'Coercing' a lawmaker could land you in jail

We have never been fans of legislation that singles out certain classes of people for special treatment or protection under the law -- for example, hate crimes that enhance penalties for existing crimes because of the victim's age, gender, race or sexual orientation. A crime's a crime for all that.

But Assembly Bill 426, introduced in Carson City by Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, gives a whole new definition to wretched excess and legislative overkill. The bill would take an existing law criminalizing "terrorism" and apply it to acts against "public officers," which could be just about anyone who performs any role under the auspices of government, no matter how tangential or menial.

Mr. Horne told the Assembly Judiciary Committee this week he introduced the bill because a hostile political climate is exposing lawmakers to a greater level of anger. He specifically mentioned the January shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.

But Mr. Horne's bill is overbroad and overwrought. The minimum penalty -- yes, the minimum -- is imprisonment for not less than 20 years and the maximum is life. The existing definition of terrorism under Nevada law is "any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence" with the intent to accomplish various things. AB426 adds the motive seeking to "influence the policy of a governmental entity" by means of murder, attempted murder, assault, battery or kidnapping.

Assault is merely the threat of violence. "I'm going to thump your …" Battery could be as minor as a lobbyist poking a lawmaker in the chest during a discussion. It even could be used against the person who imbibes too much single malt at the tasting booth at this weekend's Highland Games at Tule Springs and gets into a ruction with a park employee.

And the act of coercion could be something as innocuous as a newspaper editorial calling on the constituents of a certain self-absorbed lawmaker to reject him at the ballot box for introducing silly, self-serving, time-wasting legislation when there are far more important matters to be addressed.

As Rabbie Burns said, "A man's a man for all that." And the law's the law for all that. Or should be.