Then, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis speaks to voters during a Davie County GOP rally Nov. 2, 2014 in Mocksville, N.C.
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Sen. Thom Tillis pooh-poohs hand-washing regulations

Sen. Thom Tillis’ constituents might want to think twice before shaking his hand. The Republican senator from North Carolina said on Monday that he’d support letting restaurants opt out of hand-washing requirements for employees.

At a question-and-answer event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Tillis used the rather alarming anecdote to illustrate his larger beliefs on government regulation.

The freshman senator said he was at a North Carolina Starbucks in 2010 with a constituent when she challenged his views on allowing businesses to opt out of certain regulations. They were sitting next to the coffee shop’s restroom when an employee emerged.

“She said, for example, don’t you believe that the regulation that requires this gentleman to wash his hands before he serves your food is important, that it should be on the books?” Tillis recalled.

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Tillis replied: “I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom.’” 

Instead, Tillis believes that full disclosure of such lax hygiene policies would be a strong enough deterrent on its own to put the store out of business. “The market would take care of that,” he said.

While that might be true, Tillis did not provide for the unsuspecting or poorly informed few who might patronize the restaurant and come away with a bonus order of food poisoning thanks to unsanitary practices. Many on the right, however, argue that such regulations — an example would be former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed attempt to ban super-sized sodas — create a “nanny state” of unnecessary oversight. 

Tillis did not immediately respond to a comment request left with his office on Tuesday.

“I hope that there’s no Republican or Democrat here who has run for office so that they can destroy the environment or make sure that their children can’t drink clear water,” Tillis said of his belief that government oversight should be lessened. “It doesn’t make sense. So it’s a matter of the means not the ends.”

As the senator wrapped up, Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet joked “I’m not sure if I’m going to shake your hand,” eliciting laughter from the audience.