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Nanny State of the Week: A mandate for all seasons

By   /   December 26, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

When Carole King wrote “winter, spring summer or fall, all you’ve got to do is call,” this can’t be what she had in mind.

But the plethora of examples of the overweening regulatory state makes clear that no matter the season, bureaucrats and neighborhood nannies who want to run your life are always on the job.

It was autumn in New Jersey. New Jersey has leaves. They fall.

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

But if you want to avoid a little muscle ache by employing a leaf blower instead of a rake, get ready to do battle with the powers that be.

Neighborhood advocacy groups in Maplewood and Princeton complain that, like Marty McFly’s band in “Back to the Future,” the infernal contraptions are just too darn loud.

Maplewood banned the summer use of leaf blowers by commercial businesses earlier this year. Now Princeton is seeking to follow suit for fall, and Maplewood is looking to expand its ban.

Existing regulations designed to keep the noise down to a reasonable level are not good enough. Princetonians want silence.

“No one would think this reasonable,” Tony Lunn, an activist with the group Quiet Princeton, told Mercer Space, a publication of Community News Service.

Reasonableness, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Or, in this case perhaps, in the back of the beholder.

A prohibition limited to commercial leaf blowers puts the burden – literally – on the employees of landscaping companies, rather than on Joe Springsteen clearing his own yard. That drives up the cost of landscaping work if Joe hires somebody, while adding considerably to the physical toll on the manual laborers actually doing the work. And rest assured, not many of them can afford to live in Maplewood, where the median household income is more than $100,000 per year.

This seems to be a thing in New Jersey.

Shutterstock image

Last January, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill making it legal for New Jersey residents to offer snow shoveling services without first registering with their town. Truly, a great moment in individual liberty.

The law took effect just days before a blizzard hit the East Coast. It was inspired by the case of two entrepreneurial teens who had gone door-to-door the previous winter offering to shovel snow for a small fee. Cops in the borough of Bound Brook told the two boys they were not allowed to solicit businesses without a permit, which cost $450 for six-months.

At least if it snows in New Jersey this winter, kids can now make a buck shoveling it for you.

Lest anyone think this is a New Jersey-only phenomenon, let’s move on to springtime, when a young man’s fancy turns to … lemonade.

Texans pride themselves on their history of individual liberty. But in the liberal enclave of Austin, things are a little different – even if you’re a kid trying to sell lemonade.

City officials graciously established “Lemonade Day” in May as a one-time parole for miscreant lemon squeezers to hawk their wares without fear of sanction.

On that day, you still have to register, but the usual $35 to obtain a “temporary food permit” is waived, and so is the $425 for “a license agreement and fees” to use public property, according to the Institute for Justice, which has represented the pint-sized purveyors.

The rest of the year, lemonade stands are governed by grown-up rules that bar home-prepared foods (kind of defeating the purpose of a front-yard lemonade stand), require a ceiling or canopy above prep areas, and prohibit eating, drinking and smoking – in case your six-year-old wants to light up between squeezes – in the selling area.

But at least the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are free from such nonsense. Right?

Wrong.

This past summer witnessed an attempt by officials in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to ban pools.

It was, to say the least, something of a surprise to many in the seaside resort town, which prospers by catering to the needs of its more than 100,000 summer visitors.

Shutterstock Image

But, facing complaints from year-round residents about too much noise – maybe they could replace the pools with leaf blowers — city officials walked up to the edge of the pool, stuck their toe in, then decided not to jump.

Property owner Rebecca Howland told Delaware Online “there is clearly a tinge of hysteria based on anecdotal testimony.”

City officials ultimately decided against the ban – after word of the proposal went viral and more than 1,000 people showed up to protest.

Rehoboth Mayor Sam Cooper was nevertheless sure he was right.

“I have a vision of Rehoboth,” he told the Washingtonian. “If you’re outside of that, then we’re going to have issues.”

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

For no matter the season, the nannies are watching you. And they are always absolutely sure they are right.

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John Bicknell is executive editor of Watchdog.org. He is a veteran editor and has worked in journalism for more than 30 years. He came to Washington in 1999 as an editor at Congressional Quarterly and held several positions at CQ and Roll Call. He is the author of "America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion and the Presidential Election That Transformed the Nation." His next book, scheduled to be published in 2017, is on John C. Fremont's 1856 presidential campaign. John also served as senior editor of the 2016 edition of “The Almanac of American Politics.” He can be reached on Twitter @JohnBick1960 and by email at [email protected]