Friday, June 13, 2008

Constitutional Amendment: Sunsets

So it's been a while since I've drunkenly rambled on about some issue. This will also serve to replace the current email thread.

Today I'd like to propose a constitutional amendment that would automatically sunset all Federal laws. In case you don't know sunsetting is when a law expires if it's not renewed after a certain period of time. Here is my rough draft for what the amendment might look like:

1. All laws enacted by the Federal Government, with the exception of the Constitution and it's amendments, would be subject to a time limit, after which they would either have to be renewed or become null and void.

2. The time limit would be as follows. Any law which is passed for the first time would be a subject to a 5 year limit from the date it is enacted into law, after which it would need to be renewed. The time limit of laws which are being renewed would be determined by taking the percentage of which ever house's majority was less, and subtracting 50 from it, with a minimum of 5 years and maximum of 50 years. Any law which is currently in effect at the time of ratification of this article would have to be repassed and subject to the initial 5 year limit, after which they would need to be renewed and subject to the same provisions as any other law. Any law currently in effect at the time of ratification of this article will have to be repassed within 20 years from the date of ratification of this article.

3. The procedure for renewal and repassing of laws will be the same as laid out for their initial passing.

4. Laws may not be renewed until they are less than one year from the date they would become null and void. All limits would start from the date the law is enacted into law or date renewed in the case of laws being renewed.

5. Laws may still have limits of less than those provided by this article in addition to those provided by this article.

6. This article shall not be be construed to impose a limit of less than 5 years, or greater than 50 years.

7. Any law which fails to be properly renewed shall be considered null and void.

In summery every new law would have a 5 year limit, after which it would need to be renewed. When a law is being renewed the limit is determined by p - 50, where p is the percentage of which ever house had a lower majority. So if the senate passed it 98-2 and the house did 357 - 66, it would be 98% and 82% (house has 435, not all always vote), we'd use 82 - 50 = 32 years. Also note the percentage should be of the total, not just those present, I don't feel like wording that in. This is the part I consider the most confusing and least elegant, and would consider just setting a hard number for renewals. The problem is I'd like the ability to have a high limit for obvious laws, yet I don't want to set something like 50 for all renewals. Maybe 15 years would be good. Any current law would need to be repassed within 20 years, when it was repassed it would have a 5 year limit. I picked 5 years because almost all of government would have went through at least one reelection by then (senators are 6 years, but they are staggered by 2 years, so every 2 years 1/3 is elected, so in 5 years 2/3rds would have been through an election). Also the reason for the first limit being short is to prevent panic laws from starting with crazy limits (the example votes of 98% and 82% are from the USA PATRIOT act, which means without the initial limit they'd not sunset until 2033 (although that's probably better than now, when they'll never sunset).

Most things I see talking about this deal with only sunsetting agencies or programs, and setting the sunsetting up as a law, not at the constitutional level. I think that is the wrong way to do it. Everything should be subject to it (save for the constitution itself), if something is really that important it should always pass with a high majority, which means it'll seldom be renewed. Another thing I thought about was automatically pardoning anyway convicted of a law which sunsetted. The problem with that would be how to handle cases were the penalty involved the destruction of something, or fines. I think the prospect of releasing criminals plus refunding fines would tend to promote renewal to avoid that.

Well that's it, please revise this draft and then submit it to congress for approval.

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