Posts tagged ‘health department’

Wherein My Schadenfreude Takes on My Ideological Purity

Despite the title, I should make it clear that I oppose the proposed legislation in Arizona to allow warrant-less searches of  abortion clinics.  The stated justification for the law is to ensure safety and healthy conditions at clinics, but the law is transparently about harassing a particular type of business.

However,  I must admit I get some schadenfreude from this.  Supporters of the bill say that they are only extending the current standards applied to many other businesses, such as restaurants and bars, to abortion clinics.

Regulators from OSHA to the health department have tremendous powers to barge into private businesses and conduct searches without a warrant, whatever the text of the Fourth Amendment might say.  They justify this with licensing regimes that require these businesses to have state licenses, and then require businesses accept these extra-Constitutional searches as a prerequisite for the license.

I have opposed these licensing regimes for years, in part because the consumer protection justification is often a sham -- what they really want is to be able to exercise control of private businesses.  In some cases, these laws are used to protect incumbents.  In some cases (e.g. here) they are used to try to shut down the entire (legal) industry.

Statists on the Left have generally poo-pooed these concerns.  Their typical response is that businesses are just whining, and that only those in violation of the law have something to fear.  Now, they suddenly are recognizing that an unannounced search per se is threatening.

Update:  I find abortion proponents on the Left to be among the worst examples of faux libertarians.  They claim their issue is about choice regarding one's body, but then tend to simultaneously support all kinds of government interventions in personal medical decision-making.  They are all for the sanctity of private property when there is an abortion clinic on the site;  not so much otherwise.

When Julia Tried To Start A Small Business

I already had this column at Forbes in the works, but I could not resist switching the protagonist from myself to Obama's Julia.  Every tax, license, and story here are real ones I have experienced in my business.  Here is just a small sample:

So twelve registration numbers and 12 monthly/quarterly/yearly reports later, surely Julia has fulfilled all her obligations to the government.  Unfortunately, no, because she has not even begun to address licensing issues.  To begin, the County will require that she get an occupancy permit for her campground, which must be renewed annually.  This seemed surprisingly easy, until someone from the County noticed she had removed an old rotting wooden deck from the back of her store that had been a safety issue and an eyesore.   It turns out she was in violation of County law because she did not get a removal permit first.  She was required to get a permit retroactively, which eventually required payments to seven different County agencies and at one point required, for a reason she never understood, the collection and testing of a soil sample.

Because she will be selling packaged foods in her store (e.g. chips and pop-tarts), she also has to get a health department license and inspection.  She had originally intended to keep some fresh-brewed coffee for customers in the store, but it turned out that required a higher-level health license and eight hours training in food handling.  She might have been willing to pursue it, but the inspector told her that to make coffee, she would need to install a three-basin stainless steel wash-up sink plus a separate mop sink in her store, and she decided that coffee would have to wait.

Once through the general health licensing process, she then needed to obtain licenses for individual products.  She wanted to sell aspirin, so she had to get a state over-the counter drug sale license.  She knew that customers would want cigarettes, so she had to obtain a tobacco sales license.  One day as she was setting up, a state inspector noticed she had a carton of eggs in her cooler, and notified her she needed  a state license to sell eggs  (as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up).  And then there was the problem of beer.

Oh My Freaking God! Unregulated Freeze Tag?!

Via Reason from the pathetic hulk that was once the great state of New York

Dodgeball, Red Rover, Wiffle Ball – those time-honored kids' games, along with activities like Steal the Bacon and Capture the Flag – have been deemed dangerous by the state as part of an effort to tighten regulations for summer camps in the area.

Any indoor or outdoor recreational program that offers two or more organized activities, including one that falls on the "risky list" determined by state officials, will be considered a summer camp under the new rules and subject to the associated regulations.

The rules aim to curtail a loophole in previously passed regulations by the state Health Department that count activities like horseback riding and archery among the "risky list," but do not include many activities like Freeze Tag and kickball featured in indoor programs.

Update: They backed off.   Kids will still be at risk from unregulated red rover.

What Fresh Hell Is This?

