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Guest Column

Tales of the red tape

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cartoon by Beeler

Hotels, restaurants, airlines and other businesses open to the public need to make some adjustments soon. The federal government says they must accommodate the animals that help the blind and others with disabilities.

Dogs? No, miniature horses.

This may sound like a joke, but it isn't. According to new guidelines issued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses have to modify their "policies, practices or procedures" so that the pygmy ponies can be used as service animals.

Why would someone who's disabled use a miniature horse instead of a dog? The Department of Justice, which administers the ADA, says they're a "viable alternative" for those whose medical condition or religious belief precludes canine assistance. Chimps, pigs, goats, iguanas, birds and rats -- all of which have owners who claim they could also act as service animals -- remain off-limits. For now, at least.

Welcome to the wonderful world of government regulation. Believe me, seeing-eye horses are just the beginning.

Regulations also affect something as simple as installing an extra shower head in your bathroom. For years, there have been rules that restrict the flow of water to a shower head. That was bad enough, but now those rules have been tweaked. The flow restriction no longer applies to each individual shower head, but to the whole shower.

The Energy Policy Conservation Act of 1992 set the restriction for each shower head at only 2.5 gallons per minute (half what Americans could have before then). Now, if you install a shower fixture with two nozzles, it's down to 1.25 gallons per minute per shower head -- and so on, for those who want to have more than two. Talk about all wet.

It can be costly to ignore this new rule. Scott Blake Harris, general counsel for the Department of Energy, recently fined four shower-head makers $165,104 for failing to show they were complying with the new rule. Yes, thanks to Washington bureaucrats, there's an entirely new way to take a bath.

Regulations are also ready to nag you when you stop by the office break room for a snack. Congress now requires vendors to post the calorie counts of all the items in the vending machine. The idea is that we'll pick the healthier choice. There's nothing wrong with eating healthier, but why is it the government's job to supply us with information we aren't even asking for?

As any trip to the supermarket will confirm, food manufacturers are already changing their products to make them healthier -- in response to consumer demand. That shows the market working just the way it should. So if it takes a government mandate to get manufacturers to post calorie counts on vending machines, that's a sign there's no consumer demand for it. (Which is hardly surprising. Even those who are trying to eat healthier food know that a vending machine is no farmer's market. You go there for chips or candy, not a garden salad.)

The regulation will be expensive, too. The Food and Drug Administration estimates it will add 14 million hours of extra work each year to vending machine operations. Looks like the price of that bag of popcorn and that candy bar is about to go up.

Unfortunately, there are many other examples of regulation run amok. The ones cited above come from a new Heritage Foundation series by Senior Fellow Diane Katz called "Tales of the Red Tape" (www.heritage.org/tales). It shows how the long arm of regulation reaches into almost every aspect of our lives.

And whether we know it or not, these rules carry a cost. They're built into the price of almost everything we buy. They act as a silent drag on our economy. And they often curtail our freedom -- needlessly.

We complain when politicians raise our taxes. So why keep quiet as they fill our lives with rules that can be just as costly?

- Ed Feulner is president

of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org)

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