Texas does not need 7,144 new laws. Our legislators know that it is logistically impossible to read – let alone properly consider – 7,144 new laws in 140 days. But that reality didn’t stop them from proposing 7,144 new laws before last Friday’s bill filing deadline, a total 21% higher than last session’s record. Most Texans would consider that excessive; now they have at least one senator who is willing to publicly agree.
“The idea of thousands of bills being filed is ridiculous,” Sen. Kevin Eltife told the Austin American-Statesman. “I’m here to block bad legislation,” pass a budget, “and get out of Dodge.”
Toward the end of my college years, I attended a symposium sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute on the topic “Freedom and the Law.” Much of the discussion involved the overgrowth of statutory law at all levels of government.
Eltife suggested to the Statesman one of the remedies we discussed that weekend – limiting the number of bills a legislator is allowed to file each session. If you allocated 10 bills to each House member and 25 to each senator (give them more since they represent much larger constituencies), you’d be looking at a maximum of 1500 bills in the House and 775 in the Senate – 70% fewer bills than today.
Legislators would have to set priorities and apply greater attention to detail – after all, who wants to see one of their scarce bill numbers wasted on a ridiculous idea or get sniped on a routine paperwork error. Members would also have an incentive to collaborate more – instead of 50 bills to expand the same program or 120 bills to create local water districts, those members would have good reason to work together on a single bill.
More importantly, the public gains because winnowing the volume of legislation would allow greater attention and scrutiny to the remaining bills, and because a more limited government would be less likely to interfere in their livelihoods and personal dealings.
Another idea we discussed – harder to implement but I think I like better – is to require that any law that adds new statutory language must also repeal an equal or greater amount. You want to pass a law that adds 20 pages to the Government Code? Find at least 20 pages from it to cut.
Texas statutory law – and the legislative process that continually expands it – has become unwieldy, contradictory, and impenetrable to the average citizen. Texas needs to put the shears to both.
– David Guenthner