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Opinion & Essays - Jul, 1999 Issue #59


By: Lon Woodbury CEP

(In mid-June, the California Assembly passed Bill 705, which now goes to the state Senate. Among a number of more or less reasonable regulations, there is one section in this bill that has the impact of virtually eliminating the ability of private transport companies to act as agents for parents who need their out-of-control children escorted to schools and programs than can help them. Section 22944 (d) states: “Transport escort services shall not coerce or intimidate minors, nor shall they use physical force, mechanical or chemical restraints, or any means of interfering with the minor’s ability to see, hear, or move freely.” In other words, even when a child is thinking of a copycat of the Littleton, Colorado shootings, the legislation does not trust parents to do the right thing. – Lon).

Every piece of legislation passed into law will have as an objective some kind of redistribution of money and/or power in society. The ultimate tool allowing such redistribution is found in the Enforcement Clause. This clause authorizes and commands the police to use whatever force that is necessary to carry out the letter of the law, i.e. force the newly identified bad guys to stop doing what has become prohibited if they refuse to stop. In any adopted legislation, there are usually both intended and unintended consequences; once the law has existed for a time, there will be winners and losers, compared to the status quo. The ideal is that the winners will be the “good guys,” and the losers will be the “bad guys.” Unfortunately, the “good guys” don’t always win, which I think is the case with this legislation, since it has flawed premises that lead to unintended consequences.

So, if the California Assembly Bill 705 becomes law, who will be the likely winners and who will lose?

The first winner that comes to mind is the anger and fear of the Out-Of-Control Teen, an attitude which causes the teen to trust no adult and make poor decisions that are potentially harmful, both to the teen and to others. This legislation will allow the child focused on exclusively having fun to tell the parents, essentially, “No way am I going to a program, I won’t give up hanging out with my friends on the streets, skipping school, taking my drugs and doing only what I want.” Or, it allows the angry and/or alienated child to think: “I am not giving up my weapons, they are the only things I have for protection or revenge!” It enables the depressed or scared child to insist, “I won’t budge from the security of my home, computer/TV, and take a chance on being made fun of!” This law will make it extremely difficult for responsible parents to intervene in these situations and find the help their child needs to guide them out of their fear and anger!

Conversely, the real loser from this legislation will be the child who is so frightened and/or angry, with such an extremely low self-esteem, that he/she is unable to even ask for the help needed to overcome the fear, anger, pain and distorted view of the world. Essentially, this legislation will perpetuate this lost loving child being held captive by his/her own fear and anger.

Winners from this legislation would also seem to be the critics of parents; those who feel many children, if not most children, need to be protected from their parents.

Conversely, a loser from this legislation would be responsible parents; those who would make any sacrifice for their child, even to the extent of going heavily in debt in order to help their child learn how to make safer and more positive decisions. 

Another winner would be the government payroll. As fewer parents are able to intervene before their child gets in serious trouble, some of those children will later require incarceration. Only the government could override the child’s ability to make poor choices, with intervention only after those choices have taken their toll. This legislation would have the effect of taking the decision for school placement, traditionally a family matter and responsibility, out of the family’s hands, placing it instead, in he hands of the legal system.

Other losers would be Citizens and Taxpayers, who not only would have to endure crimes that otherwise might never have happened; they would also be taxed for increased numbers of incarcerated youth. Another winner from this legislation would be Caricature Politics, or Blame Politics, the type based on an exaggerated demonization of an identified group, an increasingly popular and successful style of politics during the 20th century. In this case, proponents of restrictive legislation like this seem to be painting a picture of irresponsible or incompetent parents hiring transport thugs to physically abduct an innocent child in the dead of night to carry them to a far away program to be abused. Any event even remotely resembling this extreme caricature is rare, and when identified as such, is vigorously condemned by the overwhelming percentage of professionals working with at-risk youth.

Another loss from this legislation, would be the lack of a responsible and thoughtful discussion about how best to help our at-risk teens. This includes the transport professionals themselves, who have been trying to get legislators to write regulations ensuring that out-of-control teens would get the help they need, while being treated with dignity and respect; which is what quality transport companies do. This legislation would simply close off the discussion, allowing at-risk teens to do what they want until somebody has been hurt, then the government has to perform crisis intervention.

The puzzling thing about this legislation is that the California Assembly has voted to reduce the parents’ ability to intervene early when their child is making poor or dangerous decisions. Yet nationally, after the school shootings at Littleton, Colorado, the nation seems to be demanding that we find ways to expand the ability to intervene when teens show dangerous tendencies. The California Assembly seem to be victims of Caricature Politics. They seem to be out of touch with the needs of at-risk children, out of touch with the national debate that has developed after the Littleton, Colorado school shootings, and distrustful of the parents’ ability to do the right thing. With these flawed assumptions, there is little chance that the “good guys” (our children) will be the winners.

Copyright © 1999, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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