I caught this article the other day. It’s a good recap of how legislation doesn’t solve problems. Maybe my view is slanted since I’m a program manager and not a lawyer, but I think if the government is going to legislate it should try to quantify what it’s going to achieve. The numerous bills and laws will see are policy pushes by one side or the other. I believe instead of vague statements these policies should write what their goals are.
As I see it a lot of legislation is grandstanding to placate some vocal interest group. These bills (and later laws) rarely define the problem and lack some metric to see if they achieve what is promised. Sure you can read the debates on the bill but how do we know it will even do what was promised during the debates? There is nothing in the text and no way to evaluate it outside the biased media circuit. Politicians will either run on it or away from it, but in the end we have no idea if it will do anything. Then it will sit on the books for years until a new bill either changes it. Of course, this will only happen if an interest group shouts for it, a lobbyist works it, or a politician runs on it. Let’s take two hot topic examples out of Sacramento:
SB374. If you read it, it redefines what an assault weapon is and in effect will prevent the sale of rifles that use detachable magazines. What I find missing is the why. Is it about gun violence? Murder rates? Mass shootings? They just find guns scary? Could be one, could be all! One thing is for sure we have no idea if it will do anything at all. No link to how much the gun violence will drop and by when. No way to determine if this was just a way to keep certain semiautomatics out of everyone’s hands. This is why conservatives like me see these laws as government power grabs. The purpose is vague, its goals are vague, how long it will last is vague, but the confiscation of liberty we previously had is the only thing real.
AB1266. The bulk of this text says that whatever gender a child identifies as should not be a reason to exclude them from activities or facilities. I’ve heard on radio and TV programs what this is supposed to do but what is it doing and for who? What percentage of students are going through this issue? 10%? 1%? 0.1%? Even less? How will you assess this new access will make these children more productive or (even more ambiguous) feel better about themselves? Use suicide rates? School suspension rate? I know it’s hard to quantify everything but for how much time and effort did we dedicate to this? We have to change our whole system to accommodate an “ultra-minority” group? At what cost and how do we know it’s worth it?
Now part of the problem is that Legislators score points for voting on bills not whether they work or not. So the Legislature turns into a paper mill where 2500+ bills and amendments are churned out. Now if these were contracts with the voting public things instead of bills or laws things could be different. A politician that promises action would have to make sure the law delivers and every well written contract has a delivery date.
If I had my way, I would make legislation much more like military OPORDs. The Legislature would fill the role of the commander and the Executive branch would receive and accomplish the orders. The Legislative “orders” would define the purpose (mission) and intent of the bill. It would list what resources needed to implement it and for how long. Does the executive branch do this now? Yes, to a degree. But now its so open ended and the executive has to figure out what its trying to achieve. Sometimes its so broad you get the NSA scandal. Having limitations come from the legislature is what would limit government. By binding a law to a specific purpose, cost/time limits, and a quantifiable outcome we can truly have a limited government that acts only when the public wants it to. I see this rule change as the only way to balance a blind spot in our system. We have a well-defined system how a bill becomes a law but nothing that determines if a law works until you propose another bill. This could be a good role for an upper house like the Senate to do. Instead of proposing new stuff wade through and evaluate the old. Imagine if we had a system like this that limited the wild promises of Obamacare and Obama’s Stimulus?
If there are lawyers or bill makers willing to explain to me why we can’t have a bill state the purpose and definition of success I’d appreciate a reply. For now, I will always ask these questions for every bill – what’s the purpose, how do we know it succeeds or fails, by what time, and how much.
Elliot Schroeder is a West Point graduate and a Program Manager in Poway, California.