HB 153 outlaws use of government aid to buy energy drinks

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – Montanans who get government help buying food won’t be able to use those benefits to buy energy drinks if House Bill 153 passes the Montana Legislature.

Republican Rep. Vince Ricci explains his interpretation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“It is designed to stretch your food budget and buy healthy food,” Ricci said Tuesday. “So my reason for bringing this bill is I don’t see energy drinks as being a healthy food.”

The program is federally regulated. Therefore, in order for the bill to pass, the state must get a waiver from the federal government to prohibit the purchase of energy drinks.

Democratic Rep. Jessica Karjala of Billings opposes the bill.

“I just think that really, the point of this legislation is to have the conversation, and to plant that idea in people’s minds that poor people don’t have good discretion, that they’re not responsible for making good choices with their money,” she said. “It’s vilification of the poor.”

The bill defines an energy drink as a drink that has a high level of caffeine, may have other plant-based stimulants like taurine and ginseng, and is marked as a means of boosting physical energy or mental alertness.

The House Human Services Committee will hear HB 153 Wednesday afternoon.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.