Thirsty Kids Act: A Solution in Search of a Problem
By Richard Fidler
I recently served as a volunteer intern in Annapolis during the 2015 General Assembly. While the experience was one of the best I’ve ever had, some things amazed me. For example, I couldn’t believe the number of trivial proposals that the senators and delegates had to deal with. Much of it was local legislation that only applied to one county, such as modifying the definition of a Class C liquor license in a specific county. Deference was almost always given to that county’s delegation, since they supported the proposal.
But there is also trivial legislation which is self-induced, and I offer as an example the proposed “Thirsty Kids Act” of 2015 (HB 1023), introduced by LD 15 County Delegate Aruna Miller. I don’t know Delegate Miller other than that she’s a civil engineer, who has had a long career in the county’s Department of Transportation. I’m sure she’s well-meaning and may have been approached by a persuasive environmentalist.
But I wonder why she decided to make this proposal. Was she swayed by pleas such as “every class should have water consumption during the school day” and this proposal “will increase water consumption during the day?”
According to the official synopsis, the bill as originally written would require “each public school to make available free, unlimited, potable drinking water for each student throughout the school day, include a reusable water bottle on the school supplies list for each student in kindergarten through grade 12, and provide specified cups for drinking water in specified locations; and requiring the State Department of Education to encourage each county board to develop a plan to promote the consumption of drinking water, the use of reusable water bottles, and weekly cleaning of water bottles.” Furthermore, each school would have “to provide flat-bottomed, biodegradable cups.”
As required, the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) researched this proposal, making inquiries to several public school systems around the state.
“The Department of Legislative Services (DLS) advises that…all local school systems…are currently required to provide potable water where NSLP [National School Lunch Program] and SBP [School Breakfast Program] meals are served. Thus, most students who currently purchase bottled water will likely continue to purchase water even when cups for water are provided.”
Further, Frederick County Public Schools [FCPS] responded that “if a school does not have a drinking fountain available within the cafeteria, free potable water is available in a self-serve cooler with 5 oz. clear plastic cups. FCPS advises, therefore, that the bill will have no fiscal impact. However, DLS advises that, under the bill, FCPS needs to provide flat-bottomed, biodegradable cups even in cafeterias with a water fountain, and needs to ensure that all cups provided are flat-bottomed and biodegradable.”
Now imagine yourself newly elected to the House of Delegates with every intention of doing something to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, eliminate the state’s structural budget problem and/or investigate why there’s an achievement gap in our public schools – all important questions. But then you find yourself in a committee hearing, faced with this weighty decision: Should the state force public schools to provide flat-bottomed, biodegradable cups for drinking water? How does this effort affect the greater good of the greater number of Maryland residents in need of a job?
Fortunately, even though many of the provisions were eventually deleted, the bill never got out of committee. We hope Delegate Miller will now let this idea dry up.