Earlier this month, I began to come across stories that chronicled the 40,000 new laws adopted in 2013, many of which went into effect on January 1, 2014. The National Conference of State Legislatures compiled the list and in December 2013 issued its report mentioning some of the “most interesting ones.”
When fifty states (plus “commonwealths and territories” according to the release) enact almost 40,000 new pieces of legislation in a one-year period, that averages around 800 new laws per state. If you read the NCSL press release, you’ll see they highlight new laws that address and regulate nearly every sector of our lives!
Interestingly, I received an email newsletter (entitled Cutting Red Tape) today from Senator Mark Pryor (who is running for reelection) and this newsletter addresses recent attempts by the Department of Labor to place a new layer of regulations on Arkansas farmers. Pryor’s email decries “… burdensome regulations.” He suggests: “We must fix our broken federal regulatory process.” He sounds absolutely conservative when his letter points out: “… no one knows what to do better than Arkansans.”
Quick on the heels of the NCSL report, I saw Senator Mike Lee‘s snapshot of the 2013 Federal Register, all 80,000 pages of it! The Federal Register records the “… new rules, regulations, and notices all written and passed by unelected bureaucrats.” Senator Lee contrasts this overwhelming number of pages to the smaller stack (on top) which is those bills passed during 2013 by elected members of Congress and signed into law by the President. Have a look at Senator Lee’s photo below.
Granted, as the Los Angeles Times notes from its December 11, 2013 story, only a historically few number of bills actually became law during 2013. In its lead paragraph, the Times judges this Congress to be the “most ineffective in history.” (I have a different take. I don’t think fewer laws passing equates with “ineffective.”)
Now, before anyone gets the wrong impression, this isn’t meant to be a post about politics, and please forgive me for wandering into political incitement but I did so for the sake of the larger picture. During my lifetime, I’ve talked to plenty of government officials. I’ve read government publications. I’ve watched as local, state and national governments have taken small issues and regulated to the point of strangling all the life out of what they regulate. (I imagine you probably have too.) I’ve also watched as new regulations cast a wider net and ensnare more people − unsuspecting, generally law-abiding people suddenly become lawbreakers!
It’s no surprise. With all of the laws on the books, how’s a person supposed to know what was made illegal yesterday (or last week or last year)? It’s so impossible, even the bureaucrats can’t provide a clear picture! Take the IRS for one instance. A 2013 report from one watchdog group says: “… there is almost always no “right” answer and this allows the IRS to determine that taxes are due or that the needed documentation is not present.” In 2003, CBS published a report titled “IRS Can’t Do The Math” in which the author noted “Less than half, or 45 percent, of the questions [posed by independent tax auditors] were answered correctly and completely.”
Let’s go back to the beginning where I mentioned the 40,000 new regulations, a portion of which you and I must bend the knee to this year. Reflecting on that, I thought about the Ten Commandments God wrote on tablets of stone for Moses to transmit to the people of Israel. Ten laws … the Decalogue. Straightforward, simple instructions to summarize how to live a life in harmony with man and with the Creator.
But apparently, that wasn’t simple enough for God’s people. They started wondering and asking questions about how close they could get to the sin-line (having other gods, making graven images, honoring one’s parents, killing, stealing, etc.) without provably breaking one of God’s commands. (Typical for us as human beings, right?) By the time it was all said and done, God had given them an entire book (Leviticus) specifying in minute detail laws related to a multitude of issues and questions.
I have no desire to debate the details of Leviticus. It’s God’s law and he’s quite capable of handling any debate. My point is, would things have gone any smoother for the people of Israel if they’d been willing to follow Ten Commandments rather than negotiate to a broader list of ten thousand? (Just so you understand, that was hyperbole. I haven’t counted every commandment included in Leviticus.)
It would seem we’ve arrived today in about the same situation as the ancient Israelites found themselves: a plethora of regulations dictating life choices and not much freedom to simply do right.
I refer once more to the counsel of the Honorable Senator Mark Pryor who noted in his email newsletter: “… no one knows what to do better than Arkansans” but I will expand his statement by contending Texans or Iowans or Oklahomans (or citizens of any other state) are equally capable of doing better in addressing local problems. Instead of more laws and regulations being handed down from some faraway bureaucracy, the best solutions are local ones.