Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

View Point: Time-wasting bills crop up regularly

 


In every legislative session you can count on two kinds of time-wasting bills — those that make things illegal that are already crimes and those that address legislators’ personal pet peeves.

There are at least two examples of the first kind of bill before the New Mexico Legislature.

One would make child prostitution a felony, which it already is, but make it a first-degree felony instead of a second-degree felony. The other would make it a crime to buy and sell food stamps for cash. It’s already a crime and the penalties are severe.

Child sexual crimes are already among the most harshly punished, and justifiably so, but a legislator cannot go wrong, it seems, by advocating even harsher penalties to create the illusion of really going after the country’s most despised criminals.

The difference between a second-degree felony and a first-degree felony, however, is not enough by itself to create a deterrent, as experience should already show.

A coordinated program among law enforcement, child welfare and social services agencies to find and prosecute adults who sell children for sex would be practical. Merely making a serious crime more serious is not.

Prominent news reports about food stamp fraud have given this abuse of government aid a high profile. It was already illegal with serious penalties in place.

If the current penalties are not a deterrent, more severe penalties, in all likelihood, will not create a deterrent, either. You have to catch the criminals first.

Programs to increase food coupon security — requiring identification when food coupons are used, for example — would do more to prevent food stamp fraud than merely increasing punishment for offenders who are hard to catch.

We should take a lesson from our drug wars. We have filled up our prisons with drug offenders serving long, hard sentences, but drugs still flow with relative ease. When a truly effective deterrent is found, the world will rejoice, and we all must keep looking for it.

Our favorite pet-peeve legislation in the current Legislature would have required more men’s restrooms to include diaper changing stations. It would be a nice thing to do for our admirable population of diaper-changing dads, but does it need the force of law?

We don’t think so.

Fortunately, this proposed law has already failed, but, like laws to make existing crimes illegal, it took time away from more urgent business in our Legislature’s brief 60-day session.

At a time when the state is ranking near the bottom in child welfare, jobs and attracting new business, it is plain the Legislature has better things to do than grandstand on the “crime du jour” and address personal problems.

 

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