I’ve got a Constitutional Law Question

I sit on the Community Resources and Development Committee for the City Council in Macon.

A few weeks ago, one of the members of Council mentioned that she’d gone to see some friends’ child play in a little league game at one of the city parks. It was in the Vine-Ingle league here in town.

She commented that there were no black children on either team and she was concerned about that. Her concerns stem not so much from race, but from poverty issues — are the affluent areas excluding poorer children or not making available scholarships, etc.

The city has a voucher program funded with Community Development Block Grant money that allows tax dollars to subsidize or cover in full the costs of a membership fee, etc. for disadvantaged youths. It turns out that several little league programs in town, and other organized activities for kids in town, don’t participate in the voucher program.

From talking to these folks, they all tell me that generally they have their own program, the vouchers aren’t really applicable because of league rules, or they don’t participate in the voucher program because of the bureaucratic paperwork hassles.

In any event, the member of Council has now proposed a resolution which would require:

that all recreation programs that are using City of Macon facilities or parks and are eligible for participation in the voucher program are hereby required to participate and become program providers in the youth voucher program offered by the Macon Bibb County Recreation Department and to offer said vouchers to all eligible candidates.

I’m just wondering if this is constitutional. We are, in effect, requiring recreational programs (not for profit, at that) to use a government voucher program to have access to public lands.

By and large it is probably a moot point because all of the programs I’ve talked to, including Vine-Ingle, actually say they do offer the vouchers. However, they all choose instead to fund disadvantaged youths through other, less bureaucratic means. About the only ones I can seem to find who refuse to use the voucher program are those in less affluent areas of town who don’t want to go through the compliance hassles, etc.

I suspect we would be, in fact, hurting the very people we’re trying to help with this resolution.

You can, by the way, see the resolution in full here.

20 comments

  1. Rogue109 says:

    Wow, Erick, I’m not a Con Law expert (far from it), but that proposed resolution has significant problems that you’ve already identified. I’m not sure if a Constitutional question is even applicable, but your point that it merely involves more government in an inherently non-government organization (Little League) is spot on.

    Besides, has anyone really complained that they can’t get into the Vineville-Ingleside teams because they can’t pay the fee?

  2. drjay says:

    how odd–for one thing there may be a myriad of reasons that there are few african american little leaguers in that area–is it a racially diverse area to begin w/, are there other leagues that may have higher AA participation for some other reason (recruiting, proximity, price, etc…) generally speaking AA participation in baseball has been flat or declining for several years for a variety of reasons…this just seems like a solution looking for a problem…

  3. I don’t profess to be a constitutional law expert, but I think the test as to whether the resolution is constitutioanl would depend on whether it can sustain a substantive (versus procedural) due process challenge. To do so, it would have to have a rational basis. Historically, having a rational basis has not been difficult to establish.

  4. boyreporter says:

    Uh…leave it to Republicans to try to wiggle out of just simply seeing a need and filling it. Leave it to Republicans to split hairs about whether helping a kid (or a bunch of kids) play ball will “hurt them more than help them.” Oh, and it might cost some money. Leave it to Republicans to be faced with one simple idea of doing good and turning it into a big government-small government Constitutional question. It’s not a hard question, except for people who LOOK for reasons not to do the right thing. Disgusting.

  5. David says:

    Hey, boy, why don’t you fund the team with your own hard earned money? The only thing that is disgusting here is the continual taking, taking, taking by the parasitic class from the productive Americans. They act like they are entitled to the wealth earned by others. Guess what: they aren’t. Charity is one thing, but forced redistribution of one’s labor is quite another. Since you are such a big hearted person, write a check and take care of this problem. Do the “right thing.”

  6. bowersville says:

    Sort of like that hard earned cash by the predator pay day loaners taking advantage of our soldiers.

    Is that the parasitic class you are speaking of?

  7. Rick Day says:

    isn’t this all moot, as resolutions are not law, therefore non-binding?

    And if it were law, would it not fall under State Constitutional jurisdiction and not Federal?

    If the program is already there, and underutilized, I see no real concern with putting a mechanism in place that allows little black kids to whup ass on the little white kids. Equal opportunity and all that.

    ‘Force’ parents of all color and income brackets to commonly root for their home team. It neutralizes a tool of the status quo: divide and segregate.

    Why is this a bad thing, again?

    BTW I got an A- in Constitutional law 😛

  8. andrea314 says:

    I don’t understand why requiring a league to accept vouchers would be an issue. They are taking advantage of a city-owned facility, and in requiring the acceptance of vouchers, you are in turn providing equal access to the utilization of those facilities. If certain demographic groups are not using the vouchers, it wont “create a solution looking for a problem”. Requiring acceptance is not the same as creating a “quota”. Also, your CDBG staff should be tracking who the participants (children) are in the voucher program. Perhaps they should require participants to indicate which sport/program they are going to use the voucher for…that should provide the data you need to see where the demand for program services fall (I run a different city’s CDBG program myself, and that would seem to be the most logical way to track program need). I know that we have administrative requirements to ensure equal access to CDBG funded programs.

  9. bowersville says:

    “If the program is already there…Force’ parents…to root for their home team….”

    HUH? EEOC?

    What kind of Libertarian are you?

  10. boyreporter says:

    David: Thanks for making my point. I can always count on the “holy money is my reason for being” crowd. Now open your wallet, take out a tenner, and cuddle with it, sighing deeply, eyes closed…mmmm…what else is there? Paraphrasing Homer Simpson opining about donuts: “Is there anything these bucks can’t do?”

  11. Erick says:

    Andrea and Boy Reporter, you seem to think there is a need and there is not.

    In fact, according to the Parks & Recreation Department, it has never been an issue.

    Also, the little league programs that would be affected already have programs and, in fact, have rules and regular audits to make sure they never deny a child access who cannot pay. They are all required to accept all children regardless of ability to pay.

    In addition to all my other concerns, the way I would read the language, the programs must participate in the voucher program — a program that each of the past five years has had less of less money in the program. The Director of Economic and Community Development also tells us to keep expecting less money.

    Why put programs into the voucher program spending a dwindling pool of money when they already have large bank accounts of their own that they can their scholarships with. Use the vouchers for those programs that do not have the money.

  12. StevePerkins says:

    I would hardly claim that having taken one law school class in Con Law last semester makes me an “expert”… but this might actually fly. It would be one thing if the Federal Government were stepping in to impose such requirements (federalism and all). However, a state or municipality imposing requirements on the use of state or municipal level public land? Of the top of my head, I don’t see the federal Constitutional argument against it. Maybe there’s something in the state Constitution (or if not there may be by next week at the rate we keep changing it)… but I’m less familiar with this area.

    All that said though, that still doesn’t mean this is a good idea.

  13. Doug Deal says:

    Erick,

    I am not even a lawyer (I am married to one, but she hates Con law) but I do read a great deal about it. In my mind, the only thing that comes to mind is freedom of association? Wouldn’t the city be forcing organizations to “associate” with users of vouchers, contrary to their own policies. I do not believe “economic standing” is a protected class, like race religion, sex and national orgin are. If we changed the word “vouchers” to “walnuts”, can the city force private organization to accept walnuts as payment? A voucher is as worthless unless it is converted into cash, just as the walnuts need to be sold.

    Also, political parties use the state election system to hold primaries, yet Florida and Michigan have no standing to tell the DNR or RNC how to write their rules for delegate selection. Voting is actually a right, playing baseball is not.

  14. StevePerkins says:

    Yes Doug, but all that flies out the window when you’re using public lands and/or facilities. You have an extremely wide latitude to do what you want on your own property… but once you start smoking from that government crack pipe, you’re hooked in.

  15. Demonbeck says:

    This has got to be the most asinine thing I have ever heard. Most people who run public athletic leagues are not getting paid very much, if at all. They put in long hours and hear numerous complaints just so a bunch of kids and their parents can learn to love a sport together. Now some no-nothing politician comes in and wants to tell them how to run things? Why don’t they have the city run its own teams? That way the city can deal with the city’s paperwork on its own and those who cannot afford to play will have a team to play on.

    Of course, little league ball in Houston County is doing pretty well from what I hear. Just take Little Johnny there after the Macon City Council kills baseball in Macon.

  16. Harper says:

    By looking at your original post it seems that neither you nor the other counsel member has done any research on this.
    First how can you determine a need from viewing one baseball game?
    Additionally, it stands to reason that if the parents can’t afford the initial sign up fees they might not be able to afford or be able to take off work to drive the child to all the practices and games. To participate in little league baseball a parent has to make a pretty major commitment and yes, it is not inexpensive. How then will you address these issues?
    Will each counsel member “adopt” a child? You’ll need the ball schedule, you’ll need to purchase the initial uniform and an additional one to have on hand in case the original gets lost (around $60 with cheap cleats), you’ll need to have the money on hand to purchase snacks during the game, the child really should have his own bat (they run around $60 to $300 for a good one these days), and the batting helmets can get pretty wet from sweat from the players, will you want to get the child his own batting helmet to avoid this unpleasantness?
    A parent first has to have the desire and drive to have their child participate in sports. Unfortunately this is not the case with all parents. And while I’m at it, I do believe this post is racist. All black children are not poor. How do you determine who’s poor and who’s not? Certainly not by race. This reminds me of the Mayor’s wife in the movie “The Color Purple” who wanted to start a fund to help the poor colored children. Maybe when you ruin baseball in Macon, you could all perform the play the color purple. I’d suggest you or the counsel woman to play the part of the mayor’s wife and to help you get started, here’s a clip from the movie:

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=dn9pRp_JIso&feature=related

    How can you have so much time on your hands that you would invent a problem that by your own admission doesn’t exist?

  17. Ken says:

    You’re in a position to say, “The government shouldn’t have the right to take private property to fund baseball. Don’t tell me you’re going to seize property from people who don’t pay taxes, but if they do pay, you’ll use to pay for baseball! How crazy is that? Help me pay for baseball or I’ll steal your home? That’s insane!” Then they could say, “Erik, you support spending on things that the constitution doesn’t mention – like building concrete walls between Sunni’s and Shiites.; building the world’s largest private military force and so on. Why can’t you give a voucher to a kid in your own city?” Before you can use a moral foundation, you have to have one.

  18. Demonbeck says:

    “But where would we all be without government to come in and fix things that aren’t broken?”

    We’d have a lot less things broken if the government weren’t always stepping in and “fixing” things.

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