Legislators need to worry about budget, not child seatbelt safety

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
June 3, 2001

This past week, we achieved a couple of milestones in my family. On Tuesday, my eleven-month-old son cut his hand, resulting in his first stitches. Later that day, with his hand bandaged and looking like a white roast duck leg, he managed to climb out of his crib, deftly dropping his feet to the floor, like an escaping prisoner scaling a wall at Brushy Mountain.

Actually, I was proud of him. But I do not have to chase him all day. My wife, who does chase him and his sister all day, is more than a bit concerned for his safety. Imagine if she also had to deal with the prospect of going to jail for child endangerment.

Tennessee Governor, Don Sundquist, has introduced a host of new spending programs, potentially adding to the state's budget ills if the new measures are adopted. These measures include a number of new educational programs for at-risk pre-schoolers. TennCare continues to be a big black hole. Our state relies on a regressive tax structure, then pays for the medical insurance of 25 percent of the population. The number most frequently passed around as our looming next year's state budget deficit is $800 million. It is possible the General Assembly might craft an entirely new revenue system in the few days remaining in this year's legislative session. Imagine creating a business plan for an $18 billion-a-year business in a few days.

But the state House spent some time focusing on important areas. After debate and amendments and votes on amendments, the House voted to require children up to eight years old and weighing less than 80 pounds to ride in a child restraint system in the back seat of vehicles. All children under the age of 12 would be required to ride in the rear seat of vehicles containing both front and back seats. (My Ford Expedition actually contains three rows of seats, so we may need some clarification on the definition of "rear seat.")

Committees debated if parents could be exempted from the rear seat requirement while nursing their children or changing a diaper. In a shameless appeal to heavy kids, the Senate version of the bill places the car seat threshold at 50 pounds.

What in the world is the state government doing telling me where to seat my kids in my car? They are my children. It is my responsibility to raise them. The state already requires a blood sample from each newborn to be sent to Nashville for testing, before a child can leave the hospital. Not only does the state government have the ability to catalogue the DNA of every child born in the state, they want to make decisions about the daily practice of raising "our collective" children. I fed my kids grits and Vienna sausages without my wife's knowledge and before her vast library of baby books recommended it. Perhaps this is an area for a House subcommittee to investigate. We could have detailed legislation differentiating Vienna sausages from children's meat sticks, based on size and content. (I actually read the labels of these two almost identical products and decided Vienna sausages were less unhealthy than the baby version.)

Legislation like the child restraint bill is, by itself, a very minor intrusion into the liberties granted by God and declared protected by the US Constitution. In total, however, the continual erosion of these liberties creates a false appearance of an absolution of our individual responsibilities. It is easy to assume I am being a good parent - or, at least, an acceptable one - if I just follow the state's guidelines for child rearing. But I must decide when to move my daughter and son into the front seat with me; I cannot rely on a committee of politicians to know what is best in our situation. What I must also do, however, is rely on those same elected officials to spend their time, energy and talent on solving the state's budget mess. A successful outcome in this area is the best thing this General Assembly can do to serve the children of Tennessee.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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