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Author: Aubrey Freedman

Aubrey is a refugee from The People's Republic of San Francisco. He was active in the Libertarian Party of San Francisco for 8 years before joining the Free State Project and moving to the "Live Free or Die" state. He felt his liberty activism would be more effective here than in The Late Great State of California. He is also active with the Lakes Region Porcupines and works as a realtor in the Lakes Region.

The Snoopers’ Dream

Is there no limit to the lengths school administrators will go to undermine families? Judging by House Bill 1459, a bill I recently weighed in against in a public hearing in Concord, their nerve shows no bounds. Under current law, parents have to give written permission for their children to fill out non-academic surveys. HB1459 would change parental permission needed from “opt-in” to “opt-out,” thus placing the burden on all parents to deny permission, rather than on school bureaucrats to obtain permission.

Why such a big deal over some innocuous questions in a survey? Under the law’s definition of a “non- academic survey or questionnaire,” it is “designed to elicit information about a student’s social behavior, family life, religion, politics, sexual orientation, sexual activity, drug use, or any other information not related to a student’s academics.” First and foremost, what business is it of busybody school administrators to pry into students’ and their parents’ family lives? Where I come from, we call that snooping, pure and simple. These are extremely personal areas—and definitely not in the province of school officials. In case they’ve forgotten what they get paid for, it is teaching the basics like the 3R’s, literature, history, science, and maybe a pinch of The Constitution once in a while, not probing into private lives.

The information the nosey parkers are going out of their way to obtain should be extremely alarming to any parent. Just think about the questions that could be asked in these surveys. Are there firearms in your house? Do your parents ever hit or spank you or your siblings? Do your parents ever leave you alone in the house? Have you ever seen marijuana or other recreational drugs in your house? Have you ever tried to kill yourself?* When you have sex, how often do you and/or your partner use a birth control method such as birth control pills, Depo-Provera shot, an implant, ring, patch, male or female condom (rubber), foam, diaphragm, or IUD?* How many adults have you known for two or more years who do things that are wrong or dangerous?* What political parties are your parents registered under? Who will your parents vote for in the next presidential election? Do your parents smoke or vape? By including the text “or any other information not related to a student’s academics,” the surveys could legally ask just about anything. Whatever happened to privacy and all those millions of privacy forms we see all the time that are supposed to protect our privacy? If it’s wrong for big corporations and private companies in the voluntary sector to share our data without our permission, why is it OK when government school bureaucrats do it? It is well documented that when government employees get hold of personal information, they sometimes misuse the information for nefarious personal purposes. And, even if not for personal misuse, can you just imagine what overzealous Child Protective Services bureaucrats would do with the survey data if it got into their overreaching hands?

All the survey results are supposed to be anonymous and kept confidential, but especially with declining student enrollment and smaller populations in many of New Hampshire’s rural towns, it wouldn’t be difficult for the snoopers to figure out where the responses came from—and possibly pay a surprise visit to a child’s home to check up on his “family life.” Data collection is one of the favorite ways for government bureaucrats to justify expanding their “services” in order to obtain more funding and personnel. Judging by the number of special interest groups who testified in favor of the bill, clearly they were looking for more business if only the schools could provide more data.

So how would the system of getting permission work under HB1459? Right now, if the school doesn’t receive the signed permission slip back from the parents, it’s a no go for the survey to be given to the student. Under HB1459 however, all the school would need to do is send written notice home to the parents via the student, and no signed permission slip would need to be returned. There was much ado by the bill’s proponents that the problem now is permission slips get lost in the shuffle of paperwork and never make it back to the school. The implication is that parents want to grant permission but logistics get in the way. From raising my own son, who always managed to lose not only papers being sent home but even the folder that contained the papers (“No homework, Dad!”), I can definitely agree with the proponents that indeed papers do get lost. However, their solution to the vanishing papers issue doesn’t solve the problem because the permission slip might never make it home in the first place; thus, by default the parents will be deemed to have given permission without ever having seen the permission slip.

