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Michigan Legislature preempts local authority on sugary beverage tax.

Last week, the Michigan State Senate passed a bill (MI HB 4999) that prohibits local governments from “imposing a tax or fee on the manufacture, distribution, wholesale sale, or retail sale of food for immediate consumption or nonimmediate consumption.”

While not mentioned by name in the bill text, the rationale behind the new law stems from the legislature's desire to prevent localities from enacting soda taxes. These measures typically target sodas and sugary snacks to try to combat poor dietary health within communities.

Although no city or county in Michigan has attempted to institute such a tax, legislators based their decision to act, in part, on other cities' experiences. Their analysis cited examples where soda taxes have hurt businesses, low-income shoppers, and even contributed to the problem of food deserts.

The bill also seeks to resolve the constitutional question of whether a locality could impose such a tax. The Michigan Constitution “prohibits a tax from being charged or collected on the sale or use of food for human consumption, except in the case of food prepared for immediate consumption.” Rather than leave the ambiguity of this clause open to local interpretation, the legislature felt it was necessary to preemptively cap local authority on the issue.

The bill now heads to the governor's desk for final approval and signature.

Chicago is considering banning the cashless business model.

Last week, Chicago Alderman Ed Burke introduced an ordinance aimed at curbing the emerging trend of so-called “no-cash” policies at local retail and restaurant businesses.

The ordinance (O2017-7145) claims that while such policies allow businesses to “lessen staff training, security measures, and bookkeeping processes,” they can be inherently discriminatory to those who are “low or fixed income, homeless, undocumented, young, or victims of identity theft.”

The ordinance further said that by going cashless, businesses would be forced to drive up prices to compensate for the increase in credit card transaction fees -- “a business cost typically passed on to consumers.”

The ordinance is modeled on the principle outlined by a Massachusetts state law from 1978, which states that "[n]o retail establishment offering goods and services for sale shall discriminate against a cash buyer by requiring the use of credit by a buyer in order to purchase such goods and services. ... retail establishments must accept legal tender when offered as payment by the buyer."

Despite the ordinance's criticisms, Will Quanstrom, manager of Xuan Tea in Bucktown, claimed that his business's no-cash policy has yet to yield any problems.

"Mostly everyone has a credit card in their pocket, even if they're just out for a jog. It's easier and it's simpler for us. We don't have to go to the bank, or count drawers out,” Quanstrom said.

The ordinance was introduced at the Chicago City Council's October 11 meeting and was referred to the Committee on License and Consumer Protection.

West Mead Township, Pennsylvania, has set new truck weight limits for local roads.

Earlier this month, the West Mead Township Board of Supervisors passed new vehicle weight restrictions on several local township roads. The ordinance (PDF copy:DOC101117-10112017095830.pdf) limits the weight of vehicles driving on certain township roads to a 10-ton maximum.

The ordinance cited fears of serious road damage and subsequent costs as the main reason for its enactment. In the interest of protecting local business, the ordinance includes exemptions for local traffic and those who apply for a conditional permit.

"We have good relationships with local contractors and we'll work with them,” said Supervisor John Shartle.

However, those who exceed the weight limits without a permit can expect to pay an initial fine of $75, with the possibility of additional fines depending on the vehicle's weight.

The ordinance took full effect on October 16.


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