'Cheeseburger bill' clears Minnesota House committee
ST. PAUL - The "cheeseburger bill" overcame opposition from trial lawyers and Democrats Monday to notch its first victory in its seventh run through the Minnesota Legislature.
Rep. Dean Urdahl's much-traveled bill to prohibit lawsuits against food makers and sellers by people who gain weight passed on a voice vote, with Democrats opposed, in the House Civil Law Committee.
With a large McDonald's drink cup in hand, Urdahl said his "Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act" likely will pass this year. The House has passed it in years past, but never the Senate.
Urdahl said that he brought the bill up again this year because Republicans who probably are more favorable to the concept now control the Senate.
Urdahl summarized his bill: "If you eat too much and get fat, you can't sue the food retailer."
Lobbyist Joel Carlson, a former Moorhead-area lawmaker, said the group of trial lawyers he represents feels the bill is not needed because current law already prevents such suits.
"Weight gain cases are not allowed under law," he said.
The Urdahl bill gives corporations an immunity against being sued, Carlson said, something not granted to other kinds of companies.
"You want to grant a free pass to any food processor," Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, told Urdahl. "Just once, I'd like to see a bill that helps consumers come from your side of the aisle."
Carlson said the Legislature has better things to do. No lawsuit ever has been filed against a company over weight gain, he said.
"It will happen in Minnesota someday unless something is done," Urdahl countered, adding that even just filing a suit would cost the company being sued and, thus, increase costs to customers.
Committee Chairman Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said he ate a couple of Girl Scout cookies before the meeting and probably would eat more afterwards. "It's your choice."
The only other committee stop for the bill is the Agriculture Committee, which generally has liked the idea in the past. Urdahl said he expects his bill to be wrapped into an overall ag bill.
Neither side knows what Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton thinks about the concept.
The bill, which deals with food and nonalcoholic drinks, also is moving through the Senate process. Twenty-three states have similar laws.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said he does not want companies sued over what he sees as frivolous reasons and sees the bill as one "to prevent us from going in this direction."