True to a California tradition of legislating by anecdote, lawmakers are finding inspiration in a grandmother arrested for running a $50 betting pool, a man who called 911 dispatchers 31,000 times, and another man who put photos of high school athletes on a pornography website, the Los Angeles Times reports. Legislators have long responded to tragic, offensive, or annoying events by trying to change the law — especially crime laws — and often succeeding. This year’s flurry of efforts that seem ripped from the headlines includes bids to reduce punishment for sports betting, increase penalties for nuisance 911 calls, and restrict what can be posted on the Internet.
Sometimes lawmakers name their proposals after victims. This year they’ve offered “Adam’s Law,” “Larry’s Law” and “R.J.’s Law,” addressing caregiver crimes, harassment issues and drug testing for welfare recipients. Experts and even some lawmakers say such quick-trigger responses do not always serve Californians well. A January 2007 report by a state watchdog agency, the Little Hoover Commission, blamed “knee-jerk responses by lawmakers to horrific, high-profile and frequently isolated crimes” for a “chaotic labyrinth of laws with no cohesive philosophy or strategy.” These laws, the panel said, contribute to prison overcrowding but do not improve public safety. “I’m sure the bills all represent legitimate concerns out there in the community,” said Assemblywoman Sally Lieber. “But it’s this patchwork effect that’s gotten us to where we’re spending more on prisons than higher education.” Lieber gained worldwide notoriety last year by saying it ought to be a crime to spank children younger than 4.