CFN Member Michael Tracey in ‘Reason’ on Unwise Rush to Legislate After Tragedy

May 26, 2011

In an article for Reason magazine (appearing in Reason‘s June 2011 print issue), Michael Tracey documents the mounting opposition of New Jersey residents to what’s known as Kyleigh’s Law–a New Jersey statute that places numerous probationary restrictions on drivers under the age of 21. Highly unpopular is the provision that young drivers place decals on the rears of their cars broadcasting their probationary status; some parents consider it a requirement to send a high-frequency signal to all potential predators that a young person is alone in a vehicle.

Torch readers may now be thinking, “Traffic laws?” Of course, FIRE takes no position on the law’s merits. But the impulse that led to the passing of Kyleigh’s Law is a factor with potential effects reaching far beyond the sphere of teenage driving, a point Tracey illustrates with the example of another New Jersey-born piece of legislation: the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which has recently been reintroduced for consideration in Congress. (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has already signed “anti-bullying” legislation on the state level.)
Tracey writes toward the end of his article:

Last November, Michael Patrick Carroll, one of the 13 assemblymen who have reversed their position on Kyleigh’s Law, cast the sole vote against an anti-bullying bill introduced in response to the death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers freshman who committed suicide after a roommate surreptitiously streamed video of his intimate encounter with another man to online viewers. “Kyleigh would not have been saved by the decals,” Carroll tells me, “and Tyler would not have been saved by an anti-bullying bill.”

His is a lonely voice in New Jersey against legislation named after dead teenagers. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) subsequently proposed the federal Tyler Clementi Anti-Harassment Education Act, which would require all universities receiving federal aid to strengthen their anti-harassment policies. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that defends academic freedom, says the bill would be “a disaster for open debate and discourse on campus,” arguing that its vague and subjective definition of harassment threatens to abridge students’ First Amendment rights.

FIRE has argued that such legislation is dangerous and unnecessary, and I encourage Torch readers to read our previous writings as to why. I’m glad to see that Tracey has noted our concerns as well and been given such a venue to share them. Tracey, I’m happy to note, was one of the student attendees at last year’s Campus Freedom Network conference, and is one of the many dedicated student leaders we’re proud to have in the CFN. I hope his piece will be widely read and that Tracey will keep returning to the topic of students’ rights.