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Thom Tillis: National International Embarrassment

By Anthony Noel

So I was reading the headlines this morning at various websites and came across this.

That’s right, our newly minted U.S. Senator is supporting “de-regulation” of hand-washing by restaurant employees.




We’re all entitled to our opinions about (so-called) “big government,” and public policy, and protecting the public health.

This is America, after all.washinghands

But Tillis’ comments make one thing, for me at least, beyond dispute: North Carolina’s freshman senator is more interested in playing to the “culture wars” and – intentionally or not – increasing our state’s international reputation for backwards thinking, than in actually doing anything constructive.

Mr. Senator, you should be ashamed of yourself. You are an embarrassment.

Anthony Noel is a contributing writer, and co-founder of the Guardian.

Responses (10)

  1. Ed Griffith says:

    Alas, he has a lot of company both among republicans who enthusiastically approve and among democrats who pretend to be different while voting the same.

  2. John Collins says:

    I’m about the last person you’d expect to defend Senator Tillis, but let me take a crack at it anyway. A little context: Tillis says that restaurants should be required to publicly post their policy about whether they require employees to wash their hands. The market, he says, will sort things out. My first reaction was to think that his anti-regulatory position was a sham, since he is just substituting a government regulation requiring the posting of a policy on hand washing for a government regulation requiring hand washing. But isn’t this just the sort of government regulation we want, as it gives consumers the information they need to make decisions for themselves? Generalizing this sort of principle, Tillis should support legislation, say, that requires companies that use GMO’s or trans fats in their food to disclose this, allowing customers to make informed decisions about whether to use those products. For the most part, I’d rather have regulations that require companies to inform consumers about what they do, rather than regulations that require them to render their products or services in a particular way.

    • Anthony Noel says:

      So, you’d rather allow companies to include, for example, lead in their products, provided they disclose it – than to simply outlaw its inclusion, and for companies including it to be criminally liable for doing so?

      Do you sincerely believe any company that includes lead in their products – or fecal matter in their Chicken Parmesan – would willingly make such inclusions public knowledge? And if they did, John, how does that protect, say, the co-worker of the guy who orders lunch for his colleagues from his buddy’s restaurant – the one that doesn’t require hand-washing?

      There is a difference between supporting liberty and supporting idiocy – and Tillis has clearly opted for the latter.

      • John Collins says:

        Tony, the point that companies might not follow the disclosure rule seems to apply equally to the rule about hand washing itself. But I would think virtually all restaurants would retain a policy requiring employees to wash their hands precisely because it is good for business. I take your point about the costs to the uninformed consumer. I’m not an absolutist about this. If merely requiring the posting of a public policy would put the health of the public at risk, then I agree we’d need to regulate differently. But I doubt that would be the case with the hand washing rule.

        • Anthony Noel says:

          Without the threat of the Board of Health coming in and shutting down a violating operation, what is the owner’s incentive to enforce hand-washing? Does trusting what the owner posts assure the absence of salmonella or e. coli? I think not. Unannounced inspections have a long history of uncovering violations, whether we’re talking about eating establishments, manufacturing operations or food processing plants. The PCA case is the most recent well-publicized case in point. Do you think that operation would be shut down or that its CEO would be behind bars today if Tillis’ ideology were adopted?

          (Clearly, John, I am an absolutist on this! 🙂 )

          • John Collins says:

            Who says the notices have to be trusted? If the law requires *true* posts, then the Board of Health can make the same unannounced inspections to verify that the posts are true.

        • Carol Collins says:

          You (John), Tony, and I want a regulation of some sort.

          Either regulation (yours & TIllis’ or Tony’s) would seem to cost about the same (signs plus enforcement by health officials).

          Tony’s regulation seems to yield a better benefit at the same cost. That is, the DEFAULT desired behavior (clean hands) is expected before one ever enters an establishment. No need to read signs; we know they are there and handwashing is supposed to be enforced.

          Your and Tillis’ regulation makes the default behavior unknown until one enters the establishment, searches for the notice, reads it (IFyou are literate). Then the customer either leaves (if the notice is not found or is not pleasing- IF the customer is literate) or takes a chance that the folks in the establishment engage in good health practices. To me this regulation seems highly error prone because people have a hard (or impossible if illiterate) time discovering the default behavior for each establishment.

          Thus, John’ (and Tillis’) regulation embodies a greater risk for the public with no offsetting cost saving. In addition Tillis regulation will cost even more in that I must PAY for Tillis’ and other lawmakers’ time to make a new law that accomplishes nothing better than what we have. Net cost of Tillis’ regulation is thus way more than the current regulation but adds less benefit than what we have.

          I agree with Tony.

  3. Donald Clement says:

    Among other things Tillis shows the mindlessness that can take over when politicians and pundits apply ideological talking points to a real context. Eliminate hand washing for food handlers? That’s nonsense. If you want to be taken seriously, then choose serious examples. That Tillis offered up such fodder for ridicule shows both his naivete and an ideological blindness that creates its own form of rigid rule-making. It would be easy to let Tillis off the hook for being a freshman senator feeling his way, but he has enough legislative background to know better.

  4. Carol Collins says:

    I would also like to make a general comment about regulations, especially public health regulations (which include environmental laws).

    In the late 1800’s folks realized that if they just properly disposed of garbage and sewage and did not mix this stuff with drinking water, people’s health improved dramatically. Many more health practices were adopted (vaccinations for example) and required by law.

    If you look at the cost-benefit analysis of just the disposal of refuse and the supplying of clean water, the benefits were huge compared to the cost. That is why, each and every local government now requires its citizens to properly dispose of refuse and sewage. For a large group of people this disposal can be inefficient or impossible. (Think long distances to haul the stuff.) Hence we devised the public disposal of sewage and in many cases of garbage/trash also.

    So why are people trying to relax environmental laws regarding contamination of the enviroment? These laws are extensions of our existing sanitiation laws. That is, we now know that more items than individual human sewage and garbage should be on the list and kept out of our air, water, and houses. If I as an individual cannot dispose in any way I please hazardous waste (like my poop or my engine oil in the storm drain), why is it that people want to exempt business from the requirement to dispose of their hazardous waste?

    If I buy a product, I should pay for all the inputs, including proper waste disposal. (After all we do not let businesses let the sewage from their toilets to run into the streets or storm sewers.) If we adopted this model, business would then be inspired by competition to either eliminate the production of waste or find more cost effective ways to dispose of it.

    Relaxing safe disposal regulations seems crazy. Why would anyone want to “leave this regulation to competition”. We tried that model: See for example massive oil spills, Love Canal, Kepone Spill in James River ( Note that an individual business in each case made money, but the cost to others was way greater, not only in dollars but also in health problems. Make regulations more efficient and effective for all, but don’t make my health over the long run suffer because someone want to make a buck by doing what I am not allowed to do.

    In summary: If you feel you have the right to do something, just imagine if everyone did that same thing. When one lives in a group, whatever one does touches someone else. Your freedom to act ends at the point where another’s freedom begins. The Golden Rule comes to mind.

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