A viral social media trend last summer — people posting images of themselves opening and licking ice cream before putting it back on the shelf — did not sit well with state Rep. T.J. Shope.
The Republican from Coolidge has introduced a bill that makes such an action a crime, punishable with up to six months in jail.
House Bill 2299 prohibits and establishes penalties for intentionally introducing, adding or mingling any bodily fluid or foreign object not intended for human consumption.
Shope said he introduced the legislation after seeing a ton of videos online of teenagers tampering with products in grocery stores. He added that he spoke to people in the restaurant, retail and food industries who all asked for such a law to be introduced. Shope’s family owns a grocery store in Coolidge.
The bill passed the House last month and is now making its way through the Senate where it passed the Judiciary Committee Thursday in a near majority, with one lawmaker deciding not to vote.
Shane Hitzeman, a representative for Southwest Franchise Association which owns 130 Burger King franchises in Arizona, said franchise owners constantly deal with people trying to contaminate their products for online clout and that law enforcement tells them there is nothing they can do about it.
Hitzeman said a Burger King franchise in Mesa suffered financial losses after a teenager spat in a bucket of ice in their store, filmed it and posted it on Facebook. He said that the county sheriff told them that there were no criminal charges they could press.
“As business owners, we depend upon our reputation for the livelihoods of our families and our businesses,” Hitzeman said last month during the House Judiciary Committee. “I believe this bill provides us with an opportunity to protect our businesses and our reputations and public health in general.”
The legislation proposes two penalties that are broken down into two categories.
If the contaminated product is consumed by another person and the damage is more than $1,000, the act would be classified as a class 1 misdemeanor, which means a sentence up to six months in jail and fines of up to $2,500.
If the contaminated product is not consumed by another person and the damage is less than $1,000, the act would be classified as a class 2 misdemeanor, which would result in a sentence up to four months in jail and fines of no more than $750.
Critics say the bill is not only too broad, but that Arizona law already has criminal codes authorities can use when punishing people for such crimes.
“We are unclear on why we need to create this new crime, which we believe is over-broad and unnecessary, and is likely going to have the impact of trapping stupid teenagers in our already overburdened justice system,” said Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist for Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.
Rodriguez said there are two laws that law enforcement can already use to punish people who intentionally tamper with products. One is under criminal damages and the other is under endangerment laws.
“Prosecutors know how to charge for this, and we believe they have the tools that they need now to pursue justice,” she said.
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, agreed with Rodriguez and said the legislature should talk to law enforcement agencies and inform them about the penal codes they can use in such cases.
“I’m not convinced that we don’t have a law in place that addresses it and the best remedy is to talk to our county prosecutors and make sure they’re actually prosecuting these provisions like it appears the law allows them to do,” she said.
The bill now must be voted on by the full Senate and would still need to be signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.