South Carolina budget hawks have long been fond of touting the need for zero-based budgeting. The idea – in which state agencies would have to justify all of their spending, not just the increases or differences from year to year – has its merits. But we’d go further. South Carolina could use some zero-based lawmaking.
We’ve complained in the past about the numerous laws the state has on the books that simply get ignored. Among them are requirements that our public schools commemorate Gen. Casimir Pulaski each year and teach children “the evils of intemperance” every year on Frances Willard day. There’s also the state-mandated but phantom government “Family Respect Pamphlet” on the importance of strong families that’s supposed to be distributed to a whole host of people each year, including everybody who gets married, divorced, has a child, enrolls in college, takes sex education, applies for welfare benefits and more. It hasn’t been given out for years.
The Nerve, a branch of the libertarian S.C. Policy Council, has long complained about the legislature’s continued disregard for the requirement that House and Senate budget committees meet in open session to consider the governor’s executive budget. “As far as we can discern – and we’ve asked people who worked for Govs. Sanford, Hodges, Beasley, Campbell, and Riley – these meetings have never occurred in modern South Carolina history,” the Nerve wrote a few months ago.
Now we can add another albatross to those examples. The Greenville News reported last week on the disconnect between state law that requires eye exams for drivers every five years and a driver’s license system that allows drivers to wait 10 years between renewals. DMV Executive Director Kevin Shwedo said that he hasn’t suspended any licenses, but according to the law he should be. And yet even those lawmakers closest to the issue were unaware of the problem.
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“I am the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and I didn’t know about it until it was pointed out by the director of the DMV,” Sen. Larry Grooms told the newspaper.
All of this points to the need for some regular review of state law, to weed out these outdated, archaic or confusing sections. Not once a year, certainly. Such a task would be monumental, given the thousands of pages in the state’s code. But some revolving review system would be welcome, perhaps on a 5-year or 10-year schedule, so that every law is reviewed for basic features such as applicability, feasibility, relation to other laws and plain common sense.
Our nation is built, as President John Adams put it, on “a government of laws, and not of men.” Laws are the cornerstone of our society and what keep our daily lives humming along smoothly. Ignoring some is invitation to ignore others, which puts the whole system at risk. There will always be some rules that fall out of date due to advancing time or changing priorities, but having a plan in place to catch them and deal with them shouldn’t be beyond our abilities or too much to ask of the government in charge of enforcing them.