Florida Invents the Perpetual Bureaucracy Machine

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Via Popehat, this is probably the most hilariously absurd regulation I’ve ever seen.


John Stossel called Florida Dept. of Revenue and was told, “A vending machine operator that does not place the notice on the machine presumably is not in compliance with the other requirements such as registration and payment of the tax.”

So why not just make it a notice of tax paid? Or registration . . . er . . . registered?

Even if we accept that incredibly stupid justification at face value, think about enforcement, here. This isn’t a requirement that you post some bar or serial code for some state inspector to verify from time to time. It’s directed at the casual consumer. But if a vending machine is in violation of the notice requirement, there’s no notice to notify the consumer that the machine is in violation. And there’s no number posted for the consumer to call. The only way this serves any purpose whatsoever is if you have a consumer who sees the notice on a compliant machine, then goes to the effort of writing it down and keeping it on his person at all times, in case he happens upon a non-compliant machine. But then to report it, the consumer would have to find some way of identifying the non-compliant machine. Location, I guess. A serial number. Then what? Does the state then send out an inspector to verify?

And assuming all that happens, you then have a vending machine owner fined for nothing more than not complying with a law requiring the owner to post a notice about the requirement to post a notice. And “teacher, you forgot to collect the homework” guy gets a cash reward.

All to protect consumers! Or something! Who cares!

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45 Responses to “Florida Invents the Perpetual Bureaucracy Machine”

  1. #1 |  jb | 

    Dang! I called the number, but I was not able to connect from my calling area. I think they’ve figured out I wanted to waste their time.

  2. #2 |  William Kern | 

    Looks like a sign someone could just….make and post anywhere. But sooner or later they’d catch on, and then they’d have to send more inspectors around to verify the stickers are real. Damn, this really IS perpetual.

  3. #3 |  Sinchy | 

    “then goes to the effort of writing it down and keeping it on his person at all times,”
    What kind of luddite are you Radley? Who writes down phone numbers anymore? I just put the number of every regulatory agency in my cell phone and I’m good to go.

  4. #4 |  Michael | 

    The next law they pass will probably be one making it illegal to call the number unless it’s to report a non-compliant machine.

  5. #5 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Seems like a fair way to deal with the problem of machines getting registered in the first place.

    If a state requires a Notice Of Registration sticker then nobody (other than law enforcement people) pay any attention. On the other hand, with this notice shown in o they didn’t the picture, people will tend to pay attention and will find that number if they see a chance at getting the reward.

    Sure, they could have used the word “Registration” on the mandatory notice, but they obviously wanted to dumb it down to the level of people who would be motivated by the prospect of a modest reward. So they omitted the word “registration.” Instead, the sign explains what people are supposed to be looking for without forcing them to think about the why’s and wherefores.

    I mean, I am speculating as to why Florida did this, but it does seem to make sense if you think about it.

    If they would slap a year on them then it could be a tax paid placard, too — albeit one that would not need to mention the ugly word “tax.”

  6. #6 |  Radley Balko | 

    Seems like a fair way to deal with the problem of machines getting registered in the first place.

    Assuming you think vending machines should have to register with the state (I obviously don’t), that would almost (but not quite) make sense.

    But this particular notice has nothing to do with registration. The only purpose of the notice is to have the notice.

  7. #7 |  Matt | 

    Reminds me of “this sign has sharp edges”.

  8. #8 |  Burgers Allday | 

    I don’t like vending machine registration either. far too regressive a tax to be worth collecting.

    Still, I don’t see why you think this has nothing to do with registration. Presumably the owner gets a placard upon registration, meaning that the placard would serve as rough-and-ready (subject to verifaction) proof registration in substance, albeit without recitation of the word “registration” on the placard.

  9. #9 |  billb | 

    I guarantee that competitors police this with a particular zeal.

  10. #10 |  Tim | 

    When I was a kid in FL, the notice was slightly longer. It included the phrase “YOU MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR A CASH REWARD.” It makes a little more sense this way. Crowd-sourcing!

    One of my friends actually found a notice-less machine and finked on it. I think how it works is, they send a vanilla-bureaucrat to check on the location you report rather than having dedicated staff (=less spending; you guys like lower taxes, right?). iirc, he got a check for $5 or $10 or something. That’s enough to be interesting to some people (=bored teenagers). It’s impossible to defraud the system because the bureaucrat checks the machine.

