Let’s start with the premise that lawmakers are the only people in America who aren’t convinced we have too many laws.
Now, with the new year tightening its clock-springs, the National Council of State Legislatures tells us we’ve just added 40,000 more. That’s an average of one every 13 minutes.
Laws are like technology. Over time, they become one of two things: indispensable or obsolete. It’s beyond me why most state and federal laws don’t have 15- or 20-year sunset clauses, so we could periodically dispense with the obsolete ones like so many floppy disc drives and 8-track tape decks. (Remember them?)
If left alone, laws can become downright necrotic. If you think it’s hard to get a new law passed, just try repealing one after a special interest group’s lobbyists commit themselves to protecting it.
For my fellow Latin geeks, Tacitus put it best: “Corruptisima republica plurimae leges.” The more corrupt the state, the more plentiful its laws.
Tacitus was a senator and historian in ancient Rome. (Remember them?) He was nonplussed about emperors’ power to enact laws that didn’t improve anything for anyone. He also wrote an 11,000-word eulogy for his father-in-law, so he wasn’t perfect. But Tacitus knew an over-legalized nation when he saw one.
If you think 11,000 words is a lot, consider this: In 1925 it would have taken you 12 days to read all the United States’ federal laws and regulations if you plowed through about 200 pages per day. Today that same task would take you three years. You can thank the 5,000 pages of Obamacare and Dodd–Frank for the extra 25 days of study.
And none of this even counts state laws, of which we now have 40,000 new flavors. Utah has banned Happy Hour. Illinois motorcyclists can now run red lights if they don’t change quickly enough. And if you want to drive a golf cart in Georgia, it simply must have a horn.
Does California really need a law banning the awarding of goldfish as carnival prizes? And apparently Californians weren’t already confident that “criminal profiteering activity” was an apt description of forcing a girl under 18 to perform sex acts for money — so now there’s a law explicitly saying so.
Taking the LSAT or the MCAT? Can’t provide a photo ID because you’re in the country illegally? No problem: California testing locations are now required to “provide alternative methods to verify a test subject’s identity.”
The law doesn’t say what those “alternatives” are. I’m betting the fraud rate skyrockets and we have a lot of curiously unqualified medical students next year. Beginning in 2016, if you have a fever in Fresno, you may want to stick with WebMD.
The California law books also have this new entry:
“Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.”
Before anyone jumps to a conclusion, I don’t particularly care about the “gay, bisexual, and transgender” part. It will be hard to find examples from the “early history of California,” which consisted largely of Catholic missions. It will be equally difficult to find Native American narratives from before European colonists introduced them to written language. But this is beside the point.
It’s the continuing state-sponsored balkanization of Americans that I wish we could re-examine on a wholesale basis every generation or so. Otherwise it’s just a matter of time before the California legislature tries to correct the glaring injustice of failing to require textbook authors to praise the “Wizard of Oz” munchkins, Trekkies, and the GEICO caveman.
Another part of the same law bans textbooks that “contain any matter reflecting adversely upon persons on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, [or] sexual orientation.”
Congratulations, California. You’ve just outlawed teaching kids that 9/11 was the product of Islamist zealots, that the Spanish Inquisition was a lousy idea, and that the Raëlian Movement cultists were crazy. Polygamist Mormon sects will be safe from criticism, along with Scientology, the Church of the Subgenius, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Don’t laugh. Concerns of the so-called “Pastafarians” are apparently real enough to be recognized by Austria’s motor vehicle bureau, honored alongside a creche on the grounds of a Virginia courthouse, and contested in matters of school discipline in North Carolina.
Now don’t you wish future California lawmakers could have a do-over?
This new law has also made it impossible to introduce children to the marvelous joys of mocking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Austrian accent.
Maybe — just maybe — that’s why he vetoed this bill when it first came up five years ago.
David is The Daily Caller’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter