Americans are dog lovers. In fact, many people love their dogs so much that they take them wherever they can. Some people would even take their dogs out to eat with them if they could.
If they live in California — now they can.
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law legislation that revises the California Health and Safety Code relating to outdoor dining facilities. The code currently prohibits live animals from being allowed in a food facility, except under specified conditions — e.g., dogs may be allowed when they are under the control of a uniformed law-enforcement officer or working as service animals accompanying a disabled person.
The new legislation (Assembly Bill No. 1965) authorizes “a food facility to allow a person to bring a pet dog in outdoor dining areas if specified conditions are satisfied.” The bill allows California cities and counties to prohibit such conduct by ordinance.
The proposed legislation was introduced in the California State Assembly in February. It passed the Health Committee in March with only one “no” vote, the Local Government Committee in April with no “no” votes, the full Assembly in May with only one “no” vote, the Senate Health Committee in June with no “no” votes, and the full Senate in August with no “no” votes. It was approved by the governor on August 21.
The pertinent section of the legislation reads as follows:
(d) Pet dogs under the control of a person in an outdoor dining area if all of the following conditions are satisfied:
(1) The owner of the food facility elects to allow pet dogs in its outdoor dining area.
(2) A separate outdoor entrance is present where pet dogs enter without going through the food establishment to reach the outdoor dining area and pet dogs are not allowed on chairs, benches, seats, or other fixtures.
(3) The outdoor dining area is not used for food or drink preparation or the storage of utensils. A food employee may refill a beverage glass in the outdoor dining area from a pitcher or other container.
(4) Food and water provided to pet dogs shall only be in single-use disposable containers.
(5) Food employees are prohibited from having direct contact with pet dogs while on duty. A food employee who does have that prohibited direct contact shall wash his or her hands as required by Section 113953.3.
(6) The outdoor dining area is maintained clean. Surfaces that have been contaminated by dog excrement or other bodily fluids shall be cleaned and sanitized.
(7) The pet dog is on a leash or confined in a pet carrier and is under the control of the pet dog owner.
(8) The food facility owner ensures compliance with local ordinances related to sidewalks, public nuisance, and sanitation.
(9) Other control measures approved by the enforcement agency.
Although it doesn’t concern dogs, a potential ordinance in Lubbock, Texas, relates to the new legislation in California. Since about ten years ago, smoking inside enclosed public places and within 20 feet of them is prohibited in Lubbock, with exceptions for most bars, lounges, and sports grills. However, the West Texas Smoke Free Coalition wants the city to pass an ordinance that would make Lubbock businesses completely smoke-free.
And although it has nothing to do with any state law or city ordinance, an incident at a bar in Chesapeake, Virginia, likewise relates to dogs and diners. Customers at Big Woody’s bar weren’t comfortable with a woman who was breastfeeding her baby in the bar. When the manager went over to ask her to be more discreet, he noticed that she had drinks in front of her. Her tab was then closed down and she was asked to leave after things became confrontational. Breastfeeding “is a natural right that you’re allowed to give your child,” the woman said. She admitted to having a couple of sips of beer, but insisted that the shot of Fireball whiskey in front of her was for after she was done nursing her baby.
On the surface, the new law in California, the potential ordinance in Texas, and the incident in Virginia don’t look related in any way. On a deeper, more philosophical, level, however, they all concern the proper role of government, the use of private property, and the nature of a free society.
It should not have been necessary for the California legislature to pass a law to authorize “a food facility to allow a person to bring a pet dog in outdoor dining areas if specified conditions are satisfied.” Doggy dining should have always been permitted at the discretion of the owner of the food facility.
Just as the city of Lubbock should not even consider banning smoking in bars, lounges, and sports grills that are within the city limits, and it should never have passed the ordinance that prohibited smoking inside enclosed public places and within 20 feet of them that it did pass ten years ago. Smoking should always be permitted at the discretion of the owners of the bars, restaurants, and stores in Lubbock.
And just as the bar in Virginia should have every right to refuse service to a woman who is breastfeeding — whether or not she is being discrete and whether or not she is drinking alcohol. There is no “natural right” to breastfeed one’s child on someone else’s property.
The domain of government regulation of dogs, smoking, and breastfeeding should be limited to public parks, post offices, public schools, courthouses, public libraries, city halls, public pools, and any other facility owned by government at some level. Now, whether governments should have any of those things is beyond the scope of this article (but see, for example, my articles on public libraries and schools). Be that as it may, it is an illegitimate purpose of government to regulate private businesses.
Business establishments that are open to the public are not “public places” or “public facilities” or “public accommodations.” They are still private property with an owner or owners. It is market forces that should regulate whether dogs, smoking, breastfeeding, or consuming alcohol while nursing are permitted or prohibited in restaurants, bars, stores, and other places of business.
In a free society, business owners would have to weigh the costs — in terms of foot traffic, revenue, or profit — of allowing doggy dining, smoking, breastfeeding, or alcohol consumption in their place of business versus not allowing it.
That some or even a majority of people think that dogs in diners is unhealthy, smoking is hazardous to one’s health, breastfeeding in public is rude, and nursing mothers’ drinking alcohol is irresponsible is irrelevant. Those who feel that way can express their displeasure by not patronizing businesses that permit those things instead of looking to government to prohibit activities on private property that they don’t approve of.
A free society, of course, is not just limited to the freedom of businesses to decide the above questions. There is a host of other actions that businesses may want to permit or prohibit in their establishments, but government intervention should not be the cause of any permission or prohibition. Not in a free society.