A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Our straw law: A question of language

Written January 6th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

This is so the person behind the window at the West Albany McDonald’s doesn’t have to explain the law on straws.

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)

19 responses to “Our straw law: A question of language”

  1. Bob Zybach says:

    Oregon problems: homelessness; wildfire risk; rural employment.

    Oregon solutions: plastic bags; drinking straws; “climate crisis.”

    I’d blame Portland Democrats for this costly nonsense, but the entire I-5 corridor seems to have become infected.

  2. Jim Engel says:

    Six of one, 1/2 dozen of the other. Years ago the straw manufacturers took the “fun” out of straws. Back then the paper was more substantial and you could tear off one end & “shoot” the paper tube around. Lot’s of fun in the school cafeteria. Flimsy paper tubes today.

    • J. Jacobson says:

      In Tehran, the crowd size for Soleimani’s funeral was larger than Trump’s inauguration. I’d be more worried about that than whether or not you get to indiscriminately pollute the planet with plastic detritus.

  3. Richard Vannice says:

    Solution to “the straw” question. Extend your arm across the table/counter open your hand, gently clasp the drink container,lift toward the mouth, touch the container to the lips, sip, replace container. What’s the big deal?
    Come on – there are more important things to consider than whether you sip or slurp.

    • Cap says:

      Richard Vannice: A man with empathy for our planet and its sea creatures who suffer and die from plastic straws, and also Mr. Vannice has common sense. Would only that Hasso and his libertarian followers would listen, but they won’t.

    • J. Jacobson says:

      The reason the straw-issue politics are so vicious is because the stakes are so small.

    • Katherine says:

      So true. I don’t get it why are we so anxious over plastic bags and straws? People should be happy we still have the incandescent light bulb.

  4. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    If environmentalism is the intent, to reduce the use of plastic straws a much better policy would be to tax them.

    Like you cleverly said – no inconvenience too insignificant to legislate away. Typical Government overreach.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      “””If environmentalism is the intent, to reduce the use of plastic straws a much better policy would be to tax them.”””

      That’s probably the easiest, simplest, fairest solution to many problems. Calculate the externalities and tax accordingly, Federally if possible. Less need to regulate, confiscate, grant special exceptions, etc. Extend to environmental consequences what we already do for the health and welfare consequences of tobacco and alcohol.

      Some examples:
      All plastic products (with credits for *useful* recycling).
      Air and water pollution.
      Resource extraction on private land.
      Building in flood, fire, erosion, etc hazard areas (enough to pay for the inevitable extra need for public services in those areas, and minimal insurance to keep most victims off the public dole).
      Impervious surface (Yes, Federal rain tax ;-).
      Greenhouse gases – simple, predictable, business-friendly and uniformly-applied tax instead of complicated, speculation-inducing cap and trade.

      Pay the true cost and make your own choices. Is this something on which libertarians, liberals, and pragmatists can find common ground?

  5. cap says:

    Hasso, you know how to keep your sycophants involved and commenting on your stories with their blabber about wanting no government. I will contact you privately to see if I can get their addresses, so they can forward me their Social Security checks, since they hate all progressive government. Surely, they are rejecting their Social Security.

    • Al Nyman says:

      I’m 79 and will gladly give up all social security benefits and return what I’ve been given if you will give me the money I and my employer put in the system with compound interest at just 6%. The Dow hit 1000 sometime about 1965 so just charging the system 6% is an absolute bargain. Are you and your liberal buddies even aware that government never put one thin dime into the system but started stealing our money when Lyndon Johnson was president with a democratic house and senate.

      • Cap says:

        Tell me about how, according to you and some Internet urban legend, LBJ and the Democrats made the government not support Social Security. That’s pure b.s. Any legislation to do with maintaining Social Security (started by FDR) and Medicare (brought about by LBJ) has never received one vote from any Republican representative or senator. We wouldn’t have Social Security and Medicare if it wasn’t for the Democrats.

  6. Sidney Cooper says:

    Wow! Ten comments! Let’s go back to beer in a bucket and water in a pail and hand out dippers to all the straw law gripers.

    • My Real Name John Hartman says:

      This whole thing… complaining about plastic bag bans and plastic straw bans is just the Political Right’s way of distracting the hoi polloi from the grim reality of global climate change and deteriorating environmental conditions.

      Rather than suggesting methods society might employ to begin to reverse the decay, the Political Right invariably employs the boogeyman of “government overreach.” Rather than adjustbtheir lives even the slightest bit, the Political Right, Just like the current occupant of the White House, is determined to wag the dog on unrelated topics, creating distraction and confusion sufficient to muddy the discussion. This entire column, along with the author’s never-ending, nonsensical assault on plastic bags at the grocery, is just such an effort.

      • Cap says:

        Hear, Hear! Good for you, John Hartman. Keep commenting on the Right-Wing Trump lovers who follow Hasso’s blog.

  7. centrist says:

    Taking these responses as a straw poll (pun intended), the topic is unimportant when compared to world issues.
    Having said that, we should be happy that HH doesn’t have much bad stuff to report.

  8. Jon says:

    Just need somebody w/ a disability and some money to challenge the law on the basis that it violates the ADA. Every “person” who supports this crap is discriminating against people who actually need straws to drink liquid from a cup. And if you’re one of the naive who think those paper straws work, please don’t reproduce; we don’t need less brainpower on the planet than we already have.


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