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updated: 5/9/2013 4:35 PM

Wisconsin panel votes to prohibit bans on sugary drinks

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Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. -- No Wisconsin city could prohibit the sale of large, sugary drinks as was recently done in New York City under a provision added to the state budget Thursday.

Republicans on the legislature's Joint Finance Committee succeeded in putting the prohibition in the budget, despite objections from Democrats who said it was infringement of local control. But bill sponsor Rep. Pat Strachota, a West Bend Republican, said she didn't want anyone telling her she couldn't order an extra-large popcorn and soda when going out to the movies.

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"I want to make sure I can continue having that experience and don't have government telling me I can't have that experience," Strachota said. She called her proposal the "anti-Bloomberg bill," referring to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to limit serving sizes for soda.

Democrats scoffed at the proposal, since no Wisconsin city has enacted such a ban.

"This is a solution in search of a problem," said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee.

The provision added to the budget would prohibit any Wisconsin city or county from enacting a ban or resolution that disallows or restricts the sale of any food or drink based on the number of calories, portion size or other nutritional criteria.

Democrats said the move was ironic given that the Assembly approved a bill Tuesday limiting the amount of junk food that can be purchased with food stamps. The argument for that Republican-backed measure was that food stamp recipients shouldn't be able to use taxpayer-funded benefits to purchase unhealthy food.

But the move to prohibit restrictions on serving sizes statewide won praise from Wisconsin's restaurants and grocers.

"This effort creates a consistent standard across the state that prohibits potential inequities from community to community," said Brandon Scholz, president of the Wisconsin Grocers Association.

Local regulations are problematic for the restaurant industry because not everyone is subject to the same ones, said Ed Lump, president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. And, in this case, there's no evidence that regulating what people eat or drink will improve their health, he said.

"The way to help people become healthier is educating them how to eat healthy instead of trying to force them into what some believe are the right choices," Lump said.

The Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly, as well as Gov. Scott Walker, must agree to the prohibition before it becomes law.

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