A modest proposal

I propose that at the end of a legislator’s term in office, that they should be required to recite the text of the bills they voted for, word for word, under penalty of fines and imprisonment (as with impeachment). In other words, they should know and be able to prove that they knew what they were voting for.

Just an idea.

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13 Responses to A modest proposal

  1. Nate says:

    Just having to read the text aloud would go a long way. It would take days (weeks?), non-stop, to just read the bills that they’ve passed.

  2. landon says:

    @Nate: Perhaps they need to write it out, in longhand, prior to passage.

    I agree that just saying the bill out loud would help a great deal, even if they were cribbing.

    The more I think about this, the more I like it.

  3. Ook says:

    This goes along with my biggest pet-peeve about law makers; it drives me crazy when they say something along the lines of, “Voting for that would be political suicide.”

    Seriously? More interested in keeping your job than doing what you feel is the right thing? Nice backbone there, squishy.

  4. james says:

    We also need system restore points.

    Or the guillotine and some sort of “leaving review”.

  5. Andrew Dalke says:

    Here’s where I get to rain on the parade.

    Just because someone reads “Section 2516(1) of title 18, United States Code, is amended—(1) by redesignating paragraph (p), as so redesignated by section 434(2) of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–132; 110 Stat. 1274), as paragraph (r)” (that’s part of from the PATRIOT Act), doesn’t mean they have any idea of what it means.

    Your proposal mostly keeps the legislator busy for a long while, reading text out loud. (I suppose there’s some way to handle if the legislator is in a coma or otherwise unable to read?)

    While that would limit the amount of text in the law, it would be a fun challenge to some to develop the software to minimize the number of words needed to change the law. For example, also from the PATRIOT Act: ‘(1) striking ‘‘seven district court judges’’ and
    inserting ‘‘11 district court judges’’; and ….’ With the loss of some clarity this could have been ‘(1) striking ‘‘seven’’ and inserting ‘‘11’’. But who needs clarity?

    It would also lead to more laws by reference, like how statewide building codes incorporate the ICC family of codes. Or do you really expect your local legislator to recite the entire newly updated local building code before leaving office? The 2006 City of Denver Codes, for example, total over 180 MB of PDFs. Just the 12 MB fuel and gas code is about 150 pages, including the tables, graphs, and a map. For example, a Denver law is:

    > 504.2.9 Chimney and vent locations. Tables 504.2(1), 504.2(2),504.2(3), 504.2(4) and 504.2(5) shall only be used for chimneys and vents not exposed to the outdoors below the roof line. A Type B vent or listed chimney lining system passing through an unused masonry chimney flue shall not be considered to be exposed to the outdoors. A Type B vent shall not be considered to be exposed to the outdoors where it passes through an unventilated enclosure or chase insulated to a value of not less than R8.

  6. landon says:

    Interesting point about safety codes and such. Question: Isn’t this stuff just given to the legislators anyway? I don’t expect senators to be debating the merits of chimney vents, so this stuff is canned anyway.

    On the other hand, for every complex and gnarly problem, there is a solution that is obvious, simple, and WRONG. I don’t expect anything simple to actually work.

  7. Andrew Dalke says:

    That’s rather the question, isn’t it? Which things do you expect legislators to debate? Which stuff should be canned? If your city representative doesn’t know enough about building code to figure things out, then why should your House representative know enough about (say) crypto to figure things out?

  8. MikeA says:

    I, for one, would welcome the use of version control for bills with passage being equivalent to release. Would help rein in stuff like “some staffer changed the default setting on ‘work for hire’, retroactively, between debate and passage”.

    It could also help track dependencies like the aforementioned “building codes by inclusion”, allowing flagging when the “library API” changes.

    Brings new meaning to “git blame”

    Note that this will never happen because “Sunlight is a great disinfectant”, but the germs are making the decision.

  9. Stan says:

    How about before passing a bill they should be required to pass the bill? It would be printed on letter-size paper using a normal 10 or 12-point font and then prepared for them in any way that would allow them to digest and then *ahem* ‘pass’ it.

    Bills would suddenly get a lot shorter.

  10. Make sure to make them recite it all in one go, standing, with only 10min potty break per each 2 hours. This way natural selection will take over and those who voted for crappy bills would die out of exhaustion :P

    I think its a great way to optimize legal system :P

  11. MikeA says:

    Actually, the “natural selection” would be pretty much as it it today,
    those with the strongest bladders would control meetings, and
    those who were comfortable with being full of crap would
    make all decisions.

  12. Rickey Rum says:

    They’d have to pass ‘em in order to know what’s in ‘em. Kind of like a bad meal.

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