Florida Libertarians Launch Campaign for Congress to
Actually Read Laws It Passes
October 30th 2005
Read the Bills they Pass?
Washington, D.C.--Should Congressmen
get a pay-raise for actually reading the laws they pass?
So wonder tongue-in-cheek Florida newspapers reporting that those
plucky Florida Libertarians, joined with non-profit policy groups
such as DownSizeDC, have launched another wild-eyed Libertarian
initiative: That legislators actually read the laws they vote upon.
"Citizens are automatically held accountable in law to have
carefully read and to completely know every jot and tittle of the 50
feet of bookshelves occupied by US law-books and their state's legal
statutes. We propose that legislators be nice, and meet the same
burden," said Michael Gilson-De Lemos, a movement spokesman and
Libertarian affiliate chair in St Petersburg, Pinellas County,
Florida. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Why should it be the
actual standard for 'creating' law?"
He has been promoting the idea for several decades, he
says, after a conversation with a Massachusetts Senator. "The Senator
complained he had to have a form letter made to calm irate constituents
wondering how he could have voted for certain legislation. He said
increasingly no one was reading the bills, the lobbyists were writing
everything, and he was concerned over how bills were even changed after they
were voted on."
Now a new initiative is underway that, if Libertarian's history is any
guide, will in due course help them galvanize a broad coalition and end up
being championed by its present opponents upon altering their positions.
RECORD OF SUCCESSFUL INITIATIVES
Libertarians say they unalterably champion inalienable rights and suggest
ways for voters to cut intrusive government, ranging from devolution to
small local governments to re-legalizing voluntary and private alternatives
to promoting peaceful anarchist communities. Libertarian initiatives for
less-is-more government do have a way of sounding a little out-there at
first. Yet their record is to soon be leading debate and taking root. Often,
it's because they point out that what many people assume is so isnít legally
so, or actually happening, awakening public interest.
People laughed when Libertarians proposed small claims courts, the Earned
Income Credit, legalizing gold coin ownership, stock-brocker fee
deregulation to allow discount brokers, telephone deregulation and phone set
ownership, privatized Social Security and IRA's, mom's breastfeeding in
public, removing legal blocks to cable TV, less ballot regulations, and even
out of this world ideas such as private space tourism.
No one laughs now.
Space tourists propose cheap honeymoon travel into orbit for the masses as
they phone Charles Schwab on their personal phones to check their gold coin
portfolios, all as seen on cable TV.
So why not legislators who read the regulations first before the
Libertarians do, usually to undo them?
LAWS PASSED UNREAD
Critics charge that, increasingly, in the US laws are being passed unread by
the people most supposed to understand them: the legislators. It's an issue
entering the public radar. "When I suggested that Libertarian candidates
take this up, even some LP leaders thought this was a pointless issue. But I
said we must make Libertarianism the issue, not attempt to reflect leftover
issues from the major parties. What can be more Libertarian, and American,
than the lawmakers do their basic job?" said Mr. Gilson-De Lemos. The
Florida Libertarians became interested in the issue, and their 2002 State
House candidates received half the votes as the Democrats in 2002 when,
among other items, they pledged to not vote on anything they hadn't actually
read if elected.
The media was mostly unaware, at first ridiculing the Libertarians until
accepting the Libertarian's challenge to check with legislators. The
ridicule stop. Some newspapers invited Libertarian candidates to brief them
on the subject.
The Libertarians kept up interest locally post-election and started
attracting broad interest from different political groups. Soon the buzz
helped launch a slate of articles in Florida dailies such as the St
Petersburg Times and eventually the Wall Street Journal, which agreed that
the Libertarians were right. According to surveys, it discovered, most
legislation is passed unread by the legislators in both Congress and State
bodies. USA Today also followed the story, complete with quotes from
legislators bemoaning that they had lost control of the law and it was
humanly impossible to read the reams of legislation and regulations.
Jim Babka, whose group DownSizeDC has begun several initiatives for what
they call commonsense reductions, stated that a result of the problem is
that " Aides seemed less concerned about the particulars of the bill than
they were about who supported" it.
In common law, at one time it was typical for laws to have long
waiting periods for public comment and deliberative scrutiny. Many
local governments have such policies, going out of their way to
televise proceedings and solicit public input. The US Constitution
sets a protocol for Congressional records with this in mind.
The Founders apparently never anticipated that Congress would not
attempt to hide legislation so much as not even be aware of it.
Today, however, the problem has grown so bad that Congress and many
state legislatures follow up votes with so-called 'technical
adjustments' where the law is again re-written for obvious boo-boo's
and to insert unpopular clauses, say aides close to the process.
Lobbyists have found the adjustment sessions perfect for persuading
the adjusters, often teen-age legislative aides, to insert favorable
paragraphs. Some lobbying groups have started workshops on how to
influence the adjustments, and it is not uncommon for a law to have
clauses ending up being the opposite of what was actually passed,
claim some critics and former aides.
While the proposal found no immediate co-sponsors, this did not
discourage the Libertarians, who have a reputation for thinking in
long term ways and taking on the multi-year efforts to make things
happen that would discourage most activists.
A GROWING PROBLEM
The Libertarian coalition is beginning to attract attention.
According to the Sarasota, Florida, Herald Tribune article on
October 28, "Capital's Moles Keep Their Heads Low" even aides
derided Congressmen for hiding like 'moles' before the onslaught of
a contingent from DownSizeDC and led by people such as Walt
Augustinowicz, a Florida Libertarian Party Vice-Chair, who traveled
to the capital to help inaugurate the effort. Their proposal, dubbed
the "Read The Bills Act" calls for all items to be read to
legislators and be published at least 7 days in advance of a vote.
Such a measure would stop embarrassments such as the Patriot Act,
which critics discovered had not only been passed unread, but wasn't
even printed so anyone knew what it said.
Critics charge the practice is not only increasingly common, but
makes a travesty of a Court's later attempts to divine the will of
Congress in difficult cases.
The Florida Libertarian Party did not participate officially in the
non-partisan action in the capital but has long endorsed the effort
to get legislators to pay attention to what they pass.
EXTRA PAY FOR EXTRA LEGAL WORK?
Libertarians say they're not exactly understanding of the overworked
legislator's dilemma. Mr. Gilson-De Lemos summarizes the view
passionately: "We've watched in the last century the call for an
omnipotent, centralized government and now find no one's even
running it. In many areas some 60% percent of policing and 70% of
mediations are being done by private bodies. Police spend over 80%
of their time enforcing lifestyle offenses that weren't even crimes
a generation ago or so ago. Wars are ended not by armies but private
'second track' citizen diplomats. Now no one is writing the law. "
"Libertarians say people can replace government programs with
compassionate and common sense voluntary alternatives, and deserve
that choice in their communities. The issue is no longer debating
the role of government or coercive government policies. The
government has already abdicated: we're saying, move aside then and
let people try some options," he said.
They're certainly taking the first step of attracting sympathetic
media and grassroots attention: the Herald article sarcastically
implied that perhaps Congressman get extra pay for doing their jobs,
comparing them to coaches getting extra pay for extra assignments.
Even the older party chat groups are discussing the issue.
"Legislators don't read legislation well before signing on to it. I
think that's going to be a question I ask the next time a candidate
comes knocking on my door," said Eva Young, a poster at a public
site for Republicans.
By M. Davis
and M. Gilson
Keywords and Misspellings: Libartarian
Libertarian Democrat Greens Floreda