Here is a real-life example how this scheme works in practice and enables bureaucrats to pull the wool over the public’s eyes. When I lived in San Francisco, the city was pushing its own government-owned electricity supplier CleanPowerSF over Pacific Gas & Power. Of course, they wanted enough rate payers to choose CleanPowerSF to make it financially feasible, so they have been “opting in” the entire city, one neighborhood at a time, over the last few years stealthily. When the issue happened to surface, a friend of mine who is a certified political junkie and in tune to what goes on at City Hall confessed that he didn’t even notice that he had been “opted in” to CleanPowerSF. He quickly opted out once he realized what happened, but considering that he is well read and generally informed, can you just imagine how little of the general public would even be aware of what had occurred right under their noses? In the olden days, when phone companies used to switch people over to their company without their permission, this was called “slamming” and was widely condemned. If it was wrong for “evil” corporations to pull this shenanigan, why is it suddenly OK when government officials do it? Where is the outrage now?

Also worth mentioning are comments made during the hearing I attended. One committee member noted that he heard from past similar surveys that older students weren’t taking them seriously and were filling in bogus answers. After all, if you’re taking drugs or sleeping around, would you really want to take a chance of your parents finding out, even though the results are supposed to be anonymous? So, after wasting limited resources to gather this data, even if the snoopers didn’t misuse it, it might not even be accurate in the end. Another point brought up by the only other person to oppose the bill was who is vetting these surveys before subjecting the students to them. The lack of oversight really concerned her over the inappropriateness of some of the questions.

Lastly, should there be any question as to the motivation and purpose of the bureaucrats, one of the letters sent home to parents announced that the survey itself would be available for viewing during school hours at the school. Of course, most parents are at work during school hours, so why not just send the survey home for parents to view it themselves before granting permission? OK, for those concerned with wasting taxpayer dollars on hard paper costs, why not just post it online for all parents to see? In fact, parents complained about not being able to take the survey home for review, and some had to file several Right-To-Know requests to get hard copies. The breathtaking depth of the snoopers’ nosiness is surpassed only by their zeal to deceive and circumvent parents.

*Questions extracted from a survey given to students as young as 5th graders.

References:

NH Legislation | 2020 | Regular Session

“Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes & Behaviors”

Letter by Kathy Dunton

Survey Notification Lurgio

“School Misleads Parents On Survey Questions For Students”

“Non-Academic Surveys in the Classroom”

Lemonade Freedom

Do you ever read about something in the news that gets your blood boiling? HB1147, currently in the NH House Municipal and County Government Committee, gets mine up to a thousand degrees. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a positive, simple, and logical piece of legislation that needs to be voted into law without hesitation, but the fact that such legislation is needed speaks volumes about the state of liberty and government overreach these days.

HB1147 prohibits a city, town, or village district from licensing a lemonade stand operated by a person under the age of 18. It is an amendment to RSA 31:102-a which applies to “Hawkers, Peddlers, and Vendors” and allows municipalities to “adopt, by ordinance or regulation, provisions for the licensure and regulation of itinerant vendors, hawkers, peddlers, traders, farmers, merchants, or other persons who sell, offer to sell, or take orders for merchandise from temporary or transient sales locations within a town or who go from town to town or place to place within a town for such purposes.” Lest you think we’re talking about just a “friendly reminder” here, think again: “Any person who violates any provision of such ordinance or regulation shall be guilty of a class B misdemeanor, and each continuing day of violation after notice shall constitute a separate offense.” The moment you don’t comply with bureaucrats in power, they start up with their threats and fines and escalate from there.

So why all the interest in lemonade? In case you haven’t heard, police across the country have been shutting down lemonade stands run by kids for years. It could be a coincidence, but the first reported case of a municipality shutting down a kid-run concession stand occurred in Salem Common, Taxachusetts on August 3, 2005 after a nearby sausage vendor complained to the police that a lemonade stand run by a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old was hurting his business. A county inspector in Maryland closed down a kids’ lemonade stand and fined their parents $500 on June 16, 2011. On April 16, 2012, city health officials in Hopkinton, Taxachusetts shut down the Westbury family stand that sold lemonade, cookies, and banana bread from the end of their driveway to spectators at the Boston Marathon and donated the proceeds to the Relay for Life anti-cancer charity. The official explanation was lack of a permit. On August 8, 2013, police in Queens, New York shut down a lemonade stand run by 9-year-old Nora and 11-year-old Jameala Lahoud also because they didn’t have a permit. On July 28, 2018, a New York State Health Department bureaucrat ordered a 7-year old to stop selling lemonade from a stand set up in his backyard in Ballston Spa, New York.