    I don’t know why this notice doesn’t include that. The statutes haven’t changed: http://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2011/212.0515

  11. #11 |  dsp | 

    The only logical response is to create a smaller sticker to cover the bottom that says, in underlined, capital letters:



  12. #12 |  Tim | 

    Oops… it DOES say that. How embarrassing. Nonetheless, all else I said holds. I think it’s a reasonable way to enforce a statute. As opposed to the libertarian-bait article, they’re not JUST checking for a notice, they’re checking (of course) if the machine is registered.

    This makes sense. Registered machines have a known location and thus get random (low-cost) spot checks, while bored teens and weirdo citizen activists report (many of) the rest. This saves the money of having bureaucrats driving around town looking for rogue soda machines.

  13. #13 |  Marty | 

    I love how the govt is using our tax money to get us to rat on each other. maybe they should offer rewards for people who report drivers with expired tags, grass that needs cutting, library books past due, dogs off leash, etc.
    This is where we need to have Al Pacino step in with his speech from ‘Scent of a Woman’ about snitches…

  14. #14 |  Radley Balko | 

    Still, I don’t see why you think this has nothing to do with registration.

    Perhaps because the actual regulation doesn’t include the word registration?

    Presumably the owner gets a placard upon registration . . .

    Well, no. The law, again, only requires the owner to prominently display the language in the regulation on the machine. There’s no placard. There’s no bar code. There’s no serial number. It says nothing about the state issuing you anything upon registering your machine.

    So why do you presume it does have something to do with registration?

  15. #15 |  Tim | 

    Radley, with all due respect, of /course/ it requires registration (see the statutes I linked). Presumably, the state sends you the notice with the registration since they all look the same. Would you have a different opinion if the notice explicitly said “this machine has been registered with the state of Florida.”? I don’t really see what the big deal is about the freaking notice. It both shows compliance AND solicits free labor to find non-compliant machines.

    The only specific objection I can think of is that the notice may be easily forged. However, given a choice between putting effort into violating the law and putting effort into complying with the law, most people choose the latter. Since they are, after all, just soda machines, the state isn’t putting a whole lot of effort into this.

  16. #16 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Oh, I was incorrectly assuming that the sign itself was printed and supplied by Florida government. Thanks for explaining and I get your complaint now.

  17. #17 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    God, I’m so glad that I got smart and fled that flaming pustule of fascism/corruption known as the Sunshine State. Even though I lived in the sweetest part of the state –– the Keys –– Florida is the place where I truly came to loathe overreaching government and the bootlickers who enable it.

  18. #18 |  GaryM | 

    Tim: “Forgery” has no meaning in this context. The sign doesn’t say that the machine is registered or that the sign is issued by the Florida government, or that anyone is forbidden to distribute the vital news that the sign is required. It’s just a notice that the sign is required. Are you saying that the notice is only required when the notice saying that the notice is required is printed by the government?

  19. #19 |  DoubleU | 


  20. #20 |  plutosdad | 

    Can Floridians call the number to report their tax dollars being wasted?

  21. #21 |  Why? Just Because. | Inertia Wins! | 

    […] Radley Balko and John Stossel) Share this:StumbleUponDiggRedditTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  22. #22 |  DarkEFang | 

    Is it just me, or does anyone else just automatically assume that any story involving something idiotic takes place in Florida?

  23. #23 |  Michael Chaney | 

    I see a business opportunity in printing these stickers and selling them for less than the state of FL charges.

  24. #24 |  Scott | 

    I see nothing wrong with this. I interpret this sign as basically a registration sticker. If it had simply read something like “registration” I don’t think you’d have a problem with it either. You seem vexed that it actually attempts to explain what it is.

    It’s main purpose is NOT to get consumers to notice and call in non-compliant machines. That is simply a side benefit, probably mostly to remind the owner of the consequences if he were to remove/lose it. As most people never read these, who cares? I think the sign accomplishes the tasks of:

    1. Being noticeable to whom it matters (inspectors)
    2. Being easily ignored to those it doesn’t (consumers)
    3. Explaining what it is to the curious (such as us, apparently)

  25. #25 |  the innominate one | 

    This is kind of like when I take attendance by asking absent students to raise their hands.

    That said, I see a money-making opportunity going to waste also: remove stickers from machines, then report the machine for not having a sticker.

  26. #26 |  Sean L. | 

    Why do people think this is okay? If I were a vending machine operator, it would literally take me 10 minutes to type this up, print it on a sticker and slap it on a machine. There is absolutely ZERO enforcement value to this.

