New Jersey children better hold tight to their allowances because those legislative nannies in the Garden State are at it again. As of last July, kids under 13 who ride their bicycles without wearing a helmet are breaking the law. First-time offenders pay $25 to the state; second-time offenders pay $100. To a child, that can mean a lot of lawns mowed and a lot of newspapers delivered.

The Kiddie Helmet Law comes on the heels of one of the most infamous products of modern-day legislation: New Jersey’s law forbidding restaurants from serving runny eggs. While public scorn caused the Runny Eggs Law to be repealed, there is no word yet on whether New Jersey intends to mandate chewing food properly and eating all of one’s peas.

But don’t be surprised if New Jersey passes some such thing as The Proper Rumination and Legume Act of 1993, as long as Governor Jim Florio is in the State House—he’s a classic example of a big-government, tax-and-spend Democrat. After picking up the keys to Drumthwacket, New Jersey’s palatial governor’s mansion. King James the Profligate immediately raised taxes to unprecedented heights. While outrage within New Jersey was immediate and severe, one of the big-city liberal newspapers from out of state that loves to comment on events across the river—the New York Times—hailed the king as a new breed of cutting-edge Democrat and chastised New York Governor Mario Guomo for being too timid in his efforts to stuff state coffers. But like the historical Jacobites, the New York Times underestimated political opposition to its darling sovereign: Florio faces a recently elected, veto-proof Republican majority in both houses and almost certain defeat in 1994. Given Florio’s contempt for the masses, perhaps “Jacobins” might be a more fitting term for his supporters—and what better name for an administrative body charged with enforcing the Kiddie Helmet Law than the “Committee of Public Safety”?

Not surprisingly, another big-city liberal newspaper that loves to comment on events across the river—the Philadelphia Inquirer—waxed rhapsodic about the Kiddie Helmet Law and the coercive power of Big Brother. “Can’t make your kids protect their little heads?” said the Inquirer, “Well, maybe the State can.” The Inquirer shrugged off the cost of a helmet to parents—from $20 to $45, with some helmets costing over $100—and concluded its puff piece by quoting a Kiddie Helmet Law advocate, revealing the mischievous and intrusive mindset of those who are behind such laws: after the meddling gent finishes telling parents of kids who bike about the horrors of riding without a helmet, he “always tell[s] parents of kids in high school that it’s more important to get the kids to wear condoms.” Today bicycle helmets, tomorrow condoms, all in the name of public safety.

From the parents’ perspective, the law is an excessive intrusion of their authority to weigh and determine what activities their children can engage in and what steps their children should take to avoid injury. The Kiddie Helmet Law usurps that role, and does so in a manifestly silly fashion: common experience with kids and bikes clearly shows that the remote incidence of serious harm is greatly outweighed by the inconvenience to thousands upon thousands of children. Kids are on and off bikes ten times a minute, and requiring them to strap on a helmet every time, under penalty of losing the equivalent of, say, a fairly generous First Communion gift, is coercive out of all proportion to the risk of harm. While there may be parents who want to make their kids wear helmets out of an excess of caution, that’s their business. But excessive caution should not be mandated by the state.

More important than the objections of parents is the effect on those to be governed by the law: New Jersey’s children. Children have a very strong sense of justice, and they do not yet understand that it is their destiny, after years of incessant state and federal nagging, to become cowed into complying with the most petty, intrusive, and ultimately numbing laws—from strapping on seatbelts to eating overcooked eggs. While children do not always know what is good for them, there is not a kid in New Jersey who doesn’t know that this law is dumb. If these kids sense that their parents also think the regulation is inane, then they will not only lose respect for the rule of law, but they will lose respect for their impotent parents, who are charged with enforcing such nonsense in their household. More likely than not, children will simply disobey the law, which will effectively make these impressionable young citizens outlaws. To a child, a stupid law is no law at all. If a child is caught and punished under a law that even his parents believe is unjust, the undesirable civics lesson will be even more pronounced.

Of course, this act will have some value in teaching our children about the true nature of law in American society. Some lucky child may grow up to discover the astute legal philosophies of our Western culture—although the odds of a child learning this at public school. where education has been replaced with building self-esteem and paying obeisance to a Culture-of-the-Month, are slim. As the child learns about law, he may recognize that the teachings of Aquinas and Augustine imply that the ill-advised Kiddie Helmet Law failed to bind his conscience and was thus an unjust intrusion of his sovereign will; he may also see his violations of the law as a predictable consequence of human nature when faced with an unjust set of commands. He will then realize what he did not understand in his youth: the legislators in New Jersey who passed the Kiddie Helmet Law possessed as much wisdom as a 10-year-old child. Welcome to America, kid.