by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The great state of Minnesota, you’ll be glad to learn, is no longer interested in the size and color of your bug deflector. The legislature in St. Paul recently scrapped the 1953 law regulating that automotive accessory, one of almost 1,200 antiquated or bizarre laws that Governor Mark Dayton recommended repealing as part of a major legislative “unsession.” Among other changes: Minnesotans have been liberated from the ban on possessing more than two hen pheasants, the penalty for distributing berries in the wrong-sized container is history, and it is now legal to coast with your car’s gears in neutral.
“We got rid of all the silly laws,” one state official told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. That was probably overstating things, given the more than 46,000 laws that Minnesota lawmakers have enacted over the years. Still, the pruning of 1,200 pieces of deadwood is no small achievement.
It’s also a reminder of why nearly all laws and regulations should come with expiration dates.
Timeline: Massachusetts’ most bizarre laws
Politicians are always under pressure to respond to the crisis or controversy of the moment — by passing a statute, imposing a mandate, authorizing a subsidy, setting up an agency. When the issue fades, the laws and regulations remain, long after public attention has moved on.
Over time, some laws become harmless curiosities, like the Massachusetts law doubling the penalty for anyone who picks mayflowers “secretly in the nighttime.” But others — such as the Bay State’s Blue Laws, which still make it illegal to conduct “any manner of labor, business, or work” on Sunday, apart from specified exemptions — continue to affect public policy long after the circumstances giving rise to them have changed.
In the real world, things don’t last forever. The carton of milk in your refrigerator has an expiration date. So does the credit card in your wallet. Cars need periodic tune-ups. Medical prescriptions have to be reauthorized.
Government should operate on the same assumption.
Of course, laws aren’t the only creatures of government that need a “sunset provision.” The same logic applies to regulations.