TALLAHASSEE — Floridians could not use food stamps to buy soda, candy bars and other junk food under a bill that survived contentious debate among a Senate panel Wednesday.
The bill would expand the list of items banned by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The state would add new food restrictions to the federal program, which bans few items other than alcohol and tobacco.
"The taxpayer has a low toleration for those who are standing in line with two packs of soda and a bottle of Mountain Dew," said Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, the sponsor of SB 1658.
The bill would also prevent people from using EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards at ATMs in casinos or strip clubs or from accessing cash out-of-state.
"There have been instances of people using their cards to go to Vegas," Storms said.
At least three senators expressed concern that the state would be overstepping its reach and "playing Godfather" by regulating food.
"I don't think it's fair that if you're poor your kid can't have a birthday cake or a cupcake," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice.
"They can have cake," Storms shot back. "You can buy flour, eggs and sugar, and that makes a cake. I make my kids their own cakes."
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, rushed to Storms' defense.
"We've all had to vote on painful cuts," he said. "This is one way we can prioritize."
As senators questioned and criticized the proposal, Storms pleaded with them to "please pass the bill."
It passed 4-2 in the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee.
Detert voted for the bill out of respect for Storms, she said. But she would rather see the state put its efforts toward nutritional education or cooking programs.
"I'd be writing vegan legislation because I feel meat is bad for you," she said. "I think in today's world very few people know how to make things from scratch. They think all food comes in a bag through a car window."
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, also took issue with the bill and voted against it.
She said taxpayers could have all kinds of problems with the items people put in their carts, whether that be candy or a T-bone steak. But it's not up to the public to decide, she said.
"I hope we will stop trying to tell poor people every day what they should do in their lives and help them to make better choices not by being their parent, but by being their helper," she said.