Saturday, December 29, 2007

There ought to be a law...

There ought to be a law that says that every time a new law is enacted by the legislature, the legislature should be required to make room for it by unenacting another law from the books and making it widely known that they have done so. Let's enact a page limit on law. And, no, this proposal isn't to preserve shelf space nor trees. In fact, since law is primarily stored and accessed online nowadays, there really is no limit to the number of laws we can enact before we run out of shelves or trees. So the question is, when is enough law enough?

Some, like me, would say that there is already enough law. Laws that are either obsolete, dead letter, overly intrusive or restrictive (read: puritanical) by present day standards, and/or unenforced should be deleted from the "books". Not only should laws be widely known and understood, they should be limited to what's necessary to deter and prevent that which is truly socially undesirable, not just speculatively so. Without these limits, every day ordinary behavior (whether completely desirable or not) is rendered illegal, perhaps punishable by a small fine only in many instances, to the point where nearly everyone (if not everyone) is arrestable at least once, if not throughout, a typical day. Does this sound like a "free society"? At present, it is difficult to get through the day without violating at least one law. As an example, have you ever driven anywhere without exceeding a posted speed limit by at least 1 mile per hour, even if for only a few seconds? If you say "yes", well... I won't call you a liar because you're reading my blog. But, you get my point... Completely law abiding behavior, in every sense of the word, is a virtual impossibility in a society that has millions of pages of description of what constitutes unlawful behavior.

Since we live in an era where everyone is busy re-defining the problem and the language we use to describe it, I'll follow suit and go ahead and propose that we should stop calling legislators "lawmakers". Let's, instead, call them "law quality control officials" (LQCO's). Rather than thinking of new laws to enact, our elected LQCO's should be thinking of ways to improve on existing ones, by clarifying some and unenacting others. I'm just not sure we really need even one more law. And sometimes, as any cattle rancher will tell you, you must occasionally thin the herd.

Every New Year we lawyers pay attention to what laws are new on the books, and if there are any deleted or lapsed (which does happen on occasion), it generally goes without ceremony, any effective notice to the masses, and not due to any such brilliant new legislation such as the one I am proposing.

So here's a peek at SOME of the new laws coming our way in 2008:

Cell phone use in vehicles. SB 1613 and 33. Before you run out to buy a new Bluetooth device (that actually works in a satisfying way - and doesn't just make you look like an electronic gadget loving dork who is not really paying attention to what's happening around him), let me put you at ease by telling you that the laws concerning cell phone use while driving are not set to go into law until July 1, 2008. So enjoy your last six months of relative bliss while you drive with one hand on the wheel and the other pressing your cell phone to your ear, or with no hands on the wheel while sending a text message or an email...but please do so safely. And to the teenagers with provisional licenses: You will have to hang up and drive altogether (hands free or not)... at least until you are no longer a teenager, that is. July 1 is the end of an era. Let's call it the "pre-hands-free era", where it is unclear (at best) whether there was a resultant increase in the numbers of traffic accidents. Interestingly, in recognition of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable warrantless searches and seizures, these new laws disallow law enforcement's use of these laws as a pretext to pull someone over. In other words, they have to "know", and not simply "suspect", that you are violating one of these laws before they pull you over on that basis alone. I must say, I do like this built-in privacy protection. Different.

School Zones. AB 321 will now allow local jurisdictions to adopt an ordinance establishing a speed limit of 15 miles per hour in a school zone. [So, you must slow down even when driving Miss Daisy through a school zone].

Street Racing. SB 67 reauthorizes a law that lapsed in 2006. It allows police to impound a vehicle for 30 days when a person is arrested for street racing, exhibition of speed, or reckless driving. [See, laws can lapse...in theory anyway.]

Smoking in Vehicles. SB 7 prohibits anyone from smoking a cigarette, a cigar, or a pipe in a vehicle, whether in motion or not, in which there is a minor. The smoker can be fined up to $100. Police can only cite for this violation in connection with a stop for a suspected violation of another driving offense. [For enacting this brilliant law, the Legislature truly deserves the Nanny Award... do we really need this law? Is it really going to prevent even one instance of lung cancer? Who knows?]

Traffic School. AB 645 prohibits a court from allowing a driver who commits a two-point violation from attending traffic school. Two-point violations include drunk driving, hit-and-run, speed contests, evading an officer, and vehicular manslaughter. [Uh, this wasn't happening anyway, by the way].

1 comment:

K. said...

Great idea! I love it! For every new law that goes on the books, at *least* one outdated or poorly written law should come off.

We can do better than the hodge-podge mess we've got for statutes now. A lot better.

I would be happy to vote for a politician who promised to delete at least as many laws as he enacted.