Connie Schultz | We’re in a New York State of Mind – Sort of (2)

Looks as if Ohio and New York have something in common, and it’s not coveting the future career of LeBron James.

We care about kids. And we cared about them in the same week.

Well, sort of.

First, in New York:

Last week, the state Senate passed a bill that, for the first time, will require paid holidays, sick days, overtime and vacation pay for an estimated 200,000 domestic workers. The New York State Assembly passed a similar bill last year; once the differences between the two bills are hammered out, Gov. David A. Paterson is expected to sign the final version into law. New York will be the first state in the country to pass protections for such workers, who will be covered regardless of their immigration status. Most of them, of course, are nannies.

An FYI to those ‘Mericans getting their undies in a knot over New York’s efforts to protect nannies who work here illegally: Breathe deep and tug at your waistbands. Most immigration advocates insist undocumented domestic workers are so terrified of getting caught that there’s no way they feel entitled to a “thank you,” let alone a legal right. So those employers probably will ignore the law — and get away with it, too.

Whew, right?

Nevertheless, this is groundbreaking legislation, which illustrates a singular truth about America that is as troubling as it is enduring. For all our claims to cherishing our children, we continue to entrust their care and well-being to some of the lowest-paid workers in the country.

Think about that. These women are intimately involved with the lives of other people’s children, during their most formative years. They bathe, feed and potty train those babies. They comfort other mothers’ children when they hurt, discipline them when they need it and bear witness to more milestones than most parents want to admit: First steps. First words. First tastes of ice cream.

Yet these same women typically make less than a long list of hourly wage earners, including doormen, hairdressers and bartenders at high-end restaurants.

But we love our children, by golly.

In fact, a lot of them are practically bursting from our lack of attention.

Which brings me to Ohio and the bill passed last week by our state legislators in the House. The bill, which Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign into law, is aimed at reducing the number of obese children by eliminating junk food and soda pop in school lunchrooms. Schools are also supposed to keep track of kids’ body mass index in kindergarten and third, fifth and ninth grades.

What a leap for children’s health.

Well, “leap” may be a little strong. More like a bunny hop. Little bunny, on the short side. With a limp.

For one thing, the law wouldn’t take effect until 2014. A whole lot of chips and cola can be gobbled up between now and 2014.

As for monitoring children’s body mass index: Fat chance. Schools can opt out.

The bill also was going to require 30 minutes of daily exercise. Buh-bye to that, too. School districts managed to get the mandatory part kicked to the curb. Now it’s going to be a pilot project for districts willing to volunteer for it. After all, what does physical fitness have to do with a child’s ability to focus, focus, focus and pass a standardized test?

Health advocates estimate that one-third of Ohio’s children are already overweight or obese. Cry me a river. We’ve got the future to think about. If we let the government actually do something about the food that kids eat in government-funded schools, the next thing you know we’ll have a state full of fit kids and ne’er-do-well parents who sit on their duffs all day.

Take it from state Rep. Kris Jordan, who spoke out against the bill. He knows.

“Just like welfare,” he said. “You take away a man or woman’s responsibility to work and provide for their family, they become lazy. Also, if you take away responsibilities and obligations of a parent and give it to the government — like feeding their children — parents become lazier, and this laziness spreads and weakens families.”

If you were waiting for him to make sense, you must be a New Yorker.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine.

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