Loco Legislators

State and local officials are wasting your money-and their time-writing bad laws


While federal legislators have been busy concocting new ways to spend taxpayer dollars, local lawmakers have been stirring up some trouble of their own. As many state legislative sessions draw to a close, state senators and representatives are pushing a motley assortment of dangerous and ridiculous new laws.

Consider Colorado. Though the state has a reputation for political conservatism, Democrats have controlled both houses of the legislature since 2004. Sadly, great responsibility did not follow from this great power. One particularly notable bill required "the owner of a cat that is 4 months or older to ensure that the cat has a form of identification on or in its body." Shouldn't pet owners be able to take care of that on their own?

Thankfully, that waste of paper didn't make it very far. But both Colorado houses did pass S.B. 14, which allows "vehicles with deficient splash-guards to remain in service for the limited time necessary to replace the splash guards." While drivers may appreciate the grace period, the drafting process for this vaguely worded bill seems like an awful waste of tax dollars.

Nor are Colorado Democrats the only ones circulating suspect bills. State Republicans introduced, and then the governor passed, H.B. 1027, a law that describes in great detail those situations where drivers should yield the right-of-way to transit buses entering traffic. But isn't that what traffic signs are for? Do Colorado drivers really need a new law instructing them to yield to buses?

In the Midwest, things aren't much better. Michigan recently saw the introduction of H.B. 4530, which would "prohibit employers from making employment decisions based upon certain factors that are unrelated to employment." Specifically, it means that employers may not ask about the health status of any member of an employee's family, a regulation that will prove particularly onerous for business owners. For instance, employees would now have an added incentive to purchase health care for family members who have smoked for many years, thus raising health premiums for employer and employee.

Georgia state Sen. Robert Brown (D-Macon) is another notable offender. He's the primary author of 33 bills that commend, recognize, or offer condolences to some particular person or group, yet do absolutely nothing to contribute to the welfare of the state's citizens. Among other things, Brown's bills have established a Black Contractors Day and recognized film and television director Tyler Perry for his contributions to the arts. Among the handful of bills Brown sponsored that have actually done something—good or bad—one would increase the minimum wage, "provide a credit toward the minimum wage for employers of tipped workers [and] eliminate various eligibility exemptions from the minimum wage."

Then there's Arkansas. Despite having a short legislative session, Arkansas lawmakers have a unique talent for crafting bad laws. One recent bill proposed two new state fish. Remember that elected officials actually spent time writing and debating that piece of legislation. Another bill would have allowed the state and its counties and municipalities to increase the interest rate on revenue bonds for public projects. This means that because of the economic downturn, state, county, and municipal governments cannot issue bonds at a rate where people will buy them. By raising the rate, state and local governments can continue to sell bonds to finance government projects. So much for the idea of government living within its means.

But the worst of the lot may be H.B. 1586, which was drafted to "solve" the problem of underage drinking in the Natural State. This bill would make it a class-A misdemeanor to allow anyone under 21 who isn't a family member to drink alcohol on private property, or even to remain on private property after consuming alcohol. But all this does is criminalize parents attempting to provide a safe alternative to drinking and driving. It also potentially penalizes those parents who unwittingly play host to teenage parties.

Sadly, many frivolous and harmful bills made it through the legislature without any uproar. Rep. Dan Greenberg (R-Little Rock) is in his second term and has a reputation for authoring libertarian bills like "The Open Checkbooks in Government Act." Greenberg told me he believes that when it comes to his state, the political culture is as much to blame as the people. "[In the legislature] it's understood as bad manners…There's pressure not to have public disagreements. We'd have a much healthier political culture if we'd get more comfortable with the notion that it's okay to disagree with other people."

Perhaps that's one reason why so many destructive bills survive local legislatures. With lawmakers remaining silent, citizens have no reason to pay attention. Thankfully, blogs and grassroots activism have helped fill some of the information gap. Last year's "Idaho Stop Law," for example, would have made it legal for bicyclists to enter a stop sign-controlled intersection without stopping, so long as they yielded to traffic. But once constituents expressed concern the necessary votes failed to materialize.

Bad laws, in other words, will continue to proliferate until citizens speak out against the outrages occurring in their state legislatures. For the sake of both our rights and our wallets, let's hope that happens soon.

Nicole Russell is a regular contributor to The American Spectator and has written for Politico and National Review Online.

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  1. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.

  2. What? Nothing about wild and wacky California?

  3. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet! There was a good reason that The Wire was set in Baltimore.

  4. No Brandybuck, we just got shaken down for protection money out here. “Give us money or maybe we’ll burn down your house there won’t be firemen to save your burning house,” is what I gathered from this last campaign. Besides, it’s just too easy to find stupid legislation in California.

  5. The “Idaho Stop Law” bit is wrong.

    Idaho already allows bicyclists to roll stop signs. The “Idaho Stop Law” refers to Oregon, as your very own link shows.

    Either way, what is un”reason”able about legalizing a common common-sense activity?

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  7. Then there’s Arkansas. Despite having a short legislative session, Arkansas lawmakers have a unique talent for crafting bad laws. One recent bill proposed two new state fish.

    I’d rather have them debating the “Offishal Fish” than new taxes.

  8. The Wire shows us that if you ever get into political trouble just say that you gave all of that cash to your constituents and show your empty pockets as proof. Just like Clay Davis did, why? Cuz on uneducated negros it works! Sheeeeiit!

  9. Do Colorado drivers really need a new law instructing them to yield to buses?

    You would think the laws of physics would be sufficient.

  10. Count me in favor of that (Oregon) bike law.

    It also seems to be a poor fit for this article, as it was a proposed “law” recognizing the option for bicyclists to use their own judgment in traffic – instead of the typical legislation that criminalizes some harmless activity or other. In other words, a rare contraction of government power, rather than an expansion. (You’ll also note that the bill died.)

    If all that these state legislatures did was come up with situations where citizens are free to exercise common sense and not be penalized for it, they’d be relatively harmless. And there would be less to bitch about on HnR.

  11. The problem with the bicycle law is that it can be very dangerous. We have cyclists out here in LA that roll through stop signs and almost get hit by cars. They are allowed to ride on the sidewalk as long as they don’t endanger pedestrians, so they swerve into the crosswalk to avoid red lights and then get hit by cars turning right on red. It shouldn’t be the drivers fault because the cyclist appear out of nowhere. This might work for rural areas but I think it could be very problematic in urban areas. It also runs counter to the reality that bicycles are vehicles and therefore subject to the same laws that cars and trucks are.

    disclaimer-I regularly ride a bike in downtown Los Angeles.

  12. The Hawaii Senate is working on Senate Bill 126: Dangerous Weapons; Pocket Knives; Sale
    “Any person who knowingly manufactures, sells, transfers, possesses, or transports a pocket knife in the State shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” A “pocket knife” is “a knife with a blade that folds into the handle and which is suitable for carrying in the pocket.” Blade length doesn’t seem to matter.

  13. I was paying attention to the Virginia legislature for the first time this year. Online tools made it very easy for me to track bills and communicate with lawmakers. However, there is one big problem: there are soooo many laws being introduced at any given time. Sorting through all of them would require a full time job. How are we supposed to handle such volume? I gave up and just responded to a few bills that, wait for it, special interest groups I liked brought to my attention.

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