Over in La-La Land -- you know, California, where they love new, weird laws and even are considering one that would mandate a 15-minute break every two hours for baby sitters (which means you'd need to hire a relief baby sitter for that interval) -- something shockingly sane has just happened. The governor, Jerry Brown, vetoed a law passed by the state Legislature that would have made it a crime for anyone younger than 18 not to wear a helmet while skiing or snowboarding.
Well knock me over with a medical marijuana prescription. Here is what the governor wrote:
"While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law. I believe parents have the ability and responsibility to make good choices for their children."
This is remarkable because the governor is right; there IS an inexorable drive to make children safer than safe, even if their parents believe that these extra measures need not be taken.
Consider the fact that in more than a dozen states, there are now laws that forbid children younger than a certain age -- usually about 10 -- from waiting in the car while their parents run an errand. In those states, it doesn't matter if a parent thinks her kid will be safe while she runs in to pick up the pizza. All that matters is what the state thinks. And because it always sounds good to campaign "for the safety of the children," politicians get elected to pass laws that codify this worst-case thinking: Because something bad COULD happen to a child, let's act as if it inevitably WOULD and outlaw it!
And how about the over-the-top lead poisoning law passed by Congress? Now it is illegal for children's clothing to be decorated with traditional rhinestones. Why? Because they contain trace amounts of lead and if a child decided to eat her entire tutu -- and the sparkly tutu of everyone else in her ballet school's "Nutcracker" -- it could (theoretically) inch up her blood lead level. So the law says that children's clothing -- that is, clothing intended for any child 12 or younger -- cannot contain any lead. This includes underwear and socks.
Never mind that most 12-year-olds are not eating their costumes, much less their underwear. Never mind that our nation's consumer watchdog, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, went so far as to recall one model of Timberland boots for this reason: "Logo stamped onto the children's boot's insoles contains excessive levels of lead, violating the federal lead paint standard."
That's right; we are talking about a shoe banned because of the ink used to stamp the brand name on the inside, where your foot goes -- a micro amount of lead in an almost impossible-to-lick spot. Yet it prompted a federal recall.
Back when he was California's attorney general, Jerry Brown himself went so far as to sue bouncy-house operators for lead in their vinyl. But now that he is governor, something (perhaps a Timberland boot?) seems to hit him over the head: a realization that not everything is as dangerous as it seems in a sound bite.
I happen to love helmets and make my kids wear them not just when they ski or snowboard but also when they skateboard. Then again, I also let them wait in the car when I run an errand. I'd let them wear rhinestones, but they're boys. But I sure would let them wear shoes stamped with lead ink.
In other words, I think I'm capable of deciding for myself what is or isn't safe for my kids. And I'm glad Gov. Brown agrees.