The frame of mind in the local legislatures seems to be exerted to prevent the federal constitution from having any good effect. —Henry Knox
Our founding fathers could never have imagined what has happened to our state legislatures. When the United States was founded, the concept of state government was that decentralization of power would prevent a totalitarian regime, such as presented by the British monarchy under King George, from taking control. From their perspective, smaller, more local governments would be better able to respond to and appropriately address the needs of the people living within the region. The concept was one that made sense and largely worked for the first 80 or so years of our existence.
The situation surrounding the Civil War demonstrated the danger in allowing states to have too much control, however, and it became obvious at that point that some restrictions were necessary to address those issues where state legislatures might pass laws contrary to the federal constitution or in violation of other federal laws. While some laws were passed, though, the concept of states rights is so deeply embedded in our political culture that anything far-reaching that would have any real impact has always been struck down.
What our founding fathers could not have imagined is a set of conditions we currently face. We now have a population that is extremely mobile. It is quite rare for anyone born in the last 60 years to not travel more than 50 miles from their birthplace. Instead, we move all over the place, from one coast to the other, on a regular basis. Our travel, whether for business or pleasure, has us moving through, or over, multiple states at a time. We now have a society where laws passed in one state not only affects their own citizenry but can have a direct and immediate effect on those living outside the state.
Unfortunately, at the same time, we also find ourselves in a position where partisanship at the state level is stronger than it has ever been and the desire on the part of state legislators to further their own political ambitions overrides the needs of their constituents. Laws are more likely to be written by lobbyist and corporate marketing departments than any legislator or anyone actually accountable to the people of the state. The result is that state legislatures are producing a plethora of bad laws that are not only a disservice to the people in their state but in many cases they have a ripple effect for the entire nation.
Space and time prohibit me from being as exhaustive as I would like, but here are just a few of the more recent examples of state legislatures going where they have no business:
- Voting rights in Alabama and 22 other states are significantly more restrictive going into this year’s presidential election.
- Illinois Senate President John Cullerton proposed a bill this week that would tax Illinois drivers 1.5 cents a mile for every mile driven or approximately $450 a year.
- Just last month. Mississippi passed a religious freedom bill that is the worst in damaging LGBT rights.
- North Carolina has not only passed a law requiring transgendered people to use the bathroom identifying with their birth gender, they also prohibited cities from adopting laws that would protect LGBT citizens.
- Tennessee’s governor vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the official state book but this week the same Tennessee legislature passed a bill that would seriously limit access to mental health care for LGBT people.
- We are well aware of Indiana’s incredibly restrictive new anti-abortion bill and despite large-scale public condemnation of the law Governor Pence shows no indication of backing down as he did with last year’s RFRA law.
- When it comes to attempts to discriminate against LGBT people, Oklahoma takes the cake with a record-setting 26 new bills introduced this year specifically designed to limit LGBT rights within the state.
- My home state of Kansas has done such an incredibly lousy job with education financing that they had to pass an unfathomable law allowing unlicensed teachers in the classroom in order to make up for a severe teacher shortage.
- Texas passed laws dramatically expanding the conditions under which a person can carry a concealed weapon, including on college classrooms, dorms, and campuses.
Mind you, this short list isn’t even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ridiculousness of state legislatures. They’ve done things such as prohibit even considering or researching things such as alternative power sources, mass transit options such as high-speed rail, and limitations on the dumping of chemicals into state waterways. State legislatures have literally taken food out of the mouths fo their poorest citizens with restrictions on accessibility to federal assistance programs such as food stamps. Even with the passage of federal health care laws, state legislatures have found ways to limit services and coverage for the poorest of their citizens. In all 50 states, the list of misdeeds and offensive legislation is long and sickening.
And while state governors and legislatures are quick to scream all about states rights, they certainly don’t mind exercising authoritative control over city governments. Laws passed in the past two years at state levels have prohibited cities within those states from raising or setting a minimum wage, expanding voter accessibility for city elections, protecting citizens from various forms of discrimination, and opting out of ill-conceived statewide testing for students.
We have no reason to continue supporting such a dysfunctional form of government. The condition of state legislatures across the country in no way resembles what our founding fathers intended. We need to completely overhaul the system from the very ground up and completely eliminate the opportunity for the level of legislative stupidity that has become commonplace at every state house across the union.
How might we do this, you ask? After all, it is a fool who complains without offering a solution. You should know me better than that. Here’s what I’m thinking works:
- Kill off state legislatures completely. So long, good-bye. Not the actual people, mind you. We’re not advocating homicide. But the entity itself has to go.
- Replace legislatures with elected committees responsible for dispersion of state and federal funds, but without any ability to pass legislation.
- All state elected positions, including that of governor, are decided every two years, not four, so as to give constituents more immediate response to removing those who do not act in line with their will.
- Remove matters regarding voting rights, discrimination, and all matters of human and civil rights from any form of state-level control. These are not matters states have any business controlling. Moreover, citizens should not have to worry as they travel from state to state as to whether their rights are safe.
- Elected committees mentioned above would have the ability to draft potential legislation, but any state legislation would be subject first to a popular vote which could not then be vetoed by the governor or any state agency.
- All state laws and policies would be subject to audit on a regular basis to ensure that they comply with all facets of the federal constitution, specifically, those related to due process and equal access.
Obviously, there are details underlying those statements that need a great deal more thought and attention than I have space here to give them. Consider this a starting point in the conversation. We cannot continue to tolerate the current idiocy of state legislatures and their current construct defies any significant change regardless of who might be elected to those positions.
We no longer live in a country where people are isolated to a specific geographic region. When one state fucks up it affects us all. The time has come for a more comprehensive and nationally cohesive approach to lawmaking. Kill state legislatures. Reform the system. Move forward.