Free-range kids bill, take two | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Free-range kids bill, take two

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 1:07 PM

ALAN CLARK: Let the kids play. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • ALAN CLARK: Let the kids play.

State Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) is back again with more proposed changes to the Arkansas child welfare system. Late last year, he filed SB 12 which, like his similar bill from 2017 that passed in the Senate with bipartisan support but later died in House committee, excludes certain acts of parents, custodians, foster parents and guardians from being defined as "criminal" or "neglect."

Typically, making a list of actions that are not illegal is a backward way of writing legislation, but Clark's bill may be needed in today's world of busybodies and over-policing. It would protect parents who allow their children to be unsupervised while walking or biking to school, playing outside, remaining at home before or after school under certain conditions and, the most controversial, allowing them to remain for less than 15 minutes in a car if the temperature in the car is not dangerously hot or cold. All of this is contingent on the child being of "sufficient capacity to avoid immediate danger and a significant risk of harm." Clark may want to revisit the broad language at the end of the bill that could possibly require a child maltreatment case involving acts protected by the bill be closed even if more serious abuse is alleged. Seems like an easy fix, though.

Another strike against Clark's bill may be that the nearly identical 2017 bill was reportedly authored by out-of-state activists, including Lenore Skenazy, the mom behind the Free-Range Kids book and movement, along with former Arkansas Rep. Dan Greenberg. I've asked Clark to clarify that, but have yet to hear back with a response. I'll update the post if and when I do.

Legislators should probably consider being more transparent and cautious about who they trust so we can avoid ending up with a bizarre bill that would create a database of porn watchers and effectively kill off the computer market in Arkansas. But as we've learned from the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission's delays, no sense in reinventing the wheel either.

I imagine many parents have, like me, parked at a gas pump that has a broken card reader and debated how to unbuckle both sleeping kids from their car seats and haul them into the store for a three minute transaction, more worried that someone can't wait to call the police to report unattended children than the likelihood of a carjacking.

I was a free range kid in the late '70s and early '80s at what seemed like the height of the candy-offering, van-driving pervert scare. I rode my bike all over town with the instructions to come home before dark and avoid the town weirdos. I waited in the car with my sister while my mom ran in the bank, the dry cleaners and the pharmacy. Clark's bill, even with its imperfections, aims to make sure kids today can do the same. 

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