    If some tax ID number were required to be on it, you might have an argument. But to really understand the ridiculousness of it, imagine for a moment that, as a condition of you registering your car, you don’t need a licence plate or registration sticker for the year, but just a generic bumper sticker that says “This sticker is required on all cars. If you don’t see me on this car call blah-blah-blah (Do not call to report mechanical problems or accidents.)” After all, if you DIDN’T havt that on there, you’d “presumably not in compliance with the other requirements such as registration and payment of the tax.”

    If, after you really let that sink in, are still okay with the logic behind it, then you’re beyond hope! :-)

  27. #27 |  EH | 

    the funniest thing about this is florida’s alignment with shrink-the-government republicans.

  28. #28 |  Mark Z. | 

    Well, no. The law, again, only requires the owner to prominently display the language in the regulation on the machine. There’s no placard. There’s no bar code. There’s no serial number.

    More to the point, there’s no expiration date.

    If the sticker said “if this sticker is still on the machine after January 1, 2012, call this number”, then it would be useful for enforcing something–tax, safety inspection, some other bureaucratic process that required the state to keep track of the machine.

    This being Florida, the most plausible explanation is that they simply needed to raise a little money, and a tax hike would be politically difficult, so they passed a regulation that would generate a steady trickle of fines. Hey, it’s less harmful than red light cameras.

  29. #29 |  MikeZ | 

    Personally I like the “may be eligible for a reward”. That itself pretty much ensures nobody will even write down the number. I see the ‘may’ and immediately realize if the government has the option of giving me money or not, it will usually chose not.

  30. #30 |  DoubleU | 

    Mike Z, that is you. Others will say “OMG THEY ARE GOING TO GIVE ME A HUGE REWARD!” and tear the sticker off.

  31. #31 |  Contrarian | 

    “It’s impossible to defraud the system because the bureaucrat checks the machine.”

    How about going around with a scraper taking stickers off machines and calling them in?

  32. #32 |  Jay | 

    It’s a good thing someone’s making sure that those sealed cans do not present a health hazard or something.

  33. #33 |  Chris in AL | 

    This certainly gives competing vending machine operators a way to screw with each other though.

  34. #34 |  Jay | 

    @ #33
    That’s called free-market competition.

  35. #35 |  World’s Strangest | Great Moments in Government Regulations: The Self-Referential Notice of Florida | 

    […] to call to report a missing notice, if the phone number is on the notice itself? Link – via The Agitator and […]

  36. #36 |  Great Moments in Government Regulations: The Self-Referential … | The Government Site | 

    […] a missing notice, if the phone number is on the notice itself? Link – via The Agitator and […]

  37. #37 |  CyniCAl | 

    Van Halen, in its contracts with concert venues and promoters, invented the “no brown M&M” rider, which stipulated that a bowl of M&Ms with no brown M&Ms must be placed in their dressing room.

    This was done not because of some phobia of brown M&Ms, but because if this detail were not attended to, it was a strong indicator that the other more important terms of the contract were not followed by the venue, specifically rigging and other safety issues that could impact their roadies.

    So, it seems that there is a Van Halen fan in the Florida bureaucracy. Interesting.

  38. #38 |  picachu | 

    Yea but we still live in the freest country in the world.

  39. #39 |  Big A | 

    #33 Jay- Yeah, one definitely can’t be pro free-market unless he messes with other people’s property. In fact, I think fucking with others’ shit is actually the textbook definition of “free-market”.

  40. #40 |  Jay | 

    @ #39

    That is probably the definition you would find in a high school textbook. In history, the free market is the equivalent of robber barons working in conjunction with the government.

  41. #41 |  Good Job, Florida | mad libertarian guy | 

    […] for the sake of bureaucracy. And trying to rope everyday people in to enforcing it. Good job, […]

  42. #42 |  Big A | 

    Doesn’t sound very free to me.

  43. #43 |  Best Authority Badge Ever « meerschweinchenreport | 

    […] via: The Agitator […]

  44. #44 |  This is not (intended as) a joke « Phil Ebersole's Blog | 

    […] on Regulations Protect Us for an explanation (sort of) of this sign on Radley Balko’s The Agitator web log. Share […]

  45. #45 |  NotEntitled | 

    The more important question to ask is, what would be lost if this requirement didn’t exist? Does this sign requirement actually solve some particular problem that actually existed? Since the sign law was enacted, have less people been hurt by vending machines? After all, isn’t that the only reasonable objective of food/beverage regulations? My guess is that nothing has been improved.

    And the sign is just embarrasing to the people of Florida. What a bunch of morons.