New Mexico Legislature: Going Loco Over In Loco Parentis

Your body is not your own, just like them chickens

In loco parentis — excuse the Latin — is a legal term used in cases where the state takes custody of a child. It means in the place of the parent. Is the New Mexico Legislature getting too far out on the in loco parentis limb?

The Body Art bill that originated in the New Mexico House outlaws tatoos for people under 18 without consent of their parents. Tatoo artists will be licensed, if it’s signed into law, and they will face big fines if they tatoo a kid without what amounts to a note from Mom. Another House bill would require children to wear helmets while riding on virtually anything with wheels, from skateboards to bicycles. Opponents said it would require purchase of a new helmet every few months for growing toddlers with tricycles.

The Next-Step Plan bill, also originating in the House, won’t let a high school student graduate without an approved plan. The kid would have to declare a goal of military service, college, or a job, and parents would be brought in.

So the Legislature is telling young people they are not free to tatoo their own bodies and they are not free to do nothing after high school graduation. But isn’t that the job of parents? And do parents need the legislature telling them how to raise their kids? After all, some people think tatoos are marks of identity, that they tell the world, ‘This is my body, not yours,’ and that just cooling it to find yourself is a good thing.

The Immunizations For Children bill, another House mover, would add some shots to the ones required to enter school. The sponsor, Rep. Kiki Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, acknowledged he was “helped” on this bill by a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company. Not everybody in the medical community agrees on the need for the Saavedra shots, as disclosed in an article by Jackie Jadrnak of the Albuquerque Journal.

Shouldn’t these innoculation decisions be left to parents and family practitioners? And that would go as well for the annual “parental notification” bill to help parents manage the reproductive life of under-age daughters, but that’s another story.

Almost as emotional as the abortion issue is the cockfighting issue, at least in New Mexico. The bill to outlaw the spectacle fills the galleries with aggressive cockfighters with hats and jackets pasted with rooster emblems. They picket outside with signs telling of their service in Vietnam. The long history of this indicates the cockfighting ban will never pass.
The proponents of the bill paint bloody pictures of the cockfighting pits, where roosters slash each other with razor-sharp spurs in an arena with no escape until one dies. But it seems the issue is not simply about chickens. After all, if you really want to alleviate the poultry suffering in a big way, after Tyson Foods of Arkansas (the giant chicken-meat producer that supported Bill Clinton for so many of his lean political years).

The processing of chickens is something you don’t want to see. Like fighting roosters, they have an apparent territorial instinct, and when this is violated, as it is when thousands are crammed together in cages while they grow, they tend to peck each other to death. That is why the factory processing begins with the assembly-line removal of little beaks by burning when the yellow chicks are just hatched.

The political issue in New Mexico might not be as much about what cockfighting does to the roosters as what it does to the spectators who enjoy the blood sport. And the proponents of the bill usually bring up the idea that there are things children should not see.

The cockfighters are defensive about this. Some have tried to make it a cultural issue and have talked about passing values on to their children. One woman felt it necessary to tell a committee, “My daughter is safer at a cockfight than a Lobo basketball game.” Since the effect on children is a big part of the issue and since the Legislature is fond of legislating in loco parentis, there is an opening here for a compromise.

Why doesn’t the House, which is into child protection, move a bill prohibiting children under 18 from attending cockfights unless accompanied by their parents? It would be a symbolic gesture that wouldn’t hurt the cockfighting industry and would make its opponents feel better, since nothing else can be done.