Herald Journal Columns
May 15, 2006, Herald Journal

There oughta be a law


We have far too many laws already, but there is one new law that would make sense.

I have listened with some interest to the recent shenanigans in St. Paul, especially those concerning the twists and turns in the chronic stadium debate.

I enjoy a good game now and again, and having local teams to cheer for or complain about does add something to the quality of life in our state, but the discussions about whether we need sports stadiums, who benefits, and who should pay for said stadiums, have gone on so long that I don’t care if all of our professional sports teams pack up and move to Mars, as long as I don’t have to listen to the debate anymore.

The way that the stadium legislation has evolved brings up a larger issue, and one that should concern all taxpayers. The issue is the way that bills are handled.

Politicians are masters of obfuscation, and, in their hands, the simplest idea soon becomes entangled in a morass of other ideas and pet projects. Many times, these things have nothing at all to do with the original bill.

The general procedure works like this:

Group A introduces a bill. Group B opposes the bill, and says they will only support it if Clause 1, 2 and 3 are attached to it.

Party A responds by saying there is no way they can support Clause 1, 2, and 3, but they might be willing to compromise if they can add Clause 4, 5, and 6.

And, so it goes.

This horse-trading goes on in both the house and the senate. Once each group has come up with a final version of a bill, a conference committee gets its hooks into it, and the games begin again.

This results in a new bill, which may bear only slight resemblance to either the house and senate bills, and even less to the original idea that was taken up by lawmakers.

In the case of the stadium bills, the house and senate have come up with a variety of different bills and funding proposals. The bills from each side include elements that the other side says are unacceptable.

One wonders if some of the things that are attached to bills are added specifically to muddy the waters and impede progress.

The concept of bundling features may be a good idea if one is shopping for phone service, but even then, one might end up paying for features that one does not want or need.

The same is true with legislation.

Instead of focussing on a straightforward question, lawmakers end up battling over impossibly complex conglomerations of unrelated ideas.

The loser in all of this is the taxpayer.

We are the ones paying for them to sit around and discuss these issues.

Compromise is at the heart of any agreement between parties, but when the players complicate things by attaching unrelated addendums to bills, lawmakers end up approving things they may not agree with (and may not even be aware of).

The rationale is, that in order to get something that they want, they have to agree to some other things that they do not want.

What we need is a disambiguation law; one that will limit the items that can be included in a bill.

Discussion should be limited to the specific question at hand, and it should be evaluated for its own merits.

Legislators should not be allowed to further their own agendas by attaching unrelated items to bills.

This would eliminate the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to legislation.

It would force legislators to focus on, and be accountable for, the real issues they are voting on.

It would also make it much simpler for the average taxpayer to follow what our elected officials are up to.

And it would eliminate a lot of expensive hours of debate over bills that don’t make sense.

Some might say that simplicity and common sense have no place in politics, but maybe it is time for that to change.

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