On the day that open enrollment in the health insurance exchanges began — that’s a key provision of the Affordable Care Act and the reason the Statue of Liberty is closed to the public — the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of an ordinance that revises an existing law concerning garbage collection, effectively compelling residents in Lafayette Parish to participate in a mandatory garbage service or pay a fine.

According to an account in The Advocate, the measure is aimed at forcing participation in the garbage collection service by roughly 1,200 residents in unincorporated Lafayette Parish who, it is estimated, are either illegally burning or dumping their trash on roadsides or placing it in the garbage bins of neighbors. Lafayette Consolidated Government is contracted with Allied Waste for curbside trash collection.

medical_wasteThe new ordinance requires all residents in the city of Lafayette and unincorporated parish to get a bin and use it or pay a $50-per-week fine. (The fine is capped at $200.) The ordinance also requires residents to pull their bins away from the road within 24 hours or face an additional fine, although the Public Works Department will have discretion in levying fines based on individual circumstances (read: offshore workers, the elderly, etc).

The concept behind the ordinance is simple: the common good. Roadside trash dumps are not only a source of blight in the parish but present potential environmental hazards; so too with burning garbage. Take a drive down the gravel stretch of Lajaunie Road winding along the bank of the Vermilion River in north Lafayette Parish and you’ll see what we mean; it would be a scenic drive but for the garbage dumped on the roadside.

Now to the coincidental beauty that would have Carl Jung and Arthur Koestler beaming: The health insurance exchanges opened for business yesterday, same day as the meeting. They will close by mid December and Americans without health insurance — most of us have it through our employer or spouse’s employer — are compelled to shop for and purchase a health insurance plan. By next year, those who have failed to do so will face a fine (Uncle Sam variously calls it a fee or tax but that’s just semantics) — 1 percent of income or $95 (whichever is higher) with some income-based exemptions.

The principle behind the law is simple (deja vu, y’all?): the common good. Increasing the number of Americans with health insurance will, in theory (it’s evidently debatable, we know), lower the cost of health care for all of us.

In effect, the Lafayette City-Parish Council is doing with the garbage ordinance what the feds are doing with Obamacare — forcing us all to take personal responsibility in service to the greater good. Get in, sign on, join up — or pay a fine. Ain’t that cool?

So an attaboy especially to the eight of nine council members who recognize in principle through this vote that sometimes we must compel ourselves to work for the common good through acts of the government, which is all of us — you, me and your mama ’n’ them.

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