New York State Plays Fool’s Tag

Ah, the New York State political process!  Activity for the entire country to view with awe.  When I say “awe,” what I mean is in the same light as we look at the havoc visited by the twisters in our Midwestern states.  It is awesome to think of what damage a little bit of wind can do.

The last time that I noticed the New York State Legislature in the news was in 2009 when a rich guy who had helped the Democrats gain control of the New York Senate was miffed because a Democratic leader that he had helped to get elected paid more attention to his Blackberry than the rich guy in a meeting.  The rich guy simply switched his support to the Republicans, luring two of the most disreputable Democrats then sitting in the Senate to switch to be Republicans.  One of these outstanding Senators was facing charges for stabbing his girlfriend in the face with broken glass.  The other had been fined for campaign finance irregularities, and was also under investigation for steering government money to his own business and possibly not living in the district which he represented.

The party affiliation change by these two lawmakers changed the Senate balance from 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans to 32 Republicans and 30 Democrats.  However,  the Democratic Senate leadership refused to acknowledge their loss of power.  They locked the Republicans out of the Senate.  When I say “locked out,” it was a literal lock out, with a key, which the Democratic leader refused to relinquish to the Republican.  I guess that locksmiths are unionized (i.e., Democrats) in New York, because the Republicans fussed at the Democrats from outside of the chambers, unable to enter.

This all occurred in a year when there were severe budget problems which had been plaguing the State for years.  The Legislature had also been honored for five years with the distinction of being branded the most dysfunctional State Legislature by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.  The honor of leading the 50 states as being the most dysfunctional state legislature was reinforced in July 2009 in an analysis done by NationalJournal.com, a nonpartisan group reporting on politics and policy, and 83% of New York residents in a poll agreed with the evaluation.

Yet somehow, in that tempestuous 2009, the New York State Legislature found the time to amend a law on the books which regulated summer camps to include, well, more of them.  It was said that they were intent on plugging a loophole which allowed indoor summer camps to operate without oversight by the legislature, which had seen fit to regulate outdoor summer camps.

However, instead of just adding two words to make “outdoor” read “indoor or outdoor” in the legislation (which would have achieved their stated intent), they added a lot more, including as part of the definition of a summer camp, any program “involving two or more activities of which at least one is a nonpassive recreational activity with a significant risk of injury.”  They also added that regulation would be in effect where “such activities are conducted as part of a one hour or less recess period.”  Also added to the law was “Nonpassive recreational activities with significant risk of injury shall include swimming, boating, contact sports, horseback riding, bicycling, hiking, rock climbing, challenge/rope course activities, shooting sports and other activities determined by the State Department of Health.” (Italics are mine.)

This law kicked in April 1, 2011.  Inspired by the current federal model of extending government by regulation when legislation does not go far enough, the State Department of Health determined, in accordance with their responsibilities under the law, additional activities which held a “significant risk of injury.”  Included in the list are: capture the flag, Wiffle ball, dodgeball, tag (all varieties), kickball, flag football, kickball, red rover, and steal the bacon.  How did Ring Around the Rosy, where a violent encounter with the ground is required by every participant, or London Bridge, in which a mock incarceration involves the violent tossing back and forth of the child’s body, escape the list of dangerous activities?

I would love to take responsibility for the humor in this list, but this is not the product of my imagination.  Just in case you still think that this is a put on, you can read a copy of the eight-page letter of rules and instructions that went to one of the New York programs at http://images.bimedia.net/documents/Day+Camp.PDF.

With this new regulation, your local recreation program in New York state that offers a playground director for a couple of hours a morning where two or more of these dangerous games is played is now a full-fledged summer camp that must pay a $200 fee to register to be regulated by the State of New York AND must hire a certified nurse to be present at all times while the program is functioning.

Oddly enough, the law and regulations have additional loopholes.  The law stipulates that a facility must offer two or more activities to be a summer camp.  That does not preclude a “Freeze Tag Day Camp” which could operate unregulated because it only offers one of the dangerous activities.  Maybe no one would come to such a boring camp, but being safe, it might qualify for a government subsidy.

Also not precluded are variations on these old games or the invention of similar games.  For example, in Don’t Come Red Rover, the children could chant, “Red Rover, Red Rover, Don’t send Jimmy right over.”  Then, Jimmy would not go over.  This game would have the added benefit of heightening the self esteem of those children who never get picked, because all of a sudden, they would be the most frequently picked.  Or perhaps a rousing game of “Vote Tag,” where the children could cast votes as to who was “It.”  Or, they could play, “Wisconsin Legislature,” where the blue shirts would get to leave the playground and hide in the next state.  “Wisconsin Legislature” is really a variation of a childhood game that escaped the New York State’s Black List, “It’s my ball and if I don’t get my way, I’m taking my ball and going home.”

When the list was made public by the New York Department of Health, a surprise was in store.  They expected, perhaps, the gratitude of a populace for the enhanced protection being offered their children.  Instead, they experienced ridicule, at home and abroad, as well as a wee bit of anger from parents.

It took a very short amount of exposure before the list of dangerous games were withdrawn for the present.  In their own defense for having published them, a spokeswoman from the New York Department of Health named Claudia Hutton pointed out that the list was proposed under the “prior administration.”  This defense (which is a variant of the non-dangerous childhood game of “He did it.”) only begged the question of why the list was not at least reviewed before release by the nonprior, i.e. current, administration.  After a period of public comment, new guidelines will be offered May 16.

By the way, State of New York:  Fool’s Tag.  You’re it.

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