State legislatures have had a busy year.
In 2011, all 50 states and territories met in regular session and enacted close to 40,000 new laws on issues across the board.
Forty. Thousand. Laws. In one year.
One that caught my eye: Washington state approved special license plates expressing appreciation for music teachers. Not gym teachers, or janitors. Maybe those occupations can be honored with their very own license plates in 2012 and 2013. It’s not like the Washington legislature has anything better to do with its time, from the looks of it — unless it is designating the official state vegetable (the Walla Walla sweet onion), the official state endemic mammal (the Olympic marmot), and the official state tartan (stripes of blue, white, yellow, red, and black on a green background).
[A new] California law prohibits the production, distribution or sale of beer to which caffeine has been directly added as a separate ingredient.
Because while it’s currently not illegal to drink a White Russian or an Irish Coffee, lawmakers must — apparently — draw the line somewhere. I mean, where would we be without law books warning us we’ll find the constabulary at our door if we’re so wicked as to mix beer and caffeine? In a handbasket headed to hell, that’s where.
One law that I would actually like to see is one stipulating that no new law may be enacted unless another, older one is taken off the books first. Here are some good candidates for repeal.
The Economist shares the sentiment (I think), in an article saying that criminal-justice-wise, America has three problems: Laws targeting behavior that shouldn’t be illegal; vague, ambiguous verbiage in all manner of legislation; and draconian prison sentences.
There are over 4,000 federal crimes, and many times that number of regulations that carry criminal penalties. When analysts at the Congressional Research Service tried to count the number of separate offences on the books, they were forced to give up, exhausted. Rules concerning corporate governance or the environment are often impossible to understand, yet breaking them can land you in prison. In many criminal cases, the common-law requirement that a defendant must have a mens rea (ie, he must or should know that he is doing wrong) has been weakened or erased.
We’ve gotten to the point where ignorance of the law is most certainly a good excuse for breaking it, because no longer can we be seriously expected to know and follow the myriad byzantine rules and regulations that slowly choke our entrepreneurial spirit and erode our respect for the law.
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.