The governor signed 876 new laws that went into existence on Jan. 1, 2013. But how many stupid, unenforceable, unconstitutional and simply misguided laws were taken off the books?
My conservative friends, both of them, like to pine on the size of the federal government, the amount of taxes they pay and the interference of government in their lives. But when asked what specifically they don’t like, it is usually a state or local law/regulation that peaks their ire. One friend doesn’t like that he can’t burn things in his fireplace—the Regional Air Quality Board adopted that regulation. Another believes parking is too expensive downtown. Well, talk to your local councilmember on that one.
The plethora of laws that exist in this country make everyone a criminal—or at least a habitual infraction violator. Many laws are simply the result of a bad accident or incident that must be prevented in the future.
A few years ago, a child drowned at a water park. Certainly, this was a tragedy. But within days a law was proposed and ultimately adopted requiring children at water parks to wear life jackets. It is a common sense response that children who can’t swim should wear life jackets. But it should be left to common sense, not required. Some children, who can swim, don’t need them.
But if it saves one life?
Many local laws are simply unconstitutional from the start. Measure B, which was passed by voters, is currently in the courts. The much heralded pension measure that was pushed by a majority of the City Council and passed by voters is a violation of the U.S. and State Constitutions. The measure violates the protection of contracts.
One legal opinion sought by the city allows that Measure B has an argument based on language in the City Charter. Last I looked, the City Charter does not supersede the Constitution of the State of California or the Constitution of the United States. But San Jose is paying a hefty sum to defend just that principle.
And yet Measure B is just one law on the books that violates Constitutional principles. In Cupertino, the city attorney opined that the city could block public streets at certain times during the day. Those barriers were removed once challenged in court. Most ethics laws by local governments are unconstitutional but will be enforced until some entity challenges them.
The San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce went to court over the city’s ethics laws and ultimately prevailed after they were fined for the local violations. The city then had to amend their regulations to conform to the Constitution.
But many other laws stay on the books, unchallenged because the time and cost to challenge them for the average citizen is prohibitive.
A winning strategy for an enterprising and ambitious politician would be to identify stupid, unconstitutional and misguided laws and run on a platform to remove them. Now that would be a candidate worth supporting.