My new column is up this week at Forbes.  This week it discusses the regulatory burden on small businesses.  Here is an excerpt:

Typically taxation issues get a lot more attention than these regulatory issues in discussions of government drags on the economy. But these small regulations, licenses, and approvals consume management time, the most valuable commodity in small businesses that typically are driven by the energy and leadership of just one or two people. If getting a certain license is a tremendous hassle in California, large corporations have specialized staff they throw at the problem. When a company like ours gets that dreaded call that the County wants a soil sample from under the parking lot, odds are that the owner has to deal with it personally.

So the ultimate cost of many of these silly little regulations is that they each act as a friction that wears away a bit more available time from entrepreneurs and small business owners. The entrepreneur who has to spend two hundred hours of her personal time getting all the licenses in place for a new restaurant is unlikely to have the time to start a second location any time soon. Since small businesses typically drive most new employment growth in the United States, can it be a surprise that new hiring has slowed?

Incredibly, after the column was in the can, I experienced another perfect example of this phenomenon.

In the camping business, July 4 is the busiest day of the year.  This year, on July 3, I got a call from one of my managers saying that the County health department had tested 20 ground squirrels in the area and found one with the plague.  I know this sounds frighteningly medieval, but for those of you who live out west, you may know that some percentage of all the cute little western rodents, from prairie dogs to chipmunks, carry the plague.  Its why its a bad idea for your kids and dogs to play with them.

Anyway, in the past, we have usually been required to post warnings in the area giving safety tips to campers to avoid these animals, what to do if one is bitten, etc.  At the same time, we then begin a program of poisoning all the lairs we can find.  It's about the only time any government body anywhere lets us kill anything, because only the hardest core PETA types will swoon over rubbing out a rodent carrying the black death.

But apparently, in the past when these mitigation approaches applied, the county health department was not in a budget crunch and in need of high-profile PR stories that would reinforce with taxpayers the need to fund their organization.  This time the health department marched out and closed the campground on July 4 weekend, kicking out campers from all 70 sites.  We spent the day dealing with angry customers, refunding money, and trying to find them new lodging on a weekend where most everything was booked up.  Fortunately we have a large overflow area at a nearby campground and offered everyone a special rate over there.

It is hard to imagine that, given the whole year to test, they just suddenly happened to find a problem at one of the busiest sites in the LA area on the busiest weekend of the year, particularly since they simultaneously changed their mitigation approach from notification to closure.   I have tried hard to find the original time stamp on the press release they sent out.  I can't prove it, but it sure seemed like a lot of media had the story before we (operating the campground) had been informed of a thing.  Incredibly, the health department was directing the campers to a nearby campground that was easily close enough to our campground to share the same rodent populations.  But that campground had not had a positive plague test.  Why?  Because that campground has not been tested recently, at least according to the official who brought us the news.  We're in very good hands.

Sinking Under Regulation

I tell folks all the time -- there are very few bad people in government, just people with very bad incentives.   Government inspectors are no exception.  They look around them and see falling government tax revenues.  They know that state and local governments are looking to cut costs, and they know further that lawmakers are likely to look at falling construction starts and reduced business activity and say "I bet we could do with fewer inspectors."

So state inspectors, naturally, want to hold onto their jobs, so they have to go out and look busy.   One way to look busy (and to further look like one is being useful) is to be more picky about small, meaningless violations. Writing up more violations makes it look like one is needed (after all, if there are so many violations out there, surely we need inspectors to find them).  Also, violations demand return visits and follow-up inspections, which again create the illusion of activity.

Which leads to stuff like this:

Sherrie Nielson owns two Chandler bars, antique-filled Priceless Too at Alma School and Elliot roads, and Priceless Primetime at Dobson and Elliot.

An inspector with the county department of environmental services has told her she needs to install a sink at the bar so it's convenient for the bartenders to wash their hands

Nielson has one sink in the bar area, but that's for washing glasses. County regulations say employees can't wash their hands in the same sink that they wash dishes.

"I've owned 'Too' for 30 years," Nielson said. "The sink we use is probably 20 feet in a different direction. . . . I have a dishwashing sink; (the inspector) wants a hand sink next to it."

Nielson says counting the sinks in the kitchen and the restrooms, she has four sinks available for washing hands. But the key point is that it has to be convenient for the bartender.

"If I don't comply, they will start proceedings to shut me down," she said.

