The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 21, 2013

Pam Buttram, guest columnist: Resist being treated as special interest

By Pam Buttram
Special to The Globe

ORONOGO, Mo. — Our U.S. Constitution provides that any powers not expressly given to the federal government are reserved to the states. Criminal law is one of those areas reserved to the states; things like theft, murder and domestic violence.

When Congress enacts criminal laws, it does so pursuant to express constitutional powers, for example, the power to regulate interstate commerce. For the most part, however, crimes we commit against each other are defined, enforced and punished at the state level.

Imagine having to call a huge federal bureaucracy for help when you hear someone breaking into your home in the dead of night. Do they even answer the phone? Think IRS. Not pretty, is it?

Many years ago I witnessed what happens when state and federal jurisdiction overlap. A father in a shaken-baby case was convicted and sentenced to life in prison under Oklahoma law. Because the father was Native American, the federal government also had jurisdiction and obtained in federal court a conviction and a sentence of 40 years. I never saw the point of the federal prosecution. Maybe it reassured the public. Maybe it gave federal attorneys something to do. But the father didn’t serve any more time and limited court resources were expended for no gain.

An expanded version of the Violence Against Women Act, first enacted in 1994, was recently signed into law. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the provision allowing women to sue in federal court; it violated states’ rights. The expanded version has even more constitutional problems. The act now includes emotional distress in the definition of domestic abuse. How the courts will interpret that is anyone’s guess, and how do you prove it or disprove it? Further, the act is expanded to allow non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence on tribal land to be prosecuted in tribal court, without a jury of their peers. The Heritage Foundation strongly opposed the act, stating that “men effectively lose their constitutional right to due process, presumption of innocence, equitable treatment under the law, the right to a fair trial and to confront one’s accusers, the right to bear arms, and all custody/visitation rights. It is unprecedented and dangerous.”

Concerned Women for America, the largest women’s organization in the country with 500,000 members, vigorously opposed the act, saying it “has morphed into a series of rigid and ineffective law enforcement programs that continue to spend approximately $400 million each year. The sad truth is that VAWA doesn’t seem to have made enough of a difference to justify the cost to taxpayers.” Indeed, a Department of Justice official admitted, “We have no evidence to date that VAWA has led to a decrease in the overall violence against women.”

We must be vigilant and insist upon accurate information about proposed laws, especially those with titles that appeal to us emotionally. Another misnamed law is the Affordable Care Act, which is hardly affordable when people are losing their insurance and their jobs because of it. The Government Accountability Office determined Obamacare will add $6.2 trillion to the long-term deficit, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates 800,000 jobs will be lost by 2021. Another craftily named bill to watch is the Employee Free Choice Act (Card Check). That bill does away with secret ballots in union organizing. Free choice? This bill increases pressure on workers to vote for the union against their will because everyone will know how they vote. And if the union and employer cannot come to agreement after 90 days, the bill allows the U.S. government to write the union contract. That’s a great incentive for unions to sabotage negotiations. Does it surprise you the bill is sponsored and written by labor unions?

Finally, I’d like to encourage all of us to resist efforts to treat us as special-interest groups. We are the United States so long as we are united. The proper role of the federal government is to defend the union. We are losing our way with all these proposed federal laws that pander to us as special interests. Let’s handle those concerns at the local level and insist that our federal government interact with us as a united people.

Pam Buttram lives in Oronogo.