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Nebraskas failure

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Isaac MacMillen

Lawmakers in Nebraska are learning the hard way that government intervention invariably creates more problems than it solves. The recent passage of the state’s "safe-haven" law, a well-intentioned gesture to protect infants has turned into a free-for-all, with parents traveling from locations as far away as Georgia to give up custody of their children. And the folly of big-government "solutions" has been demonstrated yet again.

How did it all come about? Earlier this year, lawmakers in Nebraska overwhelmingly passed a law granting parents or guardians the "right" to turn over children to the custody of the state, without charges of abandonment. The state was seeking to avoid rare instances where infants have been abandoned by mothers. But the results did not meet expectations, in more ways than one.

In the 365 days of 2007, before the law was passed, there were 3 babies discovered abandoned. In the five months since the law’s enactment, however, nearly three dozen children (including nine siblings) have been abandoned into the custody of the state.

While well-meaning, the law illustrates one of the fundamental flaws of government intervention—what government rewards, invariably exports. Pregnant, don’t want an abortion, but don’t want the child? Solution: Abandon him or her at the hospital and walk away scott-free. Fed up with parenting disobedient kids? Solution: Turn them over to the state and get on with the "good life."

In essence, laws that promote "consequence-free" government solutions allow people to engage in risky behavior without fear of being held accountable for their actions. Personal responsibility is rendered irrelevant—and so are the most basic of bedrock values.

It is often said that the only things in life are those worth fighting for. And it’s true. People will value that for which they must work—which is why state-run programs, with their illusion of a "free lunch," end up starving the soul and stamping achievement.

One side-effect of the failed Nebraska experiment, however, is its revelation of the ineptitude that has permeated state governments across the nation when it comes to Big Government. As one of the 41 legislators who supported the flawed bill, Speaker of the Legislature Senator Mike Flood was among the scores of politicians who adamantly insisted it would end the horror of reckless abandonment.

State Senator Flood now acknowledges his error: "Looking back, a number of us would have voted differently." (A sentence that will offer little solace to the nearly three dozen homeless children.) However, he then goes on to observe that it "has uncovered a bigger issue. It demonstrates (an unfilled) need for families in crisis." He is correct; a need has been demonstrated—but can any caring Nebraskan trust him and his misguided cronies to meet it?

One can only hope that Mr. Flood has learned from his tragic mistake, and won’t try to overcome it by injecting an even greater dose of government into the state.

Nebraska is already seeking to correct its gross error by limiting the amount of state involvement to children 3-30 days old. But for the children who have already been abandoned by their parents, it has come too late. Despite its ambitious intentions, the state will never be able to prove an adequate substitute for the care of a parent.

As the Nebraska law has now demonstrated, providing a taxpayer-funded "safety-net" for people who make poor decisions will only encourage greater risk-taking. And this, in the long run, increases the role filled by the government. The vicious cycle repeats itself until the government buckles under its own weight, or the people lose what little freedom they have left.

Todd Landry, director of the Nebraska Health and Human Service’s Division of Children and Family Services, got it right when he warned that it is "not the government’s role" to intervene, unless there is a safety threat to the child.

If only Nebraska politicos had listened to him earlier, the near-three dozen innocent children may not have been dropped on the state’s doorstep. And in loco parentis would not have given way to loco parents.

Isaac MacMillen is a contributing editor of ALG News Bureau.


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