As we prepare to greet the Legislature's class of 2001 next week, here's a suggestion: Let's declare a 10-year moratorium on new state laws.
Most people would agree that stemming the constant stream of new government rules won't cause our civilization to grind to a halt. Others would at least acknowledge that it would be a pleasure to have the rules stay the same for a decade. But I'd further argue that the vast majority of the legislative process is an unnecessary waste of time and resources and that the laws themselves prove counterproductive in many cases.
Let's say you're a legislator from the minority party in Olympia. A big portion of your time will be spent attending hearings, briefings, and votes in order to block the passage of dumb laws proposed by members of the majority party. Meanwhile, you will be hard at work padding your r鳵m頢y sponsoring your own new laws—deftly drafting proposals so innocuous, uncontroversial, and common sense-based that legislators from the other party won't dare oppose them. After frittering away weeks in such unproductive pursuits, the Legislature then has a "budget crisis," in which everyone stays up late and unanimously approves a budget which nobody has bothered to read (for more details on this process, see Let the Games Begin, our guide to the Legislature, p. 18).
Unencumbered by lawmaking, our legislators could turn standing committees into investigative bodies. Instead of foisting new rules on teachers, the House and Senate Education Committees could investigate the quality of education being dished out in classrooms across the state. Which laws are working and which ones would we be better off without? Give a similar work program to committees that handle transportation, health care, and environmental laws.
We could even set up a few special committees. The first one could analyze the last 20 years of the Legislature's unfunded mandates on local government (that is, costly new requirements with no state money attached), decide which ones the state can afford to fund, and repeal the rest.
Legislators seeking to push their way onto the front pages would have to use their investigative skills. There would still be plenty of ink available to lawmakers capable of ferreting out fraud and waste. Even the tax-cutters would stay engaged by drawing up lists of programs they feel could be slashed or dumped altogether.
Get these facts in writing. Put those great Olympia minds to work writing reports, newspaper opinion pieces, and broadsides to their constituents to let the public know how well government is working. Post everything online. Hey, we could even hook those Seattle Times investigative computers right up to the state's Web site—there's got to be a Pulitzer Prize or two in here somewhere.
While a few scandals juicy enough to earn the Times' Eric Nalder's attention would turn up, most of our legislative investigators would find bureaucracies that are functioning in spite of legislative neglect, contrary regulations, and sketchy funding. I suspect the end result of our 10-year lawmaking ban would be greater confidence in state government. And, given the imitative nature of the public sector, other states and perhaps even the federal government would steal the idea.
All we've got to lose is 10 years of new laws.
Seattle can play too!
Just so city bureaucrats don't feel left out, we've got a millennial gift for them too: a 10-year planning moratorium.
Yes, after years of going over the city's codes with a fine-tooth comb, creating urban villages, and drafting neighborhood plans, it's time somebody decided that we're finished planning. Imagine the consequences: Builders and property owners would have 10 years of stable, predictable rules. Homeowners, who now attend dull city-sponsored planning meetings strictly for self-defense purposes, could stay home and watch TV. Legislators would no longer be asked to read documents with titles like "Draft Recommended Land Use Policies for Neighborhood Commercial Zones." The city's Strategic Planning Office could be disbanded and its budget used to build shelters for the homeless.
Just say no to planning, Seattle.
Licata goes uptown
Seattle City Council member Nick Licata has finally left the commune.
A quarter-century after cofounding Prag House, a collective household in a beautiful old mansion on Capitol Hill, Licata has departed for a Wallingford condo. "After 25 years in the same room, I beat out most Trappist monks," claims the mobile legislator.
The move has a downside, he adds. "I can't blame my roommates for the dirty bathroom anymore."
It's hard to imagine a more peaceful holiday gathering than the Hanukkah celebration organized by striking workers at the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
However, Seattle Times Co. officials weren't lulled into complacency by the lighting of the menorah or the festive dancing. A Times attorney complained in a recent letter to the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild that celebrating workers violated a court injunction by dancing in the streets and coming dangerously close to company employees entering and leaving the building.
Fortunately, no dreidel-related injuries were reported.