Because there is no convenience too insignificant to legislate away in the cause of lessening its potential effect on the natural world, we now have an Oregon law on straws.
It took effect on New Year’s Day. And here is what it says: “A food and beverage provider or convenience store may not provide a single-use plastic straw to a consumer unless the consumer specifically requests the single-use plastic straw.”
Which is why our favorite waitress — uh, sorry, wait staff person — at our favorite restaurant — I mean food and beverage provider — reached into her pocket full of straws but then hesitated and waited for me to say: “May we please have straws?”
The phrase worked. We got straws. But I wonder. Now that I’ve looked up the text of Senate Bill 90, was this legal after all?
The law says the consumer must not get a straw unless “the consumer” — the legislative text mongers assiduously avoid pronouns lest they give offense — “specifically requests the single-use plastic straw.”
And that I certainly did not do. I was not specific at all. I did not request “the single-use plastic straw.” Instead, I requested “a” straw. ANY straw would have done. She had several in her pocket. I would have been happy with this one, or that one would have been fine as well. I did not care. I did not want “the” straw at all. So technically, I think I caused a violation of the law.
The law allows certain state and local agriculture and health inspectors to cite “food and beverage providers” for offering straws without being specifically asked for “the” straw, with some exceptions. After the first two notices of violations, subsequent citations may result in fines of $25 per day, up to $300 per year.
The difference between the definite and the indefinite article in the English language seems to be lost on the writers of our laws. So all we can hope for is that the inspectors don’t worry about the articles either — if they have nothing better to do than to observe straw transactions to make sure they comply. (hh)