Johnny Dilone, a spokesman for the county environmental services department, verified that Nielson's license could be revoked if she doesn't install the new sink.

This story resonates with me, as we have had to fight the sink battle in a number of locations as well.  Take one small store we run in a state park in northern California.  Because we make coffee there, we must comply with food preparation rules (including 8 hours annually of training, lol.  I am not a coffee drinker, but for all that I sure hope we have good freaking coffee).  We eventually had to install:  A three sink dishwashing station, a sink in the employee bathroom, a separate sink for handwashing in the store a few feet from the sink in the bathroom, and a mop sink.

The problem is that the regulations are confusing, and no one in the local health department would look at our plans in advance.  Obviously, it is a lot easier to fix missing sinks and such at the planning stage, but the health department in this county would only inspect actual facilities, so would only tell us if our design met their requirements once it was built!

The Official End of Sanity

From Q and O:

CARMEL, N.Y. (AP) - It was quite a New Year's Eve at the home of
Richard Berger in Carmel - in Putnam County. Someone in the house broke
a rectal thermometer and the family called 911 around 10:30 to report
the small mercury spill.

Several dozen volunteers [the headline says 100] from the Carmel Fire Department responded to the house on Brookview Drive.

Fire Chief Darryl Johnson says mercury is a hazardous material that can cause stomach problems if inhaled.

Men wearing protective gear used wet sponges to clean up the puddle.

It was packaged and brought to the Carmel firehouse where the county health department will dispose of it today.

The Berger family was not hurt.

I remember breaking a few thermometers when I was a kid.  You took a piece of paper, creased it into a cup shape, and used the edge to pick up the little blobs without touching them.  I still seem to be alive today.  I am sure those little blobs are buried deep in some landfill now, a ticking time bomb for future generations.  And people wonder why gas prices are so high.  A country this panicky over a fraction of a gram of mercury will never let a new refinery get constructed.

More on the Health Care Trojan Horse for Fascism

Frequent readers will now that I have long warned of government-funded health care acting as a Trojan horse for micro-management of our personal lives, the logic being that if our lifestyles or behaviors make us less healthy, then the government that funds medical care may claim an interest in regulating those behaviors.  I often post examples of this phenomena, the most recent of which is here.

This installment comes via Reason, and looks at the NYC Health Commissioner Thomas Friedan's new fascism to prevent diabetes program.  I am not sure I even need to comment on the following for you to get the picture:

New York City is at the forefront of this new public health movement. In
January, city health officials began
requiring
that medical testing labs report the results of blood sugar tests for all
the city's diabetics directly to the health department. This is first time
that any government has begun tracking people who have a chronic disease.
The New York City Department of Health will analyze the data to identify
those patients who are not adequately controlling their diabetes. They will
then receive letters or phone calls urging them to be more vigilant about
their medications, have more frequent checkups, or change their diet....

So what could be wrong with merely monitoring and reminding people to take
better care of themselves?  New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Friedan
has made it clear that it won't necessarily end there. If nagging is not
sufficient to reduce the health consequences of the disease, other steps
will be taken. Friedan
argues
that "modifications of the physical environment to promote physical
activity, or of the food environment to address obesity, are essential for
chronic disease prevention and control." Friedan envisions regulations for
chronic disease control including "local requirements on food pricing,
advertising, content, and labeling; regulations to facilitate physical
activity, including point-of-service reminders at elevators and safe,
accessible stairwells; tobacco and alcohol taxation and advertising and
sales restrictions; and regulations to ensure a minimal level of clinical
preventive services."

The NYC health department starred in a previous post for their brave attack on restaurants that give patrons too much for their money.

