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Senate OKs more sales of junk food in public schools

Gary Heinlein
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Michigan Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday changing state rules to allow sales of junk food in public schools, as long as it’s done for fundraising purposes and not more than three times a week.

There was no discussion in the GOP-dominated chamber before senators approved the legislation in a 36-1 vote with one member absent. It now goes to the Republican-controlled House for consideration.

Senate Bill 139 requires the state Department of Education to set rules creating an upper limit on the number of fundraisers allowed during school hours. But the limit can’t be lower than three per week.

The lone opposition vote came from Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Lathrup Village, who objected to the number of fundraising sales the proposal would allow during school hours.

“It gets away from the idea of a healthy Michigan,” Gregory said, mentioning a theme and goal of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. “Three times a year, or maybe once a month would be OK ... (but) three days a week seems excessive if you’re promoting healthy kids.”

The legislation, sponsored by Republican Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton, seeks to give Michigan a partial exemption from a U.S. Department of Agriculture ban on sales of snack foods that don’t meet its “Smart Snacks” nutritional standards. Students still can take orders for Girl Scout cookies, Boy Scout popcorn, frozen pizzas and cookie dough, but the food has to be consumed at home or after school.

That federal rule emanated from the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, an offshoot of first lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to get children to eat more nutritious foods. States are permitted to set policies loosening the USDA restrictions on daytime sales and consumption of junk food, but the Michigan Department of Education opted to adopt the USDA guidelines.

Colbeck argues that it’s unconstitutional for government rules to dictate what foods can be sold or consumed in public schools.

gheinlein@detroitnews.com