Saturday, February 21, 2015

Shh! Someone's Listening!

The early weeks of most states' legislative sessions are filled with bills that do more pandering than actual legislating. Legislators introduce measures they know have little chance of passage, so they can tell constituents they did make an effort to have President Obama outlawed within their borders (or, ten years ago, President Bush), but the opposition was just too strong. Some more fringe lawmakers introduce their own pet issue for true-believer reasons, but they're fringe for a reason and those measures don't pass either.

In our own fair state, we have recently had a proposed extension of a 95-year-old ban on disguising oneself in public, which allowed everyone to have a good snicker at the RAC!ST!! ideology supposedly behind it. The original law was aimed at hood-wearing Klansmen, and the presence of the word "hood" allowed the measure to instantly become "a law banning 'hoodies,' or hooded sweatshirts." Recently, a lawmaker who wanted the state to examine its Advanced Placement course offerings and de-fund them if they didn't meet certain standards morphed in popular understanding into a knuckle-dragging mouth-breather who wanted to ban AP History in school.

Neither measure was very smart, neither measure had much chance of passage, and neither measure was well-served by either its supporters or its opponents. The former proved not up to the task of explaining why their rather half-baked ideas should be en-statutized, and the latter proved much more interested in mocking stereotypes perceived in the supporters than engaging in actual argument about the substance of the measure or the issue behind it.

So now we have another gem, this one from a former law enforcement officer who would very much like to remove a good bit of information from that which is available for public inspection. He chairs the committee which heard the bill, and re-structured the original objectionable proposal written by a member of the opposition party. In other words, this is a genuinely bipartisan piece of crap. It would increase the costs of obtaining those records -- in fact, a government agency could charge you for marking out what it's not allowed to disclose, like juvenile arrest records. It would remove the presumption that video records are available unless certain conditions are met and switch much more of the burden on those who ask to see them to demonstrate their need for such.

As the story notes, laws passed in last year's session could have included these exemptions if they were thought necessary, and law enforcement agencies apparently didn't because they didn't ask for them.

There are no fun and snarky memes about this measure as yet, and I doubt that any will show up. It catches no national undercurrent like all of the hoodie wearing that accompanied Trayvon Martin protests, and it provides no Stewart-ready giggling about how ignorant folks aim to make sure their ignorance is passed on. I personally don't think it will pass or be signed into law, and even if it was I think it would draw lawsuits out the wazoo as soon as someone tried to enforce it. But it would be nice if all of the people interested in State House committee proceedings over the last few weeks could stretch their attention span past the 140-character limit long enough to look at what could be a truly dangerous measure if actually enacted.

(H/T Dustbury)

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