As a parent of two young children, I have to make decisions all day every day that will affect not only me but also my little Darlings. Most of the decisions I make will not change the world or make much difference to anyone other than our family, i.e., whether to have PB&J or turkey sandwiches for lunch; whether to go to the zoo or the arboretum in the afternoon; whether to watch Cars or Diego; whether to interrupt Darling 2 while quietly playing trains to change that wet pull-up or wait until he notices and runs to the bathroom, etc. Oh, the important and critical issues a parent must decide.
But in truth, I do make decisions that can affect others, such as whether to vaccinate my children and whether I choose to use my cell phone to make calls or text while driving. However, most decisions I make throughout any given day are rarely given a second thought. It's just part of my everyday life.
A Bigger Impact
Everyone makes good and bad decisions. But what if you had to make a decision that could impact an entire state or the whole country? Our state and federal legislators make these kinds of decisions on a regular basis. Arguably, legislators are influenced by a variety of factors. Some base decisions on how to support, draft and/or vote on legislation on his or her principles, experience, needs and/or views of constituents, etc. Others make choices regarding legislation based on personal gain, whether for campaign purposes, financial incentives from lobbyists, or status, etc. And we accept this as politics.
As one philosopher states, the single universal element of all such statutes, ordinances, codes, taxation provisions, appellate court decisions, prescribed punishments and rules for civil and criminal procedure is the presumed and stated intention of the law to correct some evil, injustice, inequity or promote some important and desirable good for the majority of civil society. Yet regardless of the intended purpose behind certain legislation, some laws, codes, regulations, etc. create unintended consequences. Many times, these inadvertent results have negative, unforeseen effects. I started thinking about this issue after reading an article about a high school football coach in FL. I soon found other good laws that have had unexpected results. Here is a potpourri of such laws, regulations and codes:
The Football Coach
When a FL high school football coach found out that one of his football players was homeless he took him in, allowing him to live in his home. Sounds benevolent, right? Yes, except for that fact that this violates the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) code.
The particular rule violated states: No school employee or representative of the school's athletic department can provide or promise free or reduced-cost housing for a potential athlete in their program. The code is meant to prevent coaches from recruiting players from other cities.
While no one questions the intention of the coach as being anything but kind-hearted, and the high school self-reported this violation to the FHSAA, the player has been sidelined pending the outcome of the investigation by the FHSAA. Even though the school district reinstated the coach to both his coaching and teaching duties, after having to sit out one game, he may still have to forfeit some or all of his $3,850 annual coaching stipend, depending on the decision of the FHSAA.
It was certainly not the intention of the FHSAA to punish athletes who happen to be homeless. It was merely meant to stop high school coaches and other school district personnel from shopping around for athletes. And yet it's not right that a decent human being can't do something out of the goodness of his heart without violating a rule. Hopefully, this situation will be remedied soon.
Bike Helmet Laws Leaving Kids Behind
Several months ago I posted on bike helmet laws and the reasons for such laws. The intent is to protect children, and sometimes adults too, from head injuries if thrown from the bike or hit by a car while riding. While these laws have reduced the number of injuries and fatalities, apparently these laws in over 20 states have also reduced the number of children who bike.
According to the article Intended and Unintended Effects of Youth Bicycle Helmet Laws by Carpenter and Stehr, there are several possibilities as to why this is happening. One likelihood is that the cost of bike helmets is problematic for some. It's speculated that another cause of reduced biking is that it simply is not cool to wear bike helmets, and social acceptance is important to tweens and teens.
The problem is that reduced biking among youth means less exercise, which goes against the current trends of tackling childhood obesity. And as one article suggests, some kids are turning to other less regulated activities, such as skateboarding and in-line skating, which could be just as dangerous as biking without a helmet. Again, it's unfortunate that laws with good intentions are having such negatives effects when the laws were put into place to protect children from injury.
Sexting and Other Teen Exploits
These days photos, videos and written materials can be easily exchanged and shared with numerous people in a matter of minutes through texts, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Over the past several years I have read many articles about teens who consensually took nude photos of themselves and sent the photos to boyfriends or girlfriends over the Internet or others who willingly took videos of themselves engaged in sexual activities, who then found themselves charged with child pornography crimes and prosecuted.
The intent of these laws is to protect minors from abusive adults who seek to harm them both physically and psychologically. These teens who have been charged with such crimes and found guilty are labeled sex offenders for the rest of their lives. When, in fact, the teens were doing nothing more than exploring their sexuality, not committing a crime.
While I'm not condoning this activity, I believe there are other ways to handle such situations. There is no crime being committed in most of these circumstances. Being found guilty of such a crime means being stuck with a misleading and false label for the rest of one's life and can ruin college, career and family opportunities. This was certainly not the intent of the legislature when these laws were passed.
Historical Unintended Consequences
Historically, there have been other laws that were intended to stop something or promote something and yet went terribly wrong. Two such instances: prohibition and prohibiting abortions. I know I'm treading on dangerous ground bringing up these two points, but this is my opinion.
Prohibition was intended to eliminate drunkenness, promote industry and hard work, reinforce the sanctity of the family unit and generally encourage and assure sobriety and adult responsibility in America. The results were contrary to the motivation for the federal and state laws that outlawed the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages. Crime increased, and previously unknown petty criminals and street gangs were quickly transformed into wealthy, powerful and organized crime syndicates. The consumption of alcohol actually increased over pre-Prohibition levels. Agencies and departments intended to enforce the law and keep the peace were on the whole corrupted with bribes. Clearly, this law did not accomplish its intended purpose.
Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortions were illegal in almost all circumstances with a few exceptions, such as rape and incest. Instead of stopping abortions from taking place, the law merely forced women to seek out doctors and/or clinics or others who operated outside the law. The result was that many women died or became ill with infections because of the non-sterile equipment, inexperience or lack of expertise of the person performing the abortion. In many circumstances, women were so desperate that they risked their lives to have an abortion. Certainly, it was never the intention of the legislators who deemed it an immoral procedure and banned abortions that women would seek to have an abortion regardless of the repercussions, but that is exactly what happened.
Fortunately, both prohibition and the ban against abortion have been lifted thereby diminishing the unintended impact, although some remnants of those ill effects still linger. There are other such laws written and passed with an intended positive result that, in fact, is never achieved, such as Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military, certain tax laws and enforced busing of students after desegregation of schools.
How does the Legislature prevent laws created with good intentions from going awry? As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Can you think of other circumstances where an unintended result occurred? On Wednesday, I will post tips on decision making. Over and out…
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