Pass a Law… Lose a Freedom

  • By: Al Smith, Fresno Chamber of Commerce President and CEO

I have this reoccurring dream that someday a candidate for elective office will run on the platform of “Vote for Me and If Elected, I Promise NOT to Make Any laws”. I know – it seems contrary to why they exist, but there is something about that idea that makes it appealing.

Every year our legislators gather under the majestic capitol dome in Sacramento diligently searching for problems that affect the lives of individuals and businesses. Over the past ten years, they have identified around 3,000 issues with the legislature approving about 1,000. That’s per year, my friend. In a decade 30,000 California problems – supposedly 10,000 California solutions.

At a recent Chamber sponsored “Eggs and Issues” breakfast, State Senator Tom Berryhill talked to the over eighty business leaders assembled about pension reform and budget reform. About the time the last cup of coffee was being consumed, an audience member asked about the possibility of legislative reform – redesigning the way we go about the business of State government.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove of Bakersfield has proposed returning to a part-time legislature – a system done in forty other states. There are only ten states that have a full time legislature. She suggests that the annual session last only three months with a $6,000 annual compensation. She predicts that a different type of public servant would convene to make laws and not the type who are looking for a $150,000 per year vocation.

Berryhill responded as being concerned, saying that Sacramento would really be run by special interests under that system. I personally would love to hear a good debate about this one.

Berryhill did feel it was worth exploring the idea of alternating a regular legislative session one year with a budget and fiscal session the next. That way, the budget would be put in place over a two year period, rather than the current knee-jerk single year process.

This is only one of the appealing aspects of using the alternate year approach and then combining it with a limit on how many bills a legislator could introduce each year – it might actually result in fewer bills being presented.

We all recognize that a lawmaker has a natural tendency to seek out perceived problems and then offer up solutions. It’s the one way an elected official can put his or her stamp on illustrating their accomplishments when it comes re-election time.

But remember, whenever a new law is made – someone’s liberty is reduced. Remember that 10,000 number of laws? That’s how many freedoms were lost – and not all of those laws were noble.

Pension reform? Spending reform? All Important. However, with legislative reform, those other issues might take care of themselves.

It’s time to start the discussion.

Remember those prophetic works of Mark Twain? “No man’s life, liberty or property is safe, while the legislature is in session.” Those words were uttered a zillion years ago. Not much has changed.


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