In my previous post I made the claim that the legislature had increased the penalties of HB2638 to felony status. I based that on early news/blog reports from the committee. However latter on last night I learned that they had instead increased the penalty from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor, something that will still get you a year in jail and a whopping fine but not the loss of rights that comes with a felony conviction. I made sure to update this at the end of the post, but since many of you get this via e-mail or a blog reader, some didn’t get the update.
Much of my argument focused on this increase to felony status, and for sure my ire was raised at the specter of persons losing their right to vote and other ramifications due to camping out on public property. The penalty is not quite so dire as it seemed, which may undermine my arguments.
And yet, I still wonder if we really want to fill our jails with folks who are guilty of a crime with few victims? Yes, good arguments can be made that the encampment at the Legislative Plaza has led to increased violence, lewd acts, and even public urination. Yet we already have laws on the books that allow for prosecution of those who engage in such behavior. There will likely always be folks whose behavior puts them at odds with society, and they should suffer the consequences of their actions. But this bill attempts to suggest that the very act of camping on public property is at odds with societal values, something that I think is a bit of a jump. Is an encampment always a public nuisance? Not necessarily, and I think broadening our laws to make it so will lead to harmless folks being jailed and hit with fines they really can’t pay and someday a group of folks will be up in arms about a group being arrested, suggesting that this is a stupid law.
My concern is not with the Occupy folks. While I may disagree over the value of their continued encampment, they have set claimed the mantle of civil disobedience and should understand that arrest and persecution are part and parcel of their work. My concern is the folks on the sidelines – folks who have no voice, who don’t have articulate wordsmiths at their beck and call – folks who will bear the brunt of this law far after the Occupy protestors have moved back to their relatively normal homes.
Laws crafted for a specific class of persons and specific situations rarely work, and often have far-reaching consequences which cause harm for years and years. This is one of those laws, and as such should be defeated.