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EDITORIAL: Bill would allow Nevada parents to let their kids be kids

Lenore Skenazy has spent a dozen years writing about and cataloging instances in which parents have found themselves in the crosshairs of law enforcement for letting their children explore the world on their own. Think: Walking alone to and from school or the park or playing down the street without adult supervision.

Her Free Range Kids website, along with follow-up enterprise Let Grow, promote the idea that parents aren’t neglectful when they allow their children a modicum of independence that was common years ago but has today become all too rare. “I don’t believe kids need a security detail every time they leave the house,” Ms. Skenazy puts it. Indeed, she has a resolute devotion to the notion that childhood autonomy is essential to building the confidence and emotional maturity that promote stable adulthood.

Ms. Skenazy is one of the driving forces behind state Senate Bill 143, which passed out of the Judiciary Committee on Monday. The measure aims to tighten vague child neglect statutes to ensure that Nevada parents don’t become criminals for allowing their children to engage in independent activities.

“My hope is that this bill will have multiple positive outcomes,” state Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas, testified last month. “Parents who know their children best will not have to fear a child neglect investigation because they allowed their kids to play in the neighborhood. … Law enforcement, CPS and prosecutors can focus their resources on clear cases of abuse and neglect. We will lessen the risk of conflating poverty with neglect. It is not only middle-class kids who should be able to go shoot hoops at the elementary school.”

State Sen. Harris is a sponsor of this bipartisan measure, along with Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, R-Sparks. SB143 is similar to a bill Utah lawmakers passed in 2018.

Some opponents — including officials with child welfare agencies in Clark and Washoe counties and a representative for prosecutors — testified that the bill might make it more difficult to prosecute legitimate cases of abuse or neglect. But that’s unlikely. Instead, the bill will make it harder for the state to harass parents on the flimsiest of pretenses for choices they make regarding their kids. As state Sen. Harris noted, that, in turn, will allow the authorities to devote more resources where they are most needed.

SB143 has also been amended to allow more input from child welfare officials, who would be charged with composing the regulations “that provide which activities constitute an independent activity.” Those may include, “Traveling to and from school or nearby commercial or recreational facilities; engaging in outdoor play; or remaining at home unattended.”

SB143 is a breath of fresh air and a beacon of common sense. Lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate to send this bill to the governor’s desk.

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