May 20th, 2011

An Invitation to Repeal

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.

11 Responses to “An Invitation to Repeal”

  1. JJL9
    May 20, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I have repeatedly urged my representatives to spend more time repealing old laws than passing new ones.

    Perhaps they should pass a new one. I believe BYU recently implemented a zero growth policy regarding total square footage of campus buildings. So now if they want to build something new or add on somewhere, they have to find something old do eliminate.

    Perhaps the legislature should consider doing the same, but with regard to the number of words or the total number of bills that constitute current Utah law. In order to pass new legislation, they should eliminate old legislation by at least the same number of words or the same number of bills.

    Ideally they would actually reduce the total number of laws and the total number of words.

    With regard to your examples of cosmetology courses for hair braiders and CE for plumbers, you chose the perfect place to start. If you were to analyze who is pushing for legislation regarding more requirements for licenses, more continuing education, etc.., you would find that the associations within the various industries are the culprits. It is a clear and undeniable case of government working with industry to limit entry and limit competition.

    I used to sit on the BOD’s of the local, state and national associations in the real estate industry. I was the lone voice for reducing requirements for licensure.

  2. Brian
    May 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    @JJL9, hear hear! I’m a software engineer, and I know of no continuing education requirements for my profession… But it doesn’t matter, because if I don’t educate myself continually, I’ll have a harder and harder time of finding a job in the future. — That is to say, there doesn’t need to be laws to keep me educated, the market pressures me to do so of my own accord. I much prefer it this way.

  3. nacilbupera
    May 21, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Reducing the volume of law and paper it’s written on is also environmentally friendly! Maybe Al Gore could chime in and give us a hand, or maybe that’s just an inconvenient truth.
    We must ask our legislators not so much how many bills they passed but how much legislation they repealed.

  4. Clumpy
    May 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    @JJL9 Indeed. The type of regulation that we seem to have now basically props up a few organizations and individuals and screws up-and-coming businesses and individuals without influence. The only type of “regulation” we really need is legal enforcement of laws against theft or scams. Enforce those laws, remove the unnecessary regulatory apparatus clamored for by lobbying groups, and up legal enforcement and we’re good.

  5. danithew
    May 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Looks solid to me.

    One of the things that concerns me is the creep of requirements or hoops to jump through for people who do basic services for people. So I liked the example of the legalese for haircutters.

  6. Liz
    June 8, 2011 at 12:40 am #

    Amen to this. Get rid of that J-walking thing.

  7. Liz
    June 8, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    I would also like zoning to allow neighborhood markets. I think normal people should be able to have chickens or goats without asking the government.

  8. Diane Anderson
    June 22, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Just think of the heavy financial burden on taxpayers for having and attempting to enforce all these laws. Have you ever tried to remodel a house w/o demolishing something first? It’s a mess. Cut back to those Constitutionally authorized reg’s and think of all the money that would free up for economy boosting.


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