The list of “crimes” committed throughout the country goes on and on.

Why would anyone deny young people the opportunity to become budding entrepreneurs and learn life skills that encourage independence and self-reliance? A study in Educational Psychology Journal found that early youth engagement leads to future entrepreneurs. A Youth Impact Report in 2017 compared kids who had been involved in the national Lemonade Day program (which teaches children how to gain practical entrepreneurial experience by running a lemonade stand) to those who had not been involved. It found that 31% of the Lemonade Day kids are running their own businesses today while only 4% of the non-Lemonade Day kids are running their own businesses.

One father penned “3 Sales Lessons You Can Learn from a Simple Lemonade Stand” after observing what his own son learned from his lemonade stand: fearlessness, cross-selling, and understanding what your customer is really buying. Just ask Warren Buffett or Todd Graves, founder of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers enterprise, where they got their first taste of business smarts: selling lemonade. To most of us older folks, kids selling lemonade was a normal part of childhood on the way to adulthood. Today the growth of government—with its strangulating reach of the administrative state—has coincided with overwhelming efforts to extend childhood later and later and treat young adults like children. (In San Francisco, where I used to live, the voters actually passed a ballot measure extending “youth” benefits up to age 24.) Is it any wonder that there’s a whole crop of “youth” out there in colleges and universities who have been so overprotected by helicopter parents that they can’t deal with the normal responsibilities and stress of adult life and are justifiably called snowflakes? Clearly more children-run lemonade stands are needed, not less.

Another strange twist to this whole lemonade business is the bill only protects those under the age of 18. Aside from the fact that this is age discrimination—something that those who believe “there ought to be a law” for everything we say or do profess to be opposed to—what has age got to do with “public safety”? Isn’t “public safety” the justification for all these types of licensing, fees, and regulations? Is an adult more likely than a child to put arsenic in lemonade he/she is selling to the public? If not, then what’s the reason for the original law and now apparently the need to grant an exemption? It turns out “public safety” is the least of the real reasons for enacting such laws. It’s all about eliminating the competition, and that’s all it’s ever been or will be about. Occasionally the real truth slips out.

Police in Appleton, Wisconsin informed children that despite legally selling lemonade and cookies in their front yard during an annual city festival for the last 7 years, a new ordinance bans these sales in order to protect licensed vendors. In Denver police shut down a lemonade stand last spring run by two young boys who were raising money for Charity International because they didn’t have a permit that would have cost $30. And how did the police happen to notice their stand? They were “informed on” by a lemonade vendor at a nearby festival who was charging 10 times as much as the kids for a glass of lemonade. To me, this sounds a lot more like an extortion racket (“pay to play”) than “protecting” the public.

This brings up the whole question of government licensing and regulation. Don’t get me started! The explosion of licensing of jobs has reached epidemic proportions all over the country, and I am not happy to report that New Hampshire is doing poorly in this department these days. A cursory glance at what current bills state legislators are cooking up to license more jobs this year include art therapists; massage, reflexology, and Asian bodywork therapy; music therapists; pharmacy benefits managers, and locksmiths. At the rate they’re going, will the politicians soon be requiring licensing just to work at McDonald’s?

Lest you think I’m exaggerating how absurd the licensing-industrial complex has boomed these days, here are a few facts to ponder: 1) In 1950, only 5% of jobs required a license, but in 2020, it’s 30%–and getting higher all the time; 2) 37 states require a license just to shampoo hair in a salon; 3) Over 20 states require a license to paint houses; and 4) On average, emergency medical technicians require 120-150 hours of training to be licensed, but interior decorators need to complete 2,200 hours of training. Is there no end to this authoritarian paternalism? Do consumers really need to be treated as helpless children who can’t choose their own service providers based on reputation, word-of-mouth, and voluntary professional association certifications? Does a piece of paper issued by a government bureaucrat really guarantee that an individual or business is going to provide “safe” and sound service?

Another issue HB1147 broaches is local control versus central control. As a general rule, local control is the lesser of the two evils because, just as people differ, so can communities. Certainly urban, suburban, and rural folks tend to all have different political values and sensibilities, so as long as overreaching laws are kept local and not imposed on all communities, at least one can “vote with their feet.”

