Opinion Columns & Blogs

February 28, 2009

Scrooge alive and well in South Carolina

Ebenezer Scrooge lives, in South Carolina!

An AP article last week suggested that an impassioned plea to protect children from all-terrain vehicles fell on deaf ears during a House subcommittee meeting.

The plea came from Steven and Pamela Saylor, whose 16-year-old son, Chandler, was killed while operating an ATV. The Saylors have become tireless champions of a bill, dubbed "Chandler's Law," that would prohibit children younger than 8 from operating an ATV, limit the horsepower of ATVs operated by minors and require certain safety equipment as well as training for drivers born after Jan. 1, 1994.

Frustrated with yet another delay, the father told the House panel, "This is not about politics. It's about children. If it saves one child's life, isn't it worth it?"

The next quote in the article comes from Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens, who said, "We don't need any more crying parents standing in front of us with tears in their eyes."

Whoa! Did he really say that? Scrooge couldn't have put it better.

To give him benefit of doubt, Hiott might be guilty only of a poor choice of words. He might have meant that he thought that the time had come to move the bill forward and that further testimony would be superfluous.

In either case, the more important question is why it should be difficult to pass a bill to protect children.

Shouldn't the state set minimum age requirements and basic safety regulations for vehicles that, between 1998 and 2004, killed 28 South Carolina children younger than 16?

Nationally, an estimated 450 children are injured in ATV accidents each year, which explains why 44 states have enacted ATV regulations.

In fact, the S.C. General Assembly twice has passed bills to impose ATV rules. Each time, Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the bill, but supporters were unable to rally enough votes to overturn the vetoes. Sanford's mouthpiece, Joel Sawyer, said the governor likely would veto the next ATV bill to reach his desk.

Sanford's reasons for opposing the bills help explain why South Carolina is such a hostile place for our wee ones.

He has said the law would infringe on property rights, diminish parental responsibility and be difficult to enforce. Also, he thinks charging for a safety course would amount to a "hidden tax" on parents.

By law, ATVs are not licensed for public roads, so when a violation occurs, it's most likely to be on private property, which also means that cops often wouldn't spot the offense. Duh! Indeed, if Sanford's logic made sense, we should revoke laws prohibiting underage consumption of alcohol or use of contraband drugs. Those offenses seldom take place in plain view of police.

As for Sanford's idea that parental rights would be infringed upon by making it illegal to put children at risk of death or maiming from ATVs, that rationale could be applied to any number of child-protection measures, including seatbelt requirements, school immunization rules and mandatory school attendance. Every one of those laws infringes on parental responsibility.

The notion is ridiculous that families that spend hundreds of dollars on an ATV can't afford to pay for safety training for their children.

As for the inconvenience of listening to "crying parents," the problem with our governor and too many of our legislators is that they don't listen enough to parents and children that suffer the consequences of their callousness.

Rather than hear the cry of families devastated by payday usury, our lawmakers give rip-off lenders the right to charge annual interest rates of nearly 400 percent.

Rather than listen to the hacking coughs of people who began smoking as adolescents, they kowtow to the tobacco lobby and keep cigarette taxes obscenely low.

And because our lawmakers are inured to crying about the pitiful state of public schools in the so-called "Corridor of Same," a middle school girl from Dillon has to travel to Washington, D.C., to find sympathetic listeners.

Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Dickens' most memorable character, was the surviving partner in the counting house of Scrooge and Marley. Were he alive today, he'd be in the General Assembly -- if not the Governor's Mansion.

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