State lawmakers voted Thursday to say they feel the same way about Happy Meal toys as they do about guns: You can’t take them.
Legislation given preliminary House approval would bar cities and counties from enacting any sort of law or regulation that limited the ability of restaurants to offer incentives. A final roll-call vote next week will send the measure to the Senate.
HB 2490 is quite broad in what it would make off-limits to local control, including contests, coupons and trading cards.
But what’s really at issue are the toys, coloring books and even glasses featuring cartoon characters that have become staples of meals aimed at kids at many fast-food spots.
California communities have been at the forefront of that movement.
For example, a San Francisco ordinance does not ban toys. But it makes those incentives illegal in any children’s meal with more than certain levels of fat, calories and sodium.
A McDonald’s Happy Meal with four chicken nuggets, fries and a small sugar-sweetened soda has 530 calories and 23 grams of fat. Substituting apple dippers and caramel for the fries and milk or juice for the soda cuts that somewhat.
There have been no reports of any Arizona community following suit. But the Arizona Restaurant Association and some franchise owners convinced Rep. Jim Weiers, R-Glendale, to make sure it stays that way.
Weiers told Capitol Media Services he was more than happy to oblige.
“Government needs to stay out of the way of free enterprise,’’ he said.
“It doesn’t concern them, it has no effect on them whatsoever,’’ Weiers continued. “Every business has the right to do something as long as it not actually hurting anyone else.’’
He brushed aside arguments that incentives to get kids to demand high-fat and high-calorie meals leads to childhood obesity.
“Ask the parents who are supposed to be ultimately responsible,’’ he said.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said the Legislature should butt out of the issue.
“It’s another example of the state doing what we complain the feds are doing all the time,’’ he said, meaning pre-empting local control.
Campbell said these kind of issues should be left up to locally elected officials. And he said it’s not like the residents of each community are powerless.
“If the cities want to try and do that and the voters of the city are unhappy, the voters of that city can throw out that city council and that mayor,’’ he said. “If they like what the mayor and city council are doing, they can reelect them.
But Weiers said he has no problem telling city officials what they can — and, in this case, cannot — do.
“They do a crummy job of running cities for the most part,’’ he said. “I don’t know whether they think they have a better handle on how to run business.’’
The list of items that HB 2490 would prohibit communities from banning as incentives extends far beyond toys and games. It includes admission tickets, ride tokens, vouchers and even crayons and paper placemats to keep youngsters busy.