Monday, August 06, 2007

EDITORIALS>>A law we don’t need

Women everywhere can feel secure in the knowledge that starting this week they will be safer when they venture into the virtuous confines of Arkansas. Or not.

That is owing to an act of the Arkansas legislature that makes it a crime to snap a photograph or a video in public that peers down a woman’s blouse or up her skirt.

The legislation is the crowning freshman achievement of Rep. Donna Hutchinson, R-Bella Vista, better known as the first wife of former U. S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, who had a fling with one of his Senate employees several years ago and then divorced Mrs. Hutchinson.

Thus, her career took off as her ex-husband’s came to an ignominious end. He was beaten by Mark Pryor in 2002.
We were reminded of Mrs. Hutchinson’s first legislative spawn — she called it the “Paris Hilton law” — when we published examples of the 1,755 laws that the General Assembly passed in a span of some 50 working days and that took effect this week.

We have always been amazed at the sheer volume, if not the quality, of laws that the legislature passes at every biennial sitting.

How can they craft so much policy detail much less master it while partying like crazy?

The answer, of course, is that others often write the legislation and we are lucky if the lawmakers master just the important stuff.

Mrs. Hutchinson’s cleavage law reminds us of something else. We have too many criminal laws. Every session, the legislature expands the criminal code by criminalizing scores more examples of reprehensible or simply tasteless behavior.

It is not merely the Arkansas legislature but the nature of lawmaking.

State legislatures make it a criminal act for teenagers to wear low-rise jeans or to show their underwear.

Most of the laws are never or rarely enforced simply because lawmen have better things to do, but they still contribute to the burden of crowded jails, prisons and courts.

Frank Trippett, an old statehouse reporter who wrote a book once called “The States: United They Fell,” called the legislative appetite for trivia “microphilia.” Good word.

Gene Healy, a senior editor at the libertarian think tank, Cato Institute, wrote a book about the impulse to outlaw distasteful conduct a couple of years ago called “Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything.”

“The criminal law has become an all-purpose tool for legislators to signal that they are serious about whatever the social problem of the month is, and that’s really a dangerous tendency,” Healy said. “The criminal law is the society’s most powerful moral sanction and it ought to be reserved for those sorts of really dangerous and blameworthy offenses that you’re willing to lock people up for.”

Risqué photography is not one of them.

Paris Hilton indeed! If Rep. Hutchinson will spend less time surfing Internet Web sites and more time studying the tax code, lawmaking will be improved.

Editorial by Ernie Dumas.