Mandating 'Good Samaritans'

Bill would charge citizens with a crime for not reporting accidents

A bill that would charge people with a crime if they don’t contact an emergency services provider after witnessing a medical emergency was introduced recently by a state Democrat representative.

State Rep. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, introduced House Bill 5202 on Nov. 28. Anyone who violates it would face up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“Why, for nearly two centuries, did almost no one in America seem to think that government had to mandate private aid in moments of distress?” said Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education and president emeritus of the Mackinac Center, in an email. “Because our very character was solid enough that we didn’t need government to tell us such things. We just did them. If our character has so eroded that fines and jail time are now necessary for people to help people, are such criminal penalties really the way to restore character?

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"I think government is neither a good teacher of character nor a good example of it," Reed continued. "Laws like this merely make people feel they’ve accomplished something. They don’t fix the problem and they lull us into thinking we’ve done our job. Why are politicians so quick to think there’s no problem they can’t solve by simply imposing fines and jail time?”

There are thousands of situations in which people could find themselves unsure if they are breaking the law, said Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center.

For example, Kersey asked what would happen if someone sees an accident and doesn’t have a cell phone: Would they have to get off at the next exit on a highway to find a pay phone?

“This is hardly a new idea and we have yet to figure out how to make it work,” Kersey said. “Just drafting this bill is going to be a nightmare.”

The Mackinac Center’s Michael Van Beek, director of education policy, wrote satirically in an email that the bill changes the message of the Good Samaritan parable.

“Jesus answered, ‘A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. He was then immediately arrested by Roman centurions and sentenced to death. And that, my disciples, is why you help others — for fear the centurions might be watching.’"

Rep. Rutledge didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comments.

“I know the sponsor means well and may be responding to some unfortunate incident,” said Jack McHugh, senior legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center. “Where do we draw the line in adding a new page to the statute books every time an unfortunate incident takes place somewhere in the state? It’s pure symbolism. It’s debatable whether government can legislate morality, but how can anyone possibly think it can legislate basic human decency?”

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The Republican Party fully controls most states and at the national level has captured the House, Senate and presidency. By many measures, the party has more power than it has had in many decades. But will that control last? And, more importantly, what policy priorities are coming about from these political victories?

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