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Lawmakers never tire of trying to save us from ourselves

There’s a classic scene in the gone-too-soon HBO series “Deadwood,” when an exhausted Wild Bill Hickok tries to dissuade his good friend from helping to find a job for the increasingly restless gunfighter. “Can you let me go to hell the way I want to?” Hickock pleads.

That’s a question some Nevadans might ask once they see the raft of bills before the Legislature designed to save them from themselves — whether to eat better, avoid injuries or even stop smoking so they can keep a job.

The intent behind the bills is noble: Nobody sane wants to see other people suffer, especially if that suffering is self-inflicted. But the net effect of these proposed laws is anything but noble, a government dictate about how to live your life, whether you like it or not.

And trust me, you probably won’t.

Anybody with a mom has heard nagging to wear a helmet (and likely elbow and knee pads, too) when riding a bike. But our collective Carson City mom now wants to tell the real ones to make sure junior is wearing a helmet while riding “longboards,” wider, longer versions of the traditional skateboard.

I somehow made it through my entire bike-riding childhood without ever wearing a helmet, and yes, I did fall a time or two. But I and my friends would have considered the language of Senate Bill 115 to be ridiculous: If a parent or legal guardian lets a minor ride a longboard without “a well-fitted protective helmet that is securely fastened to the head of the minor with the straps of the protective helmet,” that person gets a $10 fine.

So far, no helmets are required for crossing a street, but there is a proposal — Assembly Bill 123 — that would make it a crime to “manually type or enter text into a cellular telephone or other handheld wireless communications device, or send or read data using any such device to access or search the Internet or to engage in nonvoice communications” while crossing a highway.

A question: If the possibility of being struck by a 3,000-pound object moving at 45 mph is not enough to keep pedestrians focused, will a written warning (the penalty for a first offense) or a fine of between $100 and $250 do the trick? Why not threaten them with something truly frightening: Losing their cellphone privileges for a month!

Anybody who has eaten at a fast-food restaurant — and that’s most of us, I’m guessing — will pay a (very) little more if Assembly Bill 122 becomes law. The bill would impose a 5-cent tax on fast food that has 500 or more calories. Call it the state’s very own Big Mac attack.

Assemblyman Harvey Munford — the sponsor of AB 122 — says he wants to discourage parents from hitting the McDonald’s drive-through instead of preparing a healthy meal at home. But if that’s really the intent, a 5-cent levy won’t do the trick. The dollar menu won’t look any less appealing at $1.05. If Munford really wanted to discourage people, he’d make it $5 instead.

The sad fact is, it is far cheaper to get a stack of McNuggets and a Coke than to hit the grocery store and buy all the stuff you saw Giada de Laurentiis put into that delicious salad on TV. And the fact that a Quarter Pounder tastes good and is virtually effortless to obtain are working against Munford, too.

Ever wonder how many calories are in that Oldtimer burger at Chili’s? You won’t have to wonder much longer if Assembly Bill 126 becomes law. It would require chain restaurants to list how many calories are in your favorite foods.

I recall the first time I saw a menu labeled this way — it was at an Island’s restaurant in Pasadena, Calif. And I must admit: My estimate of that delicious-looking burger’s calorie count was way off. It didn’t dissuade me from having dinner — a guy’s got to eat, after all — but I did avoid the basket of chili cheese fries based on the government-mandated numbers.

For the extra 10 minutes of life I’ll probably get as a result, I thank the great state of California.

State Sen. Joe Hardy, a physician, wants to allow businesses in Nevada to be able to fire smokers, by repealing a state law that bans discrimination against people who lawfully use any product that doesn’t affect how a person does his or her job and that doesn’t present a safety risk in the workplace.

The law raises interesting questions: Is it fair for all employees to pay higher insurance premiums to cover the additional health risks of smokers in the insurance pool? And should it stop there? Should smokers, or fat people, or those who decline to exercise regularly, pay higher insurance premiums to make up for adding health-care costs to everybody’s insurance bill? Precisely when will the skinny, vegetable-chomping, bike-riding fitness fanatics finally rise up in revolt?

All good questions. But no matter what laws are crafted to address self-destructive personal behavior, we should keep two things in mind: One, it’s not as if people don’t know that bad habits are harmful. I’d never argue that the delicious cigar of indiscriminate Caribbean origin and the stiff glass of distilled, golden carmel-colored spirits are good for me.

And two, a personal resolution — for reasons of health or longevity — to live better is a powerful thing. That’s what the government is trying to create here, but it’s something that won’t ever come about as a result of laws. All those laws do is cause people to plead to be allowed to go to hell the way they want to.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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