Cleaning the Houses

Before our legislators add more laws, they should consider removing those that clog our system

Virginia legislators created 64 new laws so far in 2017. President Donald Trump signed at least 53 new laws this year. Other legislatures followed suit. They join hundreds of laws and thousands of regulations routinely enacted annually; it's time to limit the number of new laws legislators can pass each year.

Legislators are elected mainly to pass laws, but duplicity reigns. Federally, there are numerous job training, food and welfare programs. More keep being piled on because some legislators justify their existence by introducing more new laws. Perhaps Americans should insist on reducing laws — in the states and inside the federal government — as well as enacting laws.

As America changes, new laws must be enacted, but somehow old laws continue to remain on the books, even though some automatically lapse. There are so many laws throughout America that citizens are unable to keep them straight. Why do we need some 80 job training programs at the federal level? Why does Virginia or Washington state need duplicative workplace inspection services?

Legislators always seem to have new ideas that must be enacted into law while existing laws stay in place. Granted, sometimes laws are not duplicative and should remain on the books. Appropriations bills are usually enacted annually, but much legislation, whether in New York, Arizona or California, is duplicative, and too many existing laws are outdated, never enforced and never removed from the books. That must change.

Some states have some truly crazy laws that have never been removed. For example, Virginia makes it mandatory to honk when passing another vehicle. Also in Virginia, it's illegal to tickle women. Other states have equally silly laws, but legislators rarely remove them before enacting another law. Here's a simple solution: Legislators, by rule, should be prohibited from sponsoring or otherwise introducing new laws until old ones are removed. Perhaps a one-for-one program would work.

In order to enact a new law, one old one should be repealed. That way, eventually only current laws would remain on the books. Legislators would be elected, not always on promises of new laws, but removal of old ones.

Legislators and lobbyists would likely fight such a proposal, because of their self-interest, but most citizens should applaud legislators enacting only current prohibitions, not leaving old ones that are rarely, if ever, enforced. That way, legislators could justify their existence, handling cases requiring their assistance that really help citizens, and disallowing "bragging rights" for legislators touting how many bills they've been responsible for enacting.

The better question for legislators is "How many outdated laws have you eliminated?" Legislators could then affirm that their legislative time was well-spent, appreciating the need for current action to solve modern problems.

And taxpayer money would be saved. It's silly to pay legislative salaries and staff costs for "going through the motions" of legislating and failing to meet citizen needs. Citizens are not well served by facing legal violations for laws that will never be enforced. When was the last time someone was written up for failing to honk when passing a slower vehicle?

As a former federal legislator, I understand the importance of being on the job and attending to the duties and obligations that the job entails, but I also know some of the time spent could be more productive. Legislators should research existing laws and determine whether they can be eliminated before enacting new laws or laws that duplicate others. Then citizens could hold legislators accountable for their actions, more so than they do now, and expect legislators to account for their actions, by sharing their schedules so that citizens know how they're spending time.

Numerous former members of Congress, decrying the emphasis on money in politics, have banded together to support "Issue One" legislation that calls for greater accountability of legislative job requirements and less on fundraising, because some legislators spend 40 to 50 percent of their time fundraising for their next election. (By comparison, I raised $750,000 when I successfully ran against the Speaker of the House in 1994; he raised $4.5 million. It now costs an average of more than $1.6 million to win a House seat, and more than $10 million for a Senate seat.)

Given the low approval rating of Congress (Gallup has it at 13 percent), expecting more accountability makes sense. Legislators should be judged not only on the laws they enact, but also on those laws they are responsible for repealing. Then they'll be seen as fully earning the salaries the public pays them. ♦

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About The Author

George Nethercutt

From 1995-2005, George Nethercutt was the Republican Congressman from Spokane. He contributes to the commentary section of the Inlander.