However, when laws are passed statewide or even nationally, then voting with your feet is less effective.

That said, tyranny is alive and thriving at the local level, and oftentimes the biggest violations of individual rights happen locally when power-hungry selectmen, and planning board and zoning board members throw their weight around and ignore property rights and constitutional protections. So, in this case, though it’s a state law that overrules local control, it does protect individual rights—though in a small way—and puts a harness on local busybodies, so it should get 100% support.

I will keep an eye on what happens with this bill. It was introduced on January 8, 2020 and referred to the Municipal and County Government Committee. It’s due out of committee on March 5, 2020, so let’s see what the politicians do with it. I can’t imagine any reasonable person opposed to this bill, but in politics anything is possible!

References:

  1. The Government War on Kid-Run Concession Stands
  2. Buy From a Lemonade Stand, Take a Stand for Freedom
  3. Op-ed: New law provides more freedom for kids to launch a lemonade business

Lobbying, Finger Pointing, and Public Safety

A recent letter to the editor in a local paper sparked my interest.  It concerned HB664, which would have mandated that “No insurance company, agent, or adjuster shall knowingly fail to pay a claim to the claimant or repairer (my emphasis) to the extent the claimant’s vehicle is repaired in conformance with applicable manufacturer’s procedures.”  The writer of the letter complained bitterly about the governor’s veto of this particular bill because it undercut support for “your local auto body shop.”  In other words, it is the job of government to “help” businesses and make sure they “survive.”

No, not really.  The last time I checked the federal and state constitutions, there was nothing in there about helping businesses and guaranteeing their survival.  I don’t always agree with the governor’s decisions, but in this case, he was right in butting out of this issue.  Forcing insurance companies to pay for steps in the repairing process that they deem unnecessary is an intrusion and would only increase insurance costs to consumers.  So, who cares if consumers pay more for car insurance?

Certainly not the hordes of repair shop owners and employees and related repair shop associations that made it a point to lobby in Concord earlier this year in support of the bill. In hours of testimony before legislators, they complained in earnest that they were unfairly getting stuck paying for repairs that were necessary for safety that the insurance companies wouldn’t pay. In other words, greedy BIG INSURANCE was squeezing out little repair shops and not reimbursing them for important repair-related steps that manufacturers deemed necessary for safety. Thus, this David vs. Goliath battle waged at the State House all centers on consumer safety.

Or does it? Let’s look at the big legal case cited the most as the basis for the necessity of HB664. It is Seebachan v. John Eagle Collision Center and came out of Texas. In this tragic car crash, a couple was trapped in their 2010 Honda Fit after being hit by another car, and they suffered severe injuries because the roof collapsed. The roof had been repaired earlier from damage due to hail, and the manufacturer’s procedures spelled out that the roof was supposed to be welded back together, but John Eagle Collision Center used adhesive bonding instead. In sworn testimony in court, a John Eagle Collision Center manager implied that it was due to pressure from the insurance company that corners were cut.  In other words, finger pointing.

A good ambulance-chasing lawyer will never waste a good opportunity to go after BIG _______ (fill in the blank: BUSINESS, CORPORATIONS, TECH, OIL, TOBACCO, PHARMA, INSURANCE, SODA, etc.), so after the Seebachan’s won their $31.5 million lawsuit against John Eagle Collision Center, their lawyer wasted no time in filing suit against State Farm on behalf of the plaintiffs. Had there been any merit to John Eagle Collision Center’s allegations against such big pockets, you would have heard about it. As it turned out though, the lawsuit was withdrawn, and both sides agreed to pay their own legal costs. So, in fact the big case cited as “proof” that “There ought to be a law” was an instance where a repair shop that had been I-CAR certified in proper repairs failed miserably in its obligation to its customer (the Seebachan’s). Ironically, it was these same businesses (repair shops) lobbying against BIG INSURANCE that were nevertheless lobbying now for BIG GOVERNMENT. But I guess it’s different when the government will help your business.

The first question that comes to mind is why any insurance company would take a chance on being responsible for sending unsafe cars back on the road when it could be held liable for any damages, deaths, or injuries that might occur. Of course, as the narrative goes, BIG INSURANCE is only out for BIG PROFITS, but where would the profits be if your company has to pay out millions in claims? This doesn’t make sound business sense. In fact, cost cutting to the point of sacrificing safety would make poor economic sense precisely because it would lead to BIG EXPENSES, not profits.

But let’s suppose for argument’s sake that an insurance company behaves foolishly and refuses to pay for repairs the manufacturer recommends that are safety-related. What can and should be done? The bill’s proponents have one simple solution: mandate the repair and make the insurance company pay for it, whether it likes it or not. A better solution of how the free market would (and does) correct the situation actually came from one of the comments I read from a repair shop employee who was very critical of insurance companies. She remarked that when her repair shop informed the car’s owner that their insurance company refused to pay for repairs the shop felt were necessary, the consumer took issue with their insurance company and sometimes changed insurance companies after the incident. Thus, unscrupulous and non-profit minded insurance companies would lose business, and if they do this often enough to their customers, they’d soon run out of customers and go out of business.

This clarifies the proper relationship between the three parties. The consumer pays a premium to his/her insurance company to restore their car back to its former state after an accident, and the insurance company fulfills its obligations by paying for repairs following an accident. The contract is between the consumer and his/her insurance company. The only proper role for the repair shop is to follow generally accepted repair standards and repair the car—not to race to the State House to rally for more laws on the books, which by the way would absolutely guarantee more revenue for repair shops. If the insurance company is unwilling to pay for repairs the shop deems necessary for safety, it should simply refuse to do the job—or at the very least inform the consumer what repairs it recommends and then let the consumer decide how to proceed. As the lady from the repair shop who complained bitterly about the insurance companies noted, consumers when informed are not shy about taking matters in their own hands and don’t need BIG GOVERNMENT to protect them like children.

By the way, a footnote to the vetoed bill says, “The (Insurance) Department is unable to predict the volume of additional queries and complaints, but believes it could be large enough to require an additional staff position.” So, between the vagueness of some of the language in the bill and the eagerness of repair shops to secure as many repairs as possible, that’s a virtual guarantee of yet another useless government bureaucrat with which taxpayers would be forever burdened.

I also checked how Milton’s reps voted on this bill. Sadly, Senator Bradley was a co-sponsor of the bill, but fortunately Abigail Rooney and Peter Hayward voted against it. The next legislative session is just around the corner, and you can be sure we haven’t heard the last of this bill. Pressuring politicians to pass a mandate and guarantee more business in the name of “public safety” never goes of style.

References:

Court Listener. (2018, October 3). In the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Sherman Division: Seebachan v. State Farm. Retrieved from https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.txed.178606/gov.uscourts.txed.178606.16.0.pdf

Legiscan. (2019, September 18). NH HB 664. Retrieved from  legiscan.com/NH/bill/HB664/2019

Manchester Union Leader. (2019, August 30). Your Turn, NH – John Elias:  Hijacking consumer protection. Retrieved from https://www.unionleader.com/opinion/columnists/your-turn-nh—john-elias-hijacking-consumer-protection/article_e8580f94-fb5e-5039-8e63-b3f43ead0393.html

NH Governor. (2019, August 15). Governor’s Veto Message Regarding House Bill 664. Retrieved from https://www.governor.nh.gov/news-media/press-2019/documents/hb-664-veto-message.pdf

Repairer Driven News. (2017, August 23). Update:  Couple in $1M Texas body shop lawsuit drop case against State Farm – but only temporarily. Retrieved from https://www.repairerdrivennews.com/2017/08/23/seebachans-drop-case-against-state-farm/

Repairer Driven News. (2019, September 5). AASP, ASA, SCRS respond to N.H. insurance commissioner’s op-ed. Retrieved from https://www.repairerdrivennews.com/2019/09/05/aasp-asa-scrs-respond-to-n-h-insurance-commissioners-op-ed/

Repairer Driven News. (2019, September 19). N.H. Legislature fails to override Sununu veto of OEM auto repair procedures bill. Retrieved from https://www.repairerdrivennews.com/2019/09/19/n-h-legislature-fails-to-override-sununu-veto-of-oem-repair-procedures-bill/

Repairer Driven News. (2019, September 20). Insurers skip required test to help consumers, and other arguments made against N.H. OEM procedures bill. Retrieved from https://www.repairerdrivennews.com/2019/09/20/n-h-veto-supporter-insurers-skip-required-oem-tests-to-save-cars-from-totaling/