‘Concern for youth’ rings hollow this session

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 15, 2009

In their post-session church group and civic club appearances, many who serve in the Mississippi Legislature will somberly intone how they demonstrated “concern for our youth.”

And many in their audiences will likely nod in agreement when they hear about a bill that passed the Mississippi House last week that would ban new teenage drivers from sending text messages from behind the wheel.

If the bill becomes law, six months would be added to the time fledgling drivers caught texting must wait before advancing to the next stage of licensing.

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In another show of “concern,” the House and Senate passed differing versions of a bill that requires teens to have parental consent forms before spending time in a tanning booth.

It may be a bit cynical to note this, but young people in Mississippi are exposed to risks that are, in context, a bit more substantial.

For instance:

• We lead the nation in childhood obesity and are seeing record numbers of early-onset diabetes.

• For many years and via at least one federal lawsuit, the state’s juvenile justice system has been found to be disorganized, inconsistent and ineffective.

• We lead the nation in teen pregnancies and, in some areas, sexually transmitted diseases.

• Tuition, fees and housing costs at the state’s community colleges and universities are rising beyond the means of working families.

If the Legislature addressed any of those “concerns,” we missed it. Well, there was a measure to increase sex education in high schools, but somewhat amazingly it fell to the “it’s not any of our business” line of thinking.

And it’s true. There is only so much the members of any legislature can do to encourage parents to be better parents or to discourage teens from destructive behavior.

This is a point reinforced during the texting debate by Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb.  “It’s also unsafe to eat while you’re driving, unsafe to fool with the radio,” Mims said before voting against the texting ban. It’s a sure thing that no law can be passed to cure every problem.

But do remember, when being treated to lawmakers patting themselves on the back for their “concern for youth” that there are lots of big challenges the Legislature chose not to discuss at all. And ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away either.