When a Vending Machine is Not a “Vending Machine”

In vetoing CB17-2015, County Executive Kittleman  stated that “the actual impact of this legislation will be minimal” and that it only “provides lip service to the issue of improving health outcomes.”  Due to poor drafting and flaws it appears that Kittleman did not realize just how true these conclusions were; the many loopholes in the bill could cause it to have little actual effect on either the employees, the public or the youth of Howard County.

Councilman Ball’s original bill had numerous flaws.  It had a $0.25 pricing differential for “healthy” beverages which could have had the practical effect of actually encouraging smart shoppers to choose the unhealthy supersized version.  The rules for all packaged goods would seemed to have applied to the commissary at the jail requiring healthy snacks and candy.  How many prisoners would have selected puffed rice and seeds over chips and candy?  The packaged food rules could have been interpreted to apply to the chips and snacks sold at the Subway restaurant at the County owned Long Reach Village Center. Ball’s Amendment 1 corrected many of these flaws, but many loopholes remain.

One flaw is at the beginning: the definition of a “food or beverage vending machine.”‘ A “food or beverage vending machine” is defined in Section 12.1800 to be “a self-service machine offered for public use which, upon insertion of a coin, paper currency, token, card, or key. . . .”  First, all the consternation notwithstanding, the bill’s application to employees could be minimal.  The machine must be “offered for public use.”  A machine in an employee only area is not available for public use.  For instance, machines in the secure employee areas at the police department or at the public works shop are not “offered for public use.”

Second, the definition requires “insertion” for payment (or optional manual operation).  When people use a credit card to purchase gas, the credit card is often inserted and removed quickly.  However, when using a credit card at most grocery or department stores, the card is swiped and not really inserted.   So a vending machine with a insert and remove quickly mechanism would fall under the definition, while a swipe type payment would arguably not apply. Regardless if it is interpreted that “swiping” amounts to “insertion” of a credit card, machines which only accept payment by tapping a credit card like the Metro SmartTrip Card which is used at some gas stations or McDonald’s would not be subject to the definition.

Lastly, machines which only accept payment by smartphone would not apply either.  So savvy vending machine vendors can actually attract millennials and other young people with their smartphones to their unhealthy vending machine which was the opposite intent of the bill.

Discussion of more flaws and loopholes in “vending machines” to come.

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