BY JAMIE HENNEMAN
S-E Staff Reporter
The following is article 20 in the Citizen Jane series featured in the Statesman-Examiner.
Here are a few interesting statistics for you: Washington State, a state since 1889, used to have all its laws in one book. The first state Legislature created laws to address state expenditure, state prisons, juvenile detention, prison industries, schools and taxes. All of this neatly fit into a portable, lightweight tome.
Fast forward to 2012 and there are 10 books containing 91 chapters that cover everything from cemeteries and morgues to laws governing sporting events and popcorn (RCW 69.04.331). Officials who still keep a complete copy of the Revised Code of Washington have to dedicate shelves to the endeavor.
In fact, our Legislature adds hundreds of new laws to the books every year, hitting a new record in 2009 when 581 new laws were passed, decreasing only slightly to 333 in 2010.
And what is the purpose of these laws? Apparently to rule over every conceivable moment of human existence and steal away personal freedom one ink-embossed document at a time.
Our freedom is being lost at such an incremental level year after year that we hardly notice the cumulative effects. In fact, we sometimes unwittingly advocate such libertine losses by asking Legislators to sponsor bills related specifically to our individual concerns, like sports preferences. (i.e this yearâs H.R. 4618 wants to create a state law to âhonorâ the Eastern Washington University Eagles).
If you donât believe we are at a crisis point in the abuse of lawmaking, consider the following.
During a $2 billion shortfall in the state budget this year and a short 60-day legislative session, our representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate want the following put into law:
â˘ Senate Bill 6123 would create a National Rifle Association license plate.
â˘ Ceremoniously or religiously prepared food would need to be labeled as such under House Bill 2376.
â˘ House Bill 2353 would allow tow-truck operators to close their offices for a one-hour lunch break.
â˘ Alternative traction devices for tires would be allowed to prevent vehicles from skidding in certain weather conditions under House Bill 2355.
â˘ House Bill 2205 would allow youth 16 and older to register to vote, but would withhold them from the state voter registration database and therefore voting until the age of 18.
â˘ Tow truck operators would be able to charge vehicle owners for the cost of tolls and ferry fares under House Bill 2274.
â˘ House Bill 2294 would make CPR education a high school graduation requirement.
â˘ Drivers would be required to turn on their headlights when using their windshield wipers with House Bill 2182.
All of these items could all be addressed through individual initiative, private business discretion, community effort or common sense.
When the Legislature feels it is their place to put forth such minute detail, we are no longer free.
It leads us to believe there are a few common assumptions held by lawmakers in Olympia:
1. State laws should address any and every social concern because any and every social concern should be addressed by law (i.e. society can be perfected by the creation of laws, human nature can be negated and there is no such thing as a mistake). 2. People should not be given discretion/freedom in any measure as they cannot be trusted to make or live with their own decisions. 3. The legislature was designed to respond to every plebian concern and meddle in the lives of the populous by dictating rules on even the smallest of decisions.
But why should we be alarmed on this issue? Yes, it may be stupid. But is it a crisis? Absolutely my friends, because it is an abuse of the law.
What is the law for?
In order to explain why, we must consider what the law is actually for.
Nowhere is a better definition found than in a publication from the French Revolution called âThe Lawâ by Francis Bastiat.
Bastiat was concerned that the law was going to be manipulated in France as a way to legitimize the varied and inconsistent desires of the masses. In protest he argued the law has a much clearer purpose.
âThe law obliges a person to abstain from harming others. It violates neither his liberty nor his personality or property. They [the laws] safeguard all of these. It is defensive, it defends equally the rights of all,â Bastiat writes
Moreover, Bastiat argues that these uses are an abuse of the law because the lawâs effectiveness lies in its ability to be applied by force.
âThe law is organized justice. So why shouldnât the law be used to organize labor, education and religion?â he asked. âBecause the law is forceâŚwhen the law, by means of a necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or subject of education, a religious faith or creedâŚthen the law makes intelligence a useless prop. There is no need to discuss, compare or plan ahead; the law does all of this for us.â
And as is so painfully obvious this year, the organizing of life by the state also incurs cost. The state does not have any resources of its own, apart from what it takes from the working man. And that taking is what Basiat calls âlegal plunder.â
âWhen a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it, without his consent and without compensation, and whether by force or by fraud to anyone who does not own it, then I say that property is violated and an act of plunder is committed,â he notes.
Therefore, when the government passes taxes without your consent, they are stealing from you. However, conducted under the auspices of the law, it is considered legal.
This âlegal plunderâ then goes to fund the voluminous laws that have mushroomed far beyond the âprotections of persons and property.â This plunder enables the state to use the law for illegitimate purposes and to address of a litany of social concerns.
âThe most popular fallacy of our times is that it is not sufficient that the law should be just, it must also be philanthropic,â wrote Bastiat in 1850 after witnessing the French Revolution and the Terror where âanti-revolutionariesâ were guillotined. âNor is it sufficient to guarantee every citizen a free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education and morality throughout the nation.â
Correct and restrain
It is imperative that we do something to stop the madness. The only role of a Legislator in these days of excess and abuse is to CORRECT AND RESTRAIN GOVERNMENT. No other laws should be proposed, no bills created to placate constituents or garner political currency. We need our Legislators to commit to this principal or we need to quit asserting that America is the âland of the free.â
Along with urging our Legislators to restrain themselves in the lawmaking process, we also need to restrain ourselves from asking them for more laws. If there is a problem, we should consider how to address it on the local, community and individual level. Taking something to the legislature should only be done when we want government to be RESTRAINED OR CORRECTED. Any other request shows our ignorance regarding the purpose of the law and our inability to consider our intelligence more than a âuseless prop.â