Getting the Government's Permission to do Business

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we recently won the concession for Elk Creek Marina on Blue Mesa Lake, Colorado.  For the last week, I have been scrambling to take the steps necessary to take over this business without disrupting service to customers. There are a lot of things to do from a customer service standpoint to get the business up and running, but there is a staggering list of permissions and licenses we need from the state of Colorado and other government bodies to be able to conduct this business, particularly since this is our first entry into Colorado.  Here is what we know we need so far, though I caution that this list continues to grow at the rate of 2-3 more items a day as we learn more:

  • Our corporation must register with the Colorado Secretary of State as a "foreign" corporation, foreign in this case meaning that we are registered in another state.
  • To register as a foreign corporation, we need to hire a person to be a "registered agent" to be a contact with the state.  The only real purpose of this person I have ever found is to provide an avenue for mail to get lost
  • We have to register to pay Colorado unemployment insurance tax
  • We have to register to withhold Colorado income taxes from our employees
  • We have to register to pay state corporate income taxes and franchise taxes
  • We have to register to collect sales taxes
  • I think we have to get a special license for collecting electricity taxes, since we sell power to boats at some of the docks
  • We need to go through an extensive application process to transfer three current liquor licenses into our name.  I wrote about liquor license hassles here.
  • The person on the phone today told me a corporation in Colorado cannot own more than two liquor licenses.  If this is true, we will have to form a second company in Colorado, repeating all the tasks above plus the initial work just to form the company
  • I need to fly to Colorado to get fingerprinted for my FBI background check that is needed for the license.  This despite the fact that I have been fingerprinted and background-checked for liquor licenses in several other states.
  • Since the company will hire out fishing guides from the marina, the company has to have a Colorado outfitter license, which includes a 13 page application and very detailed regulations and required contract terms I must use to provide the life-and-death service of helping people find fish.
  • The outfitter license requires that I post a bond, which in turn requires I submit detailed financial and background information to get the bond approved
  • Our managers need to attend food handlers training in Colorado.  Of course, they have attended the exact same course in California, but Colorado wants them to sit through it again within their state's borders
  • We need to fill out a pretty elaborate application to sell Colorado fishing licenses, and may need to post another bond to do so. (Update: Confirmed, we need a $4000 bond).
  • We will likely need an occupancy license from the county
  • We will need a health department inspection and license for the two retail stores, since they sell packaged foods, and a more detailed inspection for the restaurant
  • We will need a fire inspection of the restaurant
  • We will need Coast Guard inspection and certificate for the docks
  • We will need to change the registration of all 45 boats that are kept at the marina for boat rentals  (imagine standing at the DMV to register 45 cars).
  • We will need Coast Guard inspection of all the boats

75 days until we open.  Eeek.

Save the Coyotes, the Steelers Fans, and the Bagel Eaters

Once and a while, I like to put in a plug for Overlawyered.com, which is a great place to keep up with the wacky and increasingly scary world of jackpot litigation and over-regulation. Just keep scrolling.

Catching my eye is this piece from Canada
, concerning my "extended family":

"A Vancouver woman is suing the city and the B.C. government for
allegedly failing to keep the streets safe after her pet cat was killed
by two coyotes....In a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court,
[Judith] Webster says she's suffered and continues to suffer from
post-traumatic stress and/or adjustment disorder, loss of enjoyment of
life, and loss of past and future earnings."

Arizona has gotten a lot of press for its shoot to kill order on wild animals in inhabited areas, engendered by a similar suit against the state.  Environmentalists have made common cause successfully for years with the tort bar, but one wonders if these kinds of suits may drive a wedge between them.

By the way, did anyone see that guy in Pittsburg who had a heart attack in a bar when Jerome Bettis fumbled the ball late in the 4th quarter against Indy?  I wonder if he will be suing the Steelers for "post-traumatic stress and/or adjustment disorder, loss of enjoyment of
life, and loss of past and future earnings"?

The other piece that caught my attention was this, from New York:

"Last summer, [New
York City's] health department launched a campaign against trans-fats.
Often used by restaurants and in packaged foods, trans-fats are thought
to cause cholesterol problems and increase the risk of heart disease.
After restaurant inspectors found that 30 percent of the city's 30,000
eateries were using oils that contain trans-fats, the department began
urging a citywide ''oil change.'' Officials sent letters to food
service operators and started teaching workers about trans-fats along
with their required food safety training. The city plans another survey
this spring to measure the results of the project. Officials next want
to tackle portion sizes. Towering pastrami sandwiches, bagels with
gooey schmears of cream cheese and pizza slices that spill over paper
plates may be the city's culinary landmarks, but the health department
says the Big Apple is out of control."

Which makes the NYC health department officials the only New Yorkers I have ever heard complain about getting too much for their money.