Insanity: Calif. Reveals Plan for Waiters Who Give Too Many Straws to Customers


You may have heard that California is trying to save the Earth one straw at a time by punishing restaurant servers who give straws without asking for them. And that it could even end in jail time.

According USA Today, the bill — first introduced by state Democrat Assemblyman Ian Calderon in January — would have initially subjected servers to a fine of $1,000 or six months in jail if they violate the ordinance.

“We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans,” Calderon said in a statement.

The bill hasn’t passed into law yet, although it has a good chance, given that Assemblyman Calderon is head of the lower chamber of the legislature. Given the reputation state legislators in Sacramento have of being draconian busybodies, the proposed law has gotten plenty of attention, especially from critical conservative voices.

“To be fair, it doesn’t ban straws entirely, it just bans waiters from offering straws to customers who have not asked for them — so it’s not like Calderon is being totally ridiculous,” Katherine Timpf wrote in National Review back in January.

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“Oh wait — he is, and what’s even more ridiculous is that Calderon’s idea isn’t even really a new one. As Reason notes, the cities of San Luis Obispo and Davis already have laws that prohibit waiters from asking customers whether they would like straws, Manhattan Beach has already banned disposable plastics, and Seattle restaurant businesses will be forbidden from offering plastic straws or utensils beginning in July.

“(T)he California Coastal Commission estimates the number of straws and stirrers collected on the annual Coastal Cleanup Day at around 835,425 since 1988, which is only about 4.1 percent of the trash that’s been collected on those days since 1988. Has California decided that maybe it’s actually a bad thing that it has one of the lower incarceration rates in the country, and wants to do something to bump it up in the rankings a little bit?”

And, in a Monday editorial on Fox News‘ website lamenting the loss of the “California conservative” (who has probably moved to states like Texas by now), former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Grande mocked the proposed law, noting that “the most ridiculous and egregious example of overreach, the state legislature says it will arrest any waiter who gives a customer a plastic straw if they don’t ask for one.

“With all the problems in our state, I don’t think that jailing unsolicited straw distributors in restaurants should be a top priority,” she dryly added.

Do you think this law is ridiculous?

Even so, there was plenty of liberal support for the legislation, including an editorial from the state’s most powerful newspaper.

“Every day Americans use — and almost immediately discard — up to half a billion plastic beverage straws,” the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board wrote. “At least, that’s the figure widely used by environmental activists to explain why people should embrace going straw-less.

It’s not clear where that number came from, (emphasis ours) but it seems credible considering how many takeout sodas, frappuccinos, smoothies, cold-press juices, boba teas and other beverages Americans buy every day, most of which are accompanied by a complimentary plastic straw. Lately, even some sit-down restaurants have taken to serving the obligatory glass of water with a straw already in place, as if humans haven’t been expertly consuming liquid from containers using only their lips for millennia.”

So they don’t even know where that number came from (it actually came from a relatively unscientific phone survey of straw manufacturers conducted by an environmental activist when he was only nine. No, seriously), but they’re perfectly willing to repeat it.

They’re also willing to repeat this bit of very pertinent research, which I swear is neither fake news nor an April Fool’s prank: “Some dermatologists believe repetitive sucking may cause or exacerbate wrinkles on the lips or around the mouth. Environmentalists should add that to their talking points. Vanity can be a powerful motivator.”

There’s no witticism or rejoinder to that paragraph funnier than actually reading that to yourself and realizing the editorial board of one of America’s most influential newspapers looked that over and collectively said, “Yeah, that’s a sound argument.”

Apparently, premature wrinkles couldn’t replace the fact that that California was threatening to jail waiters who violated the law as the most visible talking point. Calderon swore that he wasn’t trying to jail waiters:

At some point during this saga — it’s unclear whether it was before or after the tweet — he went back and read his original legislation, which stipulated that the offense was “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.” So, it wasn’t a crime to provide straws, just to do so unprompted, without regard to intent. A waiter who did so forgetfully could probably be subject to six months in jail, should the judge wish to impose that.

As of now, an amended version of the bill sits in committee with the punishments completely excised from it. Nothing resembling of the bill has been substituted the original language’s place in the interim, leaving the subsequent legislation essentially toothless.

Maybe language will be added to actually punish servers or their respective restaurants (although it would be difficult to prove that the restaurant was at fault, one imagines). Either way, it’s difficult to imagine a version of this bill that wouldn’t end up punishing waiters and waitresses, even if it was an oversight.

Or, perhaps they can just pass it as simply meant to “raise awareness about the detrimental effects of plastic straws on our environment.” Either way, this is a tremendous abuse of time and resources for America’s most busybody state, proving yet again why people continue to flee it for less expensive, less statist locales.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture