The Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection (LDICP) is the natural evolution of a collective anger, frustration, and disappointment. I believe all of us involved share those feelings, but here I speak only for myself.
After decades on the front lines of what I regard as the only “Holy War” worthy of the name, I accepted that I could fight individual child abusers ... sometimes with a success that shocked the cynical ... but I wasn’t laying a glove on child abuse itself. I could change individual lives, but I wasn’t making change.
So I tried drafting legislation, only to see those bills “tweaked” into less powerful versions, versions demanded by the truly powerful. Some were so larded with “earmarks” that their original intent was buried under heavy layers of patronage and payoffs. I tried to form a child-protective lobby, but watched it become nothing I wanted to be part of. I once taught Continuing Legal Education courses, but eventually realized I was revealing strategies and tactics to those I had spent my life opposing.
I learned that the overwhelming majority of American voters want children to be protected. But I also learned that this isn’t a high enough priority to impact politics. No one can run for office in America without taking a position (even if that position is to adroitly straddle fences) on hot-button topics such as abortion, gun control, capital punishment. The voting public demands no less. But when it comes to child protection, a vapid blanket statement that the candidate “loves children and supports the American family,” is all that is ever required.
So what’s left? At their core, all courts are courts of equity. Simply speaking, that means courts exist to produce justice. This result is to be achieved by interpretation and enforcement of existing law. But when the neutrality that justice requires is hamstrung by fundamentally unfair laws, this result is at best elusive, and at worst unobtainable.
What is needed are laws that actually accomplish their intent. Laws which are clear on their face, with no vacuous “open to interpretation” language, no handicapping earmarks, and no loopholes through which perpetrators can slither. Laws so clearly written that the public can demand their passage. And demand that in such a way that politicians – who are as reactive as amoebae to harsh light – do the right thing. Laws that allow grassroots organizations not only to create their vision of child protection, but to fight for that vision. Laws which clearly reveal who is serious about this “issue,” and who is serious only about seeking grants.
Why this emphasis on specific legislation? Because virtually all “child advocacy” is just that: flabby adjectives, devoid of actual content. There is no value to being “pro child,” because that label can fit virtually anyone or anything. That which allows for endless interpretation is, by definition, an empty vessel. Instead of being “pro child,” what if people could be “pro” a specific piece of legislation? What if, instead of demanding our politicians “care,” we could demand they pass such specific legislation? What if we could force the legislature to act?
Confronted with an actual piece of legislation, there’s no place to hide. The reality is that no answer is a “no” answer. Confronted with an actual bill ready to be enacted, no action is action ... the action of being against that very bill. Instead of the welcoming shade of rhetoric, we could put all legislators in a single bright spotlight: Behavior is the Truth.
After a long period of planning and the sacrifices of many too modest to be named here, the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection is now a reality. The LDICP has partnered with Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which has contributed its own funds to internships and its own resources to drafting courses. However, the LDICP is free-standing in all respects, meaning its budget will not become part of the law school’s coffers, and will be administrated separately and independently at all times.
The LDICP is not a lobby – it exists solely as a resource.
The purpose of the LDICP is to create, upon request, highly specific legislation to accomplish the goals of self-organized, grassroots organizations which intend to achieve a child protective objective. The passage of each piece of legislation is the goal, each time. So: no legislation to “form explanatory groups,” or “fight child abuse” or “raise public awareness.” Examples of what legislation might be requested include: Closing the loophole in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act that allows non-lawyer volunteers to “represent” children in abuse/neglect cases. Raising the stakes for “circle of trust” crimes. Requiring victim reparations in child pornography cases. Extending the statute of limitations in “vulnerable victims” cases. Establishing a Secure Treatment Unit for “the worst kids in the state” – any state, as the plan would be to construct and operate such an institution as a model, and to allow for independent monitoring and evaluation of its effectiveness. But these are illustrative examples, not suggestions.
The technique is straightforward and simple: the LDICP will draft research reports and ready-to enact legislation. All the research will be done prior to release, including constitutionality, statistical analysis of need/benefit, and conflicts with existing laws. The legislation will target an impact area that may range from the federal level down to the municipal, depending on the requesting group. The LDICP will then make the drafted legislation public. Publication ensures that there would be no “tinkering” with the bill. An example of such tinkering occurred in the passage of the National Child Protection Act of 1993. In its final form, legislators had deleted a provision that had been in the original draft, which would have held an organization that allowed access to children strictly liable if it had failed to check its employees or volunteers against any criminal registries and the employee or volunteer was later found to have been registered. Publication of LDICP legislative drafts will deter tinkering, by making it clear if anyone attempts to alter, add, or delete provisions from the legislation as originally drafted.
So the test is not just for politicians, it is for all of us. When the right tools are provided, how those tools are used reveals the truth.
Any group requesting LDICP work products will have to commit its own resources to passage. This doesn’t mean a mere Facebook page (although one would not be barred); it means actual bodies-on-the-line, volunteer commitment. It means lobbying behind a “my vote depends on your support for this bill” campaign. The LDICP is not a think tank, and will respond only to requests that outline a specifically-defined child protective goal.
We have a working group established, and have already sketched out fund-raising goals. At this time, we believe two million dollars ($2,000,000) is necessary to bedrock-establish the LDICP. That amount will allow it to run for a 2-3 year trial period beyond the initial “proof of concept” phase, in which we are now engaged. If you want to contribute, you are welcome. And we need money, sure enough. But there are many other ways to participate, including, but not limited to, putting together your own grassroots group and requesting the legislation you believe will make a difference in the protection of our children ... all our children.
- Andrew Vachss