Legislators are just like people….usually, at least. Some of them put forth ideas that are clever. Some of their ideas are funny. Some are pragmatic. Some of their ideas are works of inspired brilliance and sagacious public policy. And some are useless products of bizarre misconceptions.
In all these cases, the bills that they propose, and the laws that often result, are, at a minimum, interesting. At their best, they can be valuable templates of how to address circustances or problems that are commonly experienced the world over.
Currently, there is no central point of information on legislation and laws originating in all different parts of the United States, let alone in other countries. The Internet, however, certainly makes that possible.
Ideas / Solutions
An innovation that would be very illuminating and useful in generating good public policy ideas and comparative law surveys would be the creation of a clearinghouse of legislation and laws from our federal, state, and local governments, and even from other nations. It would primarily be a very useful resource for participants in public policy. A website could be created, perhaps named InterestingLaws.com, which would summarize each idea in plain English, in addition to providing the actual legislative language in its official format.
While there could be a long-term objective of categorizing all such ideas and proposals, it could begin by including those which have been identified as being particularly relevant, useful, unique, insightful, humorous, or universally applicable. A panel of experts including retired legislators, academicians, social commentators, authors, and others could make the selections.
The legislation and laws could be indexed according to their subject matter, which could be utilized by current legislators and regulators as a tool for searching how other jurisdictions responded to circustances which they, too, feel a need to address. The comparative law aspect of the website would, by itself, establish its value.
Additionally, some of the ideas could be placed in a category of “future-oriented initiatives”, which could jump start theorists, political scientists, students, and others who are engaged in brainstorming on ways to help chart the future evolution of their communities. This could aid in a “social engineering” approach toward the role – or absence of a role – of government in society.
Another category could be that of strange or amusing proposals and proscriptions that would showcase the oddities of government, demonstrate the idiosyncrasies of various jurisdictions, and provide ample material to late night talk show hosts worldwide. This category would hopefully include the classic 1980s city ordinance from a Colorado town that made it illegal to walk around with an ice cream cone in one’s pocket (true!).
Perhaps the greatest value of the website would be its public input function, in which website visitors are encouraged to propose ideas that they feel would make useful laws. This could generate creative and clever suggestions that might not otherwise percolate up to decision-makers, and which could reach far beyond the boundaries of the contributor’s own city, state, or country. In providing this channel for public discourse and idea generation, many citizens may become more involved in the political process than they would otherwise be, and, in so doing could boost the democratic process. Many citizens could feel reconnected to their leaders, abating disillusionment and disenfranchisement.
While this website would not be expected to generate the stratospheric profitability of popular e-commerce sites, it could generate enough advertising revenues to sustain itself.
Among its many benefits, InterestingLaws.com could help rehabilitate the ailing public image of legislators, as it will highlight the statesmanlike and ingenious proposals of many within their ranks. Of course, it will also showcase the inanities and banalities of others. So, if it separates the bright lights from the dim bulbs, we can probably guess which of these two groups will have the greatest resistance to this idea.