TAR HEEL VIEW: Uneven approach to putting freedom back on the menu

Need proof that the Old North State is awash in needless regulation? Look no further than the saga of Senate Bill 24.

SB 24 is a useful bill — and a popular one, given that both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly passed it unanimously. But its unfortunate necessity should remind us that nearly every aspect of our daily lives is subject to statutory oversight.

Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, introduced the bill to allow restaurants to serve food cooked on outdoor grills. That’s the whole enchilada — or perhaps more fittingly, the meat and potatoes.

Legislative leaders are urging Gov. Roy Cooper to sign the bill into law this week so restaurants can grill steak, seafood and burgers for their customers in Memorial Day cookouts.

“Allowing restaurants to use outdoor grills gives thousands of small businesses flexibility to expand their services, lower overhead costs or open new establishments in North Carolina,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement. “I appreciate the state Senate sending us this pro-jobs bill that maintains our successful approach to improving North Carolina’s economy.”

SB 24 requires grills to have a stainless steel or cast-iron cooking surface and restaurant workers must clean them daily, supervise them continuously when they’re in use and store them in enclosed areas on a concrete or asphalt foundation.

The few caveats — at 26 lines, the succinct bill occupies less than a full page of letter-sized paper — ensure diners’ safety. We’re all for common-sense sanitation guidelines; no one wants to increase the likelihood of cross-contamination or food poisoning.

While lawmakers bicker over the state budget and nearly everything is framed in the left-vs.-right paradigm, SB 24 is a rare bipartisan success. It sailed through the Senate 47-0 on April 5, passed the House 113-0 on May 11 and minor changes made in the House were approved 46-0 in a Senate concurrence vote last Thursday.

With billions of dollars at stake in the biennial budget and weighty matters like public school funding in the headlines, a feel-good “grill bill” might seem frivolous. Yet there’s no mirth or lightness to be found in the many small ways state officials curb individual and commercial freedom.

The “brunch bill” cross-filed as SB 155 and HB 460 would let restaurants sell alcohol before noon on Sundays, allowing diners to enjoy mimosas, Bloody Marys and beer. Yet it faces a rockier road than the grill bill after failing to meet the legislature’s crossover deadline.

Folks who believe Sunday mornings should be reserved for church and family could simply vote with their wallets and steer clear of boozy brunches. Instead, many want to continue imposing their personal views on fellow North Carolinians and deny them the choice of ordering that morning mimosa.

“By listening to our constituents and improving their quality of life through private-sector growth instead of government regulation, Republican reforms are getting government out of the way of business so North Carolina’s economy can thrive,” Moore said.

We look forward to the day when North Carolina treats its adult residents like adults and lets them order a drink with their before-noon burgers — grilled on the patio, of course.

The Wilson Times