Freshman state Rep. John Noel, D-Atlanta, is finding out it doesn't pay to have a sense of humor in the legislature. He seems taken aback at the criticism he's received for a bill he and four co-sponsors filed this week that would make it a misdemeanor "of a high and aggravated nature" not to offer sweet tea in Georgia restaurants that serve iced tea.
Misdemeanors can carry a sentence of up to 12 months in jail. Under the bill, restaurants that serve unsweetened tea would have to serve sweet tea as well. Noel got the idea when he wasn't able to order sweet tea, first at a restaurant in Chicago, then later in Atlanta.
It was lighthearted - but it is enlightening that some took it so seriously. And you can't blame them. After such efforts as trying to ban smoking in private cars, some of us wouldn't put anything past lawmakers.
So, to some people it looked like Noel was abusing his office. What right does a lawmaker have telling restaurants the kind of tea they can serve? What's next? Dictating what to put on their menus?
But Noel says he didn't expect to be taken all that seriously. "I've introduced many serious bills as a freshman; this was No. 12," he told The Chronicle. "I thought we needed a little fun - a long, tall cool drink of sweet tea, if you will. We are discussing important legislation, and I think we needed a little break. This provided us a little chuckle."
A little misunderstanding would be more like it. Noel's right - there's a lot of serious legislation to deal with, especially in the closing days of the session. Legislators shouldn't be wasting valuable time - and taxpayers' money - engaging in tomfoolery.
But we suppose he learned this lesson by now. Besides, it's nice to know that some lawmakers actually have a sense of humor even if, as in Noel's case, it's occasionally misplaced.
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