File this under random thoughts: the other day, I was thinking about why so many things – from the food we eat to our driver’s licenses and even car seats have expiration dates. I get that most of the time, they exist to protect or promise some level of satisfaction. I am even grateful my milk jug gives me a warning if I am about drink some sour 2%.
But some expiration or best by dates are mystifying. For example, why must bottled water have an expiration date? Water doesn’t expire. I’ve drunken 4000-year-old water directly from an artesian well, and it was great. But I’m told it has less to do with the water and more to do with the risks associated with the plastic bottles, which begs the question: is the right way to warn people of potential dangers in plastic to put an expiration date on the water? That’s probably a discussion for another time…
I began to think if expiration dates are designed protect us from consequences of time, then why do we have an ever-compounding set of laws that never expire? In fact, the only way to get rid of an existing law is to pass another law!
What if we, the people, require every non-criminal bill passed and signed into law to expire at some point in the future. That expiration, for example, could vary depending on the purpose of the law and provide a limited auto renewal period for laws that impact national security. Obviously, I am not referring to our Constitution, Bill of Rights, or Amendments; those are governing principles that should only be modified as set apart in the Constitution.
However, consider these benefits of laws with expiration dates:
- Laws that are no longer relevant are automatically removed from the books. This is a bigger problem than most recognize. It’s not good for a law to remain stagnant for a period of time, then suddenly call it into action to serve some self-serving purpose.
- Laws with unanticipated consequences could be re-written to better address their intention. There have been many laws written with the best of intentions only to find, in practice, the result is worse. Today, efforts to change the law would literally require an act of Congress, and we all know how fast and efficient that process is.
- Individuals or groups that unfairly benefit from a law would have to justify their interest. An expiring law would serve as an automatic check against loopholes and fraud. You might argue this may be a boon to lobbyists; but the lobbyist effort is already alive and well in America today. It would be the people who would now have an opportunity to speak up. That opportunity does not exist in our system today.
- It puts lawmakers in check. Laws, resolutions, and riders passed through behind-doors deals would automatically provide for a review. Even if a bad law is passed, it must justify itself when hime comes for renewal.
- Having Congress tasked to renew existing laws would require prioritization. Talk about a benefit: keeping lawmakers busy renewing existing laws would discourage spending too much time making new laws…beautiful!
- This would have amazing consequences for government spending. Government projects would need to put up or shut up or face cancelation. Projects not delivering on promises could easily be cut. Government pork (pun intended) would have a short shelf life.
- Less importance on court interpretation. Since poorly or incompletely written laws would be open periodically for review, there would be less need for judges to interpret case law. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe the judicial branch; however, I have become disillusioned with “legislative” judges who based their decisions on personal agenda and not on law.
- Discourage Presidents and Governor’s from pushing their own legacies. Our democratic republic was specifically designed to exclude royalty. Despite this fact, many presidents and governors still attempt to place their lasting legacy upon us. Expiring laws would do away with this inappropriate practice.
Bottom line: a good law should have no problem being renewed, while questionable laws would, at minimum, face renewed debate or go away altogether.
Expiring laws would serve as an additional check against lawmakers, lobbyists/special interest, judicial judges, and overzealous executive officers.
Who benefits? Citizens. Isn’t that what our Republic is all about?