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The 'No Bare Hands' Law May Be Changed


Towards the end of the classic film "Beetlejuice," the art dealer Otho holds a séance that ends up turning ghost couple Adam and Barbara from see-through apparitions into real, living beings. This is nice for a moment or so, until it's revealed that Otho accidentally read the "exorcism" spell, a big no-no, leading to their new bodies quickly decaying in front of everyone. It's gross.

Don't worry, it all works out in the end. But this trajectory from corporeal, to reality, to rot also happens to be the same trajectory a lot of our laws tend to follow: Passage, enforcement, and eventual decay as they inevitably outgrow their usefulness. Generally, the time frame takes awhile, the final step coming long after the law was first passed. But the controversial "no bare hands" law may hit all three in less than a year.

To give you a bit of a refresher: On January 1 of this year, a new law made it illegal for all restaurant workers to use their bare hands on food that was being plated to be served to customers. Instead, single-serving plastic gloves and/or utensils would have to be used. And when the law says "all," it means all. Not only would workers on the sandwich line at Subway have to comply, but also the platers at high-end restaurants, the sushi chefs used to creating their art with unfettered hands, and even bartenders who finish off their fancy cocktails with a bit of edible garnish.

Those in the restaurant business, obviously, were not pleased. When I interviewed a handful about the law, most tried to simply stay out of it by issuing "no comment" replies, but the few that went further let their displeasure known. They noted that while the law has good intentions -- namely, keeping people from getting sick by food-borne illnesses, a notion everyone can get behind -- many of these places were already utilizing strict enough safety measures to prevent that. The new law was not only redundant, but also harmful to their final product.

The fine print of the law was that restaurants wouldn't begin getting penalties for failure to comply until July 1, which is a substantial amount of time to get something done. And during the conversations I got less a sense of defeat and resignation, and more of calm. As if, there was a solution rising on the horizon.

Enter: That solution.

On Monday, Assemblyman Richard Pan from Sacramento introduced "emergency legislation" to put an end to this law. The proposal -- listed in the rolls as AB 2130, officially -- attempts to fix the issues with the law by essentially getting rid of the "no one can use their bare hands" and modifying it with "you can use bare hands if you keep those hands clean!" It's maddening in its simplicity. As in, why wasn't this proposed and passed the first time through?

This, of course, is a good idea and needs to be passed. The problem with the original law -- the problem with a lot of laws, when you get down to it -- was its universality. It was a one size fits all solution for a complex problem. A fast food worker trying to rush through twenty orders in three minutes was treated the same as a four-star restaurant chef methodically trying to make the perfect plate presentation. While there's an argument to be made about the government being forced to treat everyone the same, that mentality doesn't always make logical sense. This is one of those times.

It'll be interesting to see where this fight goes. On the surface, there doesn't seem to be a lot of people holding out for the more stringent version of the "no bare hands" law; the health departments that originally pushed for its passage should be satisfied with the provision that hands must be thoroughly washed. Which is to say, if this proposal ends up getting axed, then we figured out just how much power the plastic glove lobby wields in Sacramento.

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