OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Laws for the offended

I'm scared and I'm offended. So, let's make a law right quick. There's nothing to it, particularly when four-fifths of the Legislature sees it our way and wouldn't dare ask questions that might risk getting anyone accused of being tolerant of registered sex offenders.

And that right there--I submit with certainty--describes the ailment raging at the state Capitol.

Conservative legislators slap-dab their fears and outrages into instant law, absent any of the fine surgical repairs to bills done not that many years ago by competent moderate lawyers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, people like Mike Beebe, Morril Harriman, Mike Everett and Wayne Dowd.

As future governor Beebe told me in the 1990s, when extensive competence was available to him, he made sure Judiciary was stacked with knowledgeable lawyers either to kill horrible bills or, preferably, if possible, salvage salvageable ones. Now it's stacked with one such being, Harvard-educated lawyer Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, part of a six-member Democratic caucus in a 35-member Senate, thus a hapless voice seeking to vet what no one much wants or knows how to vet.

The effect is that state statutes are now beginning to read like newspaper columns without editors.

State Rep. Brian Evans of Cabot, a nice-enough guy meaning well, or so I'm told, put in a little bill, HB1125, providing that any registered sex offender of Level 3 or 4, the worst levels, must be denied ownership and operation of a drone.

Evans tells of constituents who became concerned about a drone repeatedly flying last summer over a private backyard where women and children were frolicking. Then one day the drone crashed.

Neighbors found out the drone was owned by a man registered as a Level 3 sex offender.

So, by 95 votes in the House and a 30-for and one-present (Tucker) vote in the Senate, we will soon see Sanders' signature making a new law of this bill that says no one who appears on that sexual-offender list at Level 3 or 4 may own or operate a drone.

Tucker said the bill was akin to a law saying no baseball player could buy or use a baseball bat because one baseball player beat someone with one.

His analogy was probably better than mine: Let's say we're out on the back deck at my house in late afternoon and, on repeated occasions, a pickup creeps along the alley and comes to a near-stop behind my home and tarries before moving on. It bothers me, of course. When it happens the next time, I bound out to the alley as the truck is pulling away and record the license number of the truck. I subsequently learn that the license number reflects vehicle ownership belonging to a man who happens to be a registered Level 3 sex offender.

Should our Legislature make a law providing that no Level 3 sex offender may own or operate a pickup?

There is a state law against voyeurism already. It is against that law to act as a peeping tom. So, then, shouldn't we target the offense, not a registered sex offender trying to get better and pass some time flying his drone over woods and streams?

You know what they've always said: Hate the sin, not the owner- operator of tiny low-flying aircraft device.

Tucker said the bill would stop any registered offender from buying a drone but permit any unregistered offender to buy one, even as the real issue was the same alleged criminal act of voyeurism by both, illegal already.

For that matter, he said, the registered offender could simply get an unregistered offender to sign for the drone and send it airborne for him, in which case he could proceed apace with his creepiness.

Tucker then proposed, in the fine Beebe fix-it tradition, that it might be valuable--and it sounds reasonable, since that voyeurism law expressly applies to peeping on sexual activity or nakedness--to design instead a bill adding a simple, narrow update to that voyeurism law. It would make explicit in its definitions section that it applied to any remote act using technology to invade another's property to watch private activity.

But there is no need these days to submit to editing because you have the votes already for your rough draft.

Not everything that scares, irks or offends--be it a drag queen or gender-uncertain teenager or teacher of American history--needs to produce a new, much less haphazard, law. To pursue such laws amounts to big-government activism.

But wait: I think I just saw a guy going up the alley carrying binoculars. Would one of you right-wing big-government activists whip me up a law right quick against binocular ownership by persons wearing red ball caps?

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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