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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Legislative reform, anyone?

So I was thinking. In Israel, laws are enforced haphazardly at best. Laws are passed much the way that weapons are manufactured. Following their creation, they are held ready for use against a chosen target.

Things aren't quite that bad on that front here in the US, but there's still a lot of gunk in the law books that really only exists for historical reasons, and persists because of inertia.

So I was thinking about a constitutional amendment that would be sort of a legislative non-proliferation pact as well as a means of keeping laws relevant. Here are some items I came up with:

  • Expiration dates. For any law to be passed, it must have an expiration date no later than 10 years from the date the law is passed. After all, if there isn't solid support for a law any more, why should it be a law?
  • Preambles. For any law to be passed, it must contain a preamble which gives the reason for the law and the intent behind the law. And laws will have to be enforced according to the stated intent, even if a loophole may have been found in the verbiage of the law.
  • Taxation determined legislatively. The IRS can be left in charge of collecting taxes, at least until the nation wises up and throws them out. But all federal taxes that exist in the US will require enabling legislation with regards to their amounts. This legislation, like the rest, will come with an expiration date.
  • Amendments. Once a bill is out of committee, it shouldn't be permitted to amend it. If it isn't good, it shouldn't get out of committee. Trash it and try again.
  • Single issue. The whole issue with the line-item veto is that laws can contain numerous unrelated topics. This will no longer be allowed.

Obviously, all of this would apply only to federal legislation. But it'd be a start.



Blogger pacatrue said...

I really like some of these ideas.

Especially the expiration one; however, I think the date would necessarily need to be significantly longer. Something like 40 years. The work to re-do every federal law on the books every 10 years would be enormous. What would happen is no review at all, and they would just keep extending things. But what some limit like that would do is force people to reconsider periodically if the law is still a good idea, and if there is still support for it. An idea worth considering, at least.

Preambles. I get the motivation. My worry would be that the Preamble would be way too powerful. You could almost disregard the law and simply try to apply the intention. But what if the loophole was there on purpose? The judge would be fixing the legislator's "mistake".

Taxation determined legislatively. I may be clueless. How is this different from now? The tax rates, deductions, etc. are all determined by Congress. At best, the executive branch can set fees without legislation, but our 1040 is Congress written, right?

Amendments. My big worry here is that it gives way too much power to the Committee. It would mean that about 15 people determine the laws, and the other 400 or so in the House would have nothing other than a 'yay' or 'nay' vote. Scary possibilities at least.

Single issue. I like this one. The problem is going to be defining what a single issue is, but if that can be done, then there is real merit to this idea. It would eliminate a lot of stuff that is often nice but unnecessary.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hey pacatrue,

Sorry it's taken me so long to reply. You're probably right about 10 years being a bit short. Still 40 is on the long side. I'd think something like 25 would be servicable, no?

About preambles... I hear what you're saying, but I don't see that as a problem. On the contrary: shouldn't the intent be followed, rather than technicalities?

And while it's true that a statement of intent from the 1800s may be understood in 2005 completely differently than the author intended, expiration dates on laws would prevent that from becoming a problem.

I only added the taxation thing in because I wanted to prevent Congress from passing this authority over to the IRS in an attempt to keep the tax code from expiring.

And I think committees might work a bit differently if the House could only say yay or nay. Nowadays, they fill bills with crud, knowing that they can be amended back and forth in full session.

11:35 AM  
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