January 5, 2005

What If They Had to Read the Bills, Too?

An interesting court decision has come down from the California District Court of Appeals. For you lawyers out there, the case citation is Lacy Street Hospitality Services Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 2005 DJDAR 84.

In a nutshell, the court said that a City Council decision reversing a Zoning Administrator's approval of some changes in conditions imposed for a business (a "titty bar," if you must know) was improper. It seems the solons were talking during the videotaped session on their cell phones, chatting, reading -- doing everything but pay attention to the matter at hand. That, in a quasi-judicial proceeding, said the court, is a big no-no. The members at least have to look interested.

My question is, suppose we applied this to Congress and the state legislatures, who routinely pass a bunch of brokered bills that few have time to read, in deal-making marathons at the close of the session. There's usually no time for debate, and certainly not for studying the bills and reports.

I'm not for judges policing the attentiveness of legislators, but the public should.

H.L.Richardson, a conservative legislator in California, wrote a very funny and insightful book called What Makes You Think We Read The Bills? Richardson shows how the system corrupts the new legislator and tends to turn him into a status-quo big government politician, even if he started out as a small-town businessman distrustful of government. If the City Council has a legal duty to listen, shouldn't the legislature and Congress have a duty to read the bills? Or am I just a hopeless utopian?

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