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Posturing outrage distracts from real issues

He may be rude, crude, and boorish, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely wrong.

State Rep. Kenny Havard made news yet again in a way perhaps he wished he hadn’t. A couple of years ago, he garnered infamy when his chamber considered a bill on sex trafficking with one provision raising the age limit for exotic dancing to 21. Supposedly as satire, he offered an amendment to raise this to 28 and to add a weight requirement.

This drew deserved approbation, but the reaction mattered more. It smacked of hypocrisy that legislators, led by a handful on the distaff side, would castigate him for implying the acceptability of objectifying women, yet politicians famously try to make themselves appear as attractive as possible precisely because that wins votes in an environment plagued with low information voters.

Havard was at it again last week concerning SB 558 by state Sen. Regina Barrow. Importantly, it would regulate how male guards search female prisoners. Once again wandering into the minefield for him that is attempted satire, Havard offered an amendment to mandate how the opposite would occur, copying the bill’s text on this subject except switching gender references.

That’s not actually a bad thing, because stating the obvious when dealing with the penal system never will get you into trouble. But some of his colleagues, again with a female vanguard, criticized the unserious amendment as offensive because it would coexist with other provisions of the bill, chiefly in that it would order the prison system to cough up, among other things, feminine hygiene products for women prisoners.

If anything, that portion of the bill made it bad. Not so much because of the monthly allotment that supporters said current policy made women buy when some couldn’t afford it, but the other freebies taxpayers would have to pony up if it became law – at a minimum moisturizing soap (not lye-based), body lotion, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. The dental products might make sense, but do taxpayers really have to fork over bucks for skin care other than sunscreen? And maybe even male prisoners might benefit from these items, driving costs higher still? (Oddly, despite undoubtedly increased costs, no fiscal note came with the bill.)

More generally, must democratic debate devolve into shrill accusations of sexism when an admittedly ham-handed legislator makes a valid point, even if perhaps not exactly the one he intended (he might have been angling to bring up the larger issue of the state’s excessive reliance on female guards overseeing male prisoners), which only distracts from the issue raised? And it becomes particularly tiresome when part of the motivation behind it surely is to raise the complainers’ political profiles, whether for a reelection bid or to feed ambition for a grander office.

Reduce the overly generous nature of the bill and then it becomes worthy of passing. And Havard’s amendment in reality would have improved the bill. But these issues got left behind when too many legislators decided it afforded them an opportunity to posture rather than to govern.

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