Vending Machine Bills Defeated in Colorado, Illinois

Published July 1, 2006

A pair of proposals that would have regulated school vending machines in Colorado and Illinois were defeated April 11, meaning high-calorie snacks and drinks some call unhealthy will continue to be sold on school grounds in those states.

‘Good Food’

In Colorado, Gov. Bill Owens (R) vetoed House Bill 1056, which would have mandated half of all vending machines in public schools dispense food designated as healthy, to combat the rising trend in childhood obesity. According to his veto message, Owens supports the intent but opposes “legislation that micromanages school districts and their policies.” He noted 12 percent of school districts had voluntarily adopted similar vending machine policies since the passage last year of Senate Bill 198, the law that encourages but does not require districts to stock healthy snacks.

House Majority Leader Alice Madden (D-Boulder), the sponsor of H.B. 1056, told the Denver Post on April 13, “It’s interesting the author of CSAPs [Colorado’s standardized testing system] is worried about local control. … [W]e’re sort of defeating our own purposes when we test them and punish our schools when they don’t perform, yet we are failing to provide them with good food.”

State Rep. Keith King (R-Colorado Springs) voted against the bill because “districts would just add vending machines and require more electricity,” he said. “Whenever the legislature gets involved in mandating a percentage like this, the districts just respond and still do their own thing. This bill was trying to control the marketplace. In most cases, 50 percent of vending machines would just not be used.”

Illinois Ban

In Illinois, a legislative review panel rejected Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to ban the sale of soda, chips, and candy at all public and private K-8 schools participating in the free and reduced-price lunch program.

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan, bicameral committee that reviews regulations promulgated by state agencies, nullified Blagojevich’s ban, which was adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in March at the governor’s request. Blagojevich has been working since 2003 to ban chips, candy, and soda in the state’s public schools.

The proposed rule would have built on current law, which prohibits the sale of such snacks during breakfast and lunch, to disallow sales throughout the day. The rule would have taken effect in the 2006-07 school year.

The committee, which voted 10-1, believed the rule did not go far enough. They want the state to address the nutritional value of foods sold at school cafeterias as well, state Rep. Larry McKeon (D-Chicago) of the committee told the Chicago Sun-Times for an April 11 story. Originally, the proposal required standards for meals, but the requirement was dropped due to school opposition.

According to the Sun-Times, McKeon voted against the rule because “members felt that a much more expansive approach dealing with food service in general, both cafeteria food services as well as vending machines, was a better strategy for ISBE to embark upon.”

National Nutrition

Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, an organization that opposes commercialism in schools, said the Illinois and Colorado proposals were both “far too weak.”

“It is not the job of schools to deliver captive audiences of children to the junk food industry,” Ruskin said, but to teach students the value of good nutrition. “It is time for adults to take the problem of childhood obesity seriously.”

Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia currently forbid the sale of soda, chips, and candy in elementary schools before lunch, according to the Illinois Department of Education. Hawaiian law bans such snacks from all schools. Florida public elementary schools are not allowed to sell such snacks at any time, and secondary schools may do so only after lunch.

A Florida bill to ban the sale on school grounds of foods containing corn syrup, and a Maryland bill to ban the sale of foods with “minimal nutritional value” in all school vending machines, died before the end of the legislative session, according to the American Bakers Association.

A 2005 federal Government Accountability Office study found 99 percent of high schools, 97 percent of middle schools, and 83 percent of elementary schools have vending machines, school stores, or snack bars.

Krista Kafer ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado.