What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
The following is an op-ed I wrote that was published in the Deseret News today:
Each year, Utah’s part-time legislature convenes for a 45-day general session in which a flurry of bills come up for consideration, debate, and a vote. In the past five years, an average of 859 bills have been drafted and numbered each year. With 104 legislators, that equates to an average of over eight bills per legislator. Of those, an average of 569 bills have passed each year in the last five years, or 5.5 bills per legislator.
This proliferation of new laws adds up over time, of course. As it now stands, Utah code contains a whopping 5.5 million words. That’s seven times the length of the Bible, 270 times the length of the Utah Constitution, and 1,208 times the length of the United States Constitution. Printed on paper with an average font and paper size, the code spans 14,000 pages.
James Madison once wisely noted, “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” Many Utahns and most legislators would likely agree with this statement. And yet, the process continues year after year, as elected officials continuously look to legislate on matters they think need fixing. Each tries to pass the laws he or she likes, and the state code thus become increasingly voluminous.
I propose a first step in bringing balance (and sanity) to this process. I challenge every member of the Utah legislature to dedicate one of their sponsored bills each session to repealing something from the code. Nowhere is it written that the law can be updated only by adding to it. Indeed, in a state where the predominant political theme centers around limited government, individual liberty, and self-reliance, legislators have ample opportunity to trim fat from the state’s laws.
Perhaps a few examples will help demonstrate where a repeal may be in order. Section 58-11a-302 of the code requires that applicants for a license to become a barber “be of good moral character.” Why should the government be concerned with the unrelated behavior of a person who cuts another person’s hair?
Jestina Clayton from Centerville would possibly support the repeal of this section. She made the news last month for being told that if she wanted to keep her hair braiding business, she would have to comply with the provisions of this section of law by taking 2,000 hours of cosmetology course work — none of which even teaches hair braiding.
Section 76-9-705 states that it is a class A misdemeanor when anybody “publicizes, promotes, conducts, or engages in” a boxing match where biting is allowed. Is this really an issue with which the government needs to be involved? If two people willingly consent to pulverize each other under terms and conditions where the use of their teeth is acceptable, shouldn’t that be their decision (and problem)?
Section 58-55-302.7 requires that plumbers, who must be licensed by the state, take 12 hours of continuing education courses every two years. While continuing education for any career is important, it’s hard to imagine any recent toilet catastrophe that would justify this mandate.
Numerous examples of silly laws or violations of liberty permeate the code’s 5.5 million words; these few simple examples are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. As legislators prepare for the 2012 general session and decide which bills they will be drafting, I challenge them to dedicate one of their several bills towards repealing something. Do these elected officials really believe in limited government? Let them prove it by working to repeal bad laws from the books.