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January 6, 2013 | Back to: Opinion

Publisher's Notebook: Laws were made to be .... made

Californians begin the New Year facing another 900 “dos and don’ts,” thanks to a Legislature that believes it can actually legislate every waking moment of a human being’s life.

The governor they once called “Moonbeam” actually signed 873 new bills for 2013 and beyond, a feat that will likely lead to a carpel tunnel claim in the near future because I’m quite certain it is illegal to force anyone to sign his name that many times without a smoke break — in a designated smoking area — with a gas mask — not within 200 feet of a zoo or school.

For the record, I’m a huge fan of law and order. It’s important that we have laws because if we didn’t there would be lawlessness and, of course, no need for lawyers.

And without laws we’d be hard-pressed to get out of bed in the morning, because there’d be nobody to tell us what to do and not to do.

I know — how did we ever survive back in the day when we had 50,000 fewer laws?

And don’t say common sense. We all know that died way back in 1982 when state lawmakers passed a bill banning its use everywhere but parts of Texas and Kansas.

That’s why there is a warning sign on an oven door that reads: “DO NOT STAND HERE.” And why there is a drawing of a hand with a line through it down there next to the blades on your power mower.

In fact, more than half the pages of my John Deere riding mower operator manual are filled with warnings. One strongly suggests that I not jump off the mower and go use the restroom while it is moving across the lawn. Another recommends that I not run it inside the garage with the doors closed. It’s also why an escrow document has 3,698,237 pages that must be signed and initialed.

The problem I see rests in a simple title. We call these people “lawmakers,” not “policy police” or “referees of fair play.” There is nothing in that title that suggests anything about getting rid of stupid laws that may have been passed by a previous lawmaker who may have simply had a bad day, or was stupid and elected anyway. Yes, believe it or not, we have elected a few stupid people over the last 236 years. There is no law that says you have to be smart to be a lawmaker.

As a result, these lawmakers feel compelled to come to work each day determined to make a law, or three, or four. In fact, for every law that is signed by the governor, maybe 50 die on a committee floor, which means these lawmakers are prolific little buggers with too much time on their hands.

“What are you going to do today, honey?” the spouse asks on your way out the door.

“Do what they pay me to do,” the lawmaker says. “Make more laws.”

Absent a part-time Legislature — and I love that the Oregon Legislature can only meet 35 days in even-numbered years and 160 days in odd-numbered years — I’d like to see each lawmaker given a quota of no more than five new laws each year. Give us your five best shots, and you’d better make them count.

And I’m not talking about ones to regulate coonhounds, or public toilets, or bills designed to force fast-food restaurants to warn consumers that French fries might make you fat. I’m talking about laws that will make this a better place to live, but using 800 fewer of them each year.

The funny thing is, many lawmakers don’t even write their own laws. They have a lobbyist do it for them and they put an “X” where it says “SIGN HERE.”

I asked a lawmaker once why he introduced a law he knew was stupid. “I’m here to do the people’s business,” he told me with a straight face, “and when a constituent asks me to introduce a bill I do it.”

Had I known that ahead of time I would have asked him to introduce a bill that gives bald people their own parking spots.

That particular bill had to do with mandatory spaying and neutering of dogs. I don’t recall the details, but they made me cringe the same way I cringe when I see a skateboarder anywhere near a stairway railing.

Another idea may be to force these lawmakers into a “one-in-and-one-out” policy in which the only way a new law could be passed would be to swap it for a stupid law. I have a referral list if they need one.

As far as I know, there are still laws in the books that were passed when we rode horses to work. Someone said there was still a law in Texas that when you let a Native American out of prison, you have to give him a horse, a blanket and enough ammunition to last a week.

In Alaska it is illegal to wake a sleeping bear for a photo opportunity, and in Idaho it is illegal for a man to give his sweetheart a box of candy that weighs more than 50 pounds. And, according to Connecticut law, a pickle is not officially a pickle unless it bounces.

As we enter a new year, it would be wise to brush up on the new laws. No matter how ignorant they sound, ignorance of the law is still not a valid defense — unless you’re the one who wrote it.

• Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Jan 6, 2013 12:04AM Published Jan 7, 2013 12:50PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.