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Two bills would ban unhealthy behaviors

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SPRINGFIELD — The days of enjoying a peanut butter ice cream sundae in the backseat of the car without being buckled in might be numbered in Illinois.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — The days of enjoying a peanut butter ice cream sundae in the backseat of the car without being buckled in might be numbered in Illinois.

Two measures regulating public safety have passed through the Illinois House of Representatives. One would require backseat passengers to wear a seat belt. The other measure would ban trans fats in foods served in all public eateries in the state.

If both plans become law, they will add another layer of regulations to Illinois' books. Proponents of the measures say they are advocating for better public safety policy, while opponents say matters like these are a matter of personal responsibility, not government regulation.

A mountain of bread, meat, french fries and cheese makes up the horseshoe, the dish that made Darcy's Pint in Springfield, one of the most popular restaurants in the Capital City. Co-owner Hallie Pierceall said the restaurant doesn't use trans fats in the fryers, though other items like buns most likely contain the chemical.

Pierceall said she is worried about the overreaching bill. A combination of being informed and personal freedom should determine what a person chooses to put into his or her body, she said.

"If I go in and decide I'm going to have a horseshoe for the day, I know going in that that's probably not the best choice for my body, but if I choose to do that I should be allowed to do that," Pierceall said.

Kemia Sarraf is the founder of the genH Coalition in Sangamon County, a nonprofit organization that works to promote healthy children, according to its website. Sarraf has been using her testimony as a doctor to lobby on behalf of the trans fat ban.

Sarraf conceded that she understands Pierceall's point of view about personal freedom, and that it has some merit.

"Yes, people do need to have freedom of choice to eat what they want to eat, up until the point where we know this is actually hazardous to your health, and that's kind of the point we're at," Sarraf said.

She compared the fight against trans fats to that of the slow and increasing regulation over cigarettes or lead paint. Give it enough time and everyone will realize how harmful they are, she said.

Support for measures like the trans fat ban and seat belt requirement is guided more by personal beliefs and public interest rather than the familiar political leanings of the right and left, said John Jackson, a political science professor at the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Jackson said no matter the intent, the government runs the risk of stepping beyond its intended boundaries with these measures, though he doubts there is ever any malice behind most regulations.

"I think it's more political leaders and political elites trying to decide what is good for the public sector and what is good for helping people learn more about healthy lifestyles, and I think there is a legitimate question as to how far public sector regulation should go in that direction," Jackson said.

Just because someone wants to exercise their freedoms doesn't mean it won't cost others. Jackson pointed to another regulatory battle in the state: motorcycle helmets. Pro-helmet forces have failed to get any meaningful legislation passed for years, much to the delight of some of Jackson's students, among others.

Jackson said his students say the state has no business telling them they can't feel the wind blow through their hair when they are riding their motorcycle.

It's become such a regular argument, Jackson has a standard retort.

"When you're a paraplegic (because of a wreck) and have no money, the state is likely to take care of you and your children," Jackson said. "If you can guarantee me you'll get killed instantly and not ever cost the state anything, then O.K., you've got an argument."

And that's the dilemma legislators are faced with — balancing freedoms with what's best for society as a whole, Jackson said.

State Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who voted against both measures, said, "We can regulate ourselves to death with government if you just want to grow government big enough. But understand, to enforce those, you're going to have to grow government bigger."

In the state Senate, Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, is taking up the trans fat ban because "our job as legislators is to try to do the best for the most," he said.

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