matters of health and safety.

As an example, consider the case of Aliso Viejo, California. In 2004, city officials became alarmed by the prevalence of the deadly chemical dihydrogen monoxide. This odorless, tasteless molecule can blister skin, cause suffocation, accelerate corrosion and is often found in city water pipes. It is a major component of acid rain and contributes to the greenhouse effect. It adds to erosion, often causes electrical failures and decreases the effectiveness of automobile brakes. It has even been found in excised tumors of terminal cancer patients. Thankfully the good folks in the city government of Aliso Viejo were there to save their citizens, and they got within a hair’s breadth of banning this dangerous material before someone stepped in and gave them a basic chemistry lesson. Yes, water can indeed be hazardous to your health.

Over the years, various puckish individuals or groups have played on the public’s ignorance of basic science and pushed this prank as far as they could. At a high school in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a 14-year-old student named Nathan Zohner made banning DHMO the focus of his science project by surveying his classmates, 86 percent of whom “voted to ban dihydrogen monoxide because it has caused too many deaths.” By the way, Zohner’s project was titled “How Gullible Are We?” and he won first prize.

Zohner achieved some additional recognition for his project after journalist James K. Glassman coined the term “Zohnerism” to refer to “the use of a true fact to lead a scientifically and mathematically ignorant public to a false conclusion.”

Glassman rather shockingly noted (shocking, because he was writing in the liberal Washington Post): “Environmental hysterics – Vice President Al Gore springs to mind – and ideologues in such fields as race, women’s issues and economics are adept at using Zohnerisms, with help from the media, to advance their agendas.”

And David Murray, research director of the nonprofit Statistical Assessment Service in Washington, noted, “The likelihood is high that I could replicate these results with a survey of members of Congress.”

All this illustrates one thing: It’s dangerous territory when government takes children’s school science projects and attempts to turn them into law. But – wait for it – this is precisely what’s happening in California right now.

The latest bit of lunacy to emerge from the Golden State is to propose punitive actions against waiters who make the shocking and unforgivable mistake of offering customers straws without a specific request. For such an inexcusable blunder, these hardworking individuals would face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for each offense.

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According to the bill, the legislation “would prohibit a food facility, as specified, where food may be consumed on the premises from providing single-use plastic straws to consumers unless requested by the consumer. … By creating a new crime and imposing additional enforcement duties on local health agencies, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program. … Existing law requires, except as otherwise provided, a person who violates any provision of the code to be guilty of a misdemeanor with each offense punishable by a fine of not less than $25 or more than $1,000, or by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not exceeding 6 months, or by both.”

You see, apparently California – if not the nation at large – is suffering from a National Straw Crisis. Not only does “excessive sucking” cause or exacerbate “wrinkles on the lips or around the mouth” (according to the Los Angeles Times), but half-a-billion of these little demonic tubes of plastic are discarded daily.

“It’s not clear where that number came from,” admits the Los Angeles Times.

Well, as it turns out, Reason magazine learned the source of that half-billion-a-day number: “The 500 million figure is often attributed to the National Park Service; it in turn got it from the recycling company Eco-Cycle. Eco-Cycle is unable to provide any data to back up this number, telling Reason that it was relying on the research of one Milo Cress. Cress – whose Be Straw Free Campaign is hosted on Eco-Cycle’s website – tells Reason that he arrived at the 500 million straws a day figure from phone surveys he conducted of straw manufacturers in 2011, when he was just 9 years old.”

Nine years old. Did you get that? NINE YEARS OLD. California wants to implement a law that would ruin the lives of waiters and possibly send them to jail FOR SIX MONTHS over a fourth-grade school project done by a 9 YEAR OLD. Sorry to SHOUT, but can you possibly imagine anything more ASININE? This, my friends, is why California is experiencing a brain drain like never before.

The bill was proposed by Ian Calderon, the Democratic majority leader in California’s lower house. It’s clear Mr. Calderon has never worked in a restaurant before. I have. Trust me, the wait staff works very hard. When things are busy, harried waiters may perform the unthinking courtesy of providing beverages with straws amidst the thousand and one other tasks they’re trying to perform. Why punish them for doing their jobs? Why put the burden for the National Straw Crisis on them?

Look, I have no problems with green living. Plastic litter of all kinds – not just straws – can cause damage to wildlife and clog our waterways. If you don’t want a straw with your drink, then by all means refuse one. If restaurants want to go with a request-only policy, more power to them.

But to enact statewide legislation to bully and punish a group of people who are often making a precarious living to begin with is cruel bordering on evil. It’s picking on the wrong crowd. It’s threatening the livelihood of innocent people because of a 9 year old’s school project.

Progressives pretend to have compassion for the little people, unlike those horrible heartless conservatives. But who is behind this legislation? It sure isn’t a conservative lawmaker. (I’m not even sure California has any.)

Thankfully, Assemblyman Calderon apparently received enough outrage over this ridiculous bill that he plans to amend it to remove the fines.

But this kind of absurd overreaction is just as dumb as attempts to ban dihydrogen monoxide. It’s a knee-jerk reaction by feel-good but ignorant idiots who punish the wrong people for bad science. Go after the straw manufacturers – or even ban them in the state – if you feel strongly enough about it, but for heaven’s sake leave the waiters alone.

To the progressive and statist politicians out there: Quit grasping at straws.

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