Slipshod? Meh, just pass it

One of the themes of this debacle of a legislative session is that conservative Republicans slop down train wrecks of technically flawed culture-war bills. Then they pass them perfunctorily, knowing they're slipshod, even saying privately that courts will probably throw them out.

These Republicans don't want some of these laws they're making as much as they want the headline on the occasion of a bill's passage. It sends the message back home that they're doing the Lord's work against pornographic librarians, transgender persons, marauding woke liberals and school teachers holding down children and force-feeding them the liberal indoctrination that Black people haven't always been treated well in America.

Oppressive legislation against transgender persons helps, not hurts, the perpetrators politically, at least for now in tragically regressive Arkansas. Opposing it does liberals and Democrats no political good, only the potential political harm of deeper cultural alienation.

But this new practice of knowingly passing complete messes of bills ... that is something Democrats could stress in hopes voters might begin to see that they're being insulted by hollow grandstanding and irresponsibility.

What happened on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon just beat all.

The bill for consideration was SB270 by Sen. John Payton of Wilburn in Cleburne County, who unseated a nice young and moderate social studies teacher from Batesville, James Sturch, in the Republican primary that was tantamount to election last year.

Sturch lectured the Senate last year on being uncivil and overly partisan. For that he got 41 percent in a district redrawn a tad unfavorably to him.

What the bill said was that, if you went into a public bathroom or changing station of the opposite sex and "remained" there knowing there was a child inside, then you were committing a sexual-assault felony.

Sen. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock--lawyer, Democrat and studiously responsible person--got up and said that the bill was wrongfully oppressive to transgender persons, making them criminals simply for being transgender persons. But then he asked his colleagues to "just forget that" for purposes of debate on SB270 and follow along as he delved into the bill analytically.

His point was to wonder why in the world a bill in such sloppy shape would ever get to the floor of the state Senate.

For example, one section of the bill had a missing line. Just missing. A dangling provision.

Tucker, a member of the Judiciary Committee, asked Payton during the committee's hearing on the bill about the apparent absence of a complete statement. Payton said, yeah, OK, I see that.

So then what happened? The committee passed the bill "do pass," eschewing even a two-day pause for a technical edit.

There was one "no" voice vote in committee. As usual, that was just Tucker.

They need a new standard motion out at the Capitol, to this effect: "I move do-pass on this bill because we know what the hell we're trying to say."

Here's a synopsis of merely part of what Tucker brought up as he knifed through the bill on the Senate floor:

The business of going into an "opposite sex" bathroom would require for enforcement a door-keeping hand check of crotches or a quick all-points-bulletin for birth-certificate research. The business of doing so "knowingly" in regard to a child's presence in the bathroom would require mind reading. The business of "remaining" in there knowing of children would require some definition as to what constitutes "remaining."

How long is "remain?"

Let's say you are in fact a transgender woman who enters a public women's bathroom. Let's say somehow you know a child is in there. Let's say you really needed to relieve yourself. How long can you pee before you are "remaining" for an illegally long duration?

As Tucker pointed out, serious criminal law requires a plain but vivid action verb, such as steal or kill. But this bill made a crime of walking through a door and then staying inside the room you walked into. It made the crime having private parts, not about doing anything with them.

For that matter, Tucker said, the list of exceptions to the law would specifically exempt a male father taking a male son younger than 7 into a women's restroom where children were present.

And remaining.

I'd be more concerned about a from-birth male, rather than a transgender woman, gathering up his toddler and lingering inside a women's bathroom to gawk or worse.

A rare responsible Republican senator, Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana, helped persuade Payton to pull down the bill and send it back to committee for amendment.

Payton told the Senate he'd get that incomplete thought completed with a few words and be back.

And that'll probably be all that's done Monday, leading to the motion of "do-pass on the basis that we fixed the easiest thing to fix and fixing everything would leave our friend John with no bill at all."

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

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