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Bill Name: AN ACT TO REQUIRE PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY AND PROVIDE FOR CIVIL LIABILITY FOR PARENTS IF THEIR CHILDREN DEFACE PROPERTY WITH GRAFFITI
Sponsors: Justin Harris (R-87), 479-871-8542, Justin.Harris@arkansashouse.org; Jon Woods (R-93), 479-200-3100, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Purpose: To amend Ark. Code Ann. 9-25-102 and hold parents civilly liable up to $5000 if the parents’ minor child who resides with the parents “maliciously or willfully … damage[s or] deface[s]” just about any property. The law as currently written only imposes such liability when the minor child “destroy[s]” property. (The bill would also remove from the statute a single incorrect comma that should be a semi-colon, but would not remove other similar commas or replace any of them with semi-colons.)
Pros for Average Arkansans: Minimal. Any benefit hinges on (a) your property being defaced/damaged by a minor child who lives at home, (b) you knowing who the perpetrator was, and (c) his parents being able to afford to pay the court-imposed fine if you are successful. I suppose one could also make the argument that it will prompt parents to pay closer attention to what their children are doing, but that presupposes that the parents of the kind of kid who would damage/deface property are aware of this law, know that their kid might break, and are willing to take proactive steps to prevent the actions.
Cons for Average Arkansans: This bill has a potential (though somewhat remote) to exacerbate jail crowding problems, in that failure by parents to pay fines can result in criminal contempt charges. Also, the vague/broad language of “damage or deface” seems contrary to the admonitions in Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Henley, 275 Ark. 122, 628 S.W.2d 301 (1982), which said that the law applied only where there was specific intent on the part of the juvenile and that the law should be read narrowly because of the penal nature of its terms. Malicious destruction is a lot easier to infer from the facts than is something as amorphous as malicious damage or defacement. (In addition, the idea of penalizing a parent whose child skips school without the parent knowing it and damages/defaces/does something non-permanent to property seems at odds with the underlying purpose of the statute as it is currently written.)
Recommendation: Draft as a separate statute that imposes the fine on the minor. It will have the same effective consequence of the parent likely bearing the cost, but it will remove the risk of jail time for a mom who can’t pay a $5000 fine after her son spraypaints the back of a building. I am all for encouraging parental responsibility, and I think this bill has the right idea, but the execution is too much risk and too little reward.
Official BHR Position: Oppose as written.