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The Flipside: What was Lynn Hettrick thinking?

Kelly R. Chase

I like Lynn Hettrick. I haven’t always agreed with his politics, but that’s politics. Then the paper informed me that Assemblyman Hettrick introduced BDR 111 to “restrict use by newspapers of photographs of persons under certain circumstances.” Mr. Hettrick’s impetus to pass this law was a newspaper article that contained a photograph of an individual who pled guilty to battery of a middle school basketball coach during a game. Yes, re-read this first paragraph and ask: Huh?

I remember the article and hoped that I would not read about it again. The public attention was an embarrassment to the community and “reliving” the incident is the last thing any of us needs to do – if we had the choice. Unfortunately, Mr. Hettrick’s BDR 111 gives the perception that we somehow support oppression of the press in favor of anarchist behavior at sporting events. And this at a time when the national spotlight is focused on violence in sports that resulted when one parent beat another to death while their children watched.

Any person who breaks the law creates his own Hell and if anyone’s actions become newsworthy, we all read about it. That’s how it is in this country. The free press ranges from valuable information to the sleazy, and litigation provides a constitutionally tested remedy for published falsehoods or intrusions into an individual’s privacy rights. BDR 111 would create grounds for Charles Manson to sue a newspaper for publishing his photo with that swastika carved in his forehead. (It does make him look like a maniac). That is but one possible absurd conclusion of Mr. Hettrick’s law. Criminal intent should be deterred by public embarrassment; public embarrassment should not provide money damages to criminals.

The most disturbing aspect of this mess is the message it sends to the rest of the state, the country and especially our children and young adults. Are we turning into English soccer or Laker fans, and using sports for an excuse to attack a coach, a referee, another fan or parent as if they are an enemy? Do we give sympathy to the actors of violent behavior because their performance gets bad reviews? Do we live in Iran? Duh. Then, why a law that gives retribution to the wrong at the expense of free press? What was Mr. Hettrick thinking?

Our elected officials cannot be a direct conduit for a single constituent’s private demon. Our elected officials are to represent all of us in every decision they make. They are under a duty not to use the power of government in an arbitrary manner and to be informed of the propriety of every law voted upon, especially the laws they introduce and sponsor. The state Legislature is not a garbage disposal for processing clearly illegal bills or wasting taxpayer’s resources. Lax use of the power to enact law is dangerous to all of us, regardless of whether it was brought by design or carelessness. Unfortunately, BDR 111 is a reality, courtesy of our current representative.

( Kelly R. Chase is an attorney in Carson Valley and a resident of Gardnerville. His column appears monthly.)