Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Texas Legislature is in Session

The Texas Legislature convenes today to confront an assortment of issues. Hundreds of bills, addressing a wide variety of issues, have already been filed for legislators to consider. It should not be a surprise that many of these threaten individual rights and further expand the power of government. While legislators will be debating some serious issues, such as road construction and gambling, they will also be poking around in the smallest details of our lives.

As an example of the micro-managing now common in government, H.B. No. 153 addresses
"the promotion of students to certain grade levels in public schools". The bill seeks to amend the criteria by which students can be promoted to the next grade level. While objective standards are certainly necessary, education is not a proper function of government. In addition to exceeding their legitimate powers, legislators are now spending their time debating the precise criteria that should be used to determine if Johnny should be promoted to the fourth grade. In total, 151 bills have been introduced that deal with education.

The focus on minute details extends beyond education. Three separate bills have been introduced to amend "hurricane preparation supplies" that are exempt from the state sales tax. Here is a sampling of the supplies S.B. No. 360 lists:

(1) an artificial ice product, the sales price of which does not exceed $10;
(2) an item listed in this subdivision, the sales price of which does not exceed $20:
(A) a portable, self-powered light source regardless of whether the item also has an electrical cord;
(D) an oil-fueled torch, including a tiki torch;
(E) a candle;
(F) duct tape;
(H) a first aid kit;
(4) an item listed in this subdivision, the sales price of which does not exceed $30:
(A) a AAA, AA, C, or D cell or 6-volt or 9-volt battery, including a rechargeable battery, other than an automobile, boat, or cellular telephone battery;
(5) a cellular telephone battery charger, the sales price of which does not exceed $40;
(6) an item listed in this subdivision, the sales price of which does not exceed
(A) a battery-powered or self-powered radio, including a two-way radio or weather band radio, regardless of whether the item also has an electrical cord;
(D) a bungee cord or similar elastic cord;
A lot of questions went through my mind as I read down this list. Why is the state legislature even putting together such a list? Apparently, they have compiled a list of "approved hurricane preparation supplies" and anything not on that list cannot be used to prepare for a hurricane. Where did the dollar amounts come from, and why those numbers? If I want to buy a first aid kit that costs more than $20 I must pay sales tax, but it it costs $19.99 it is exempt. This is purely arbitrary and it illustrates the absurdities that lawmakers consider. Besides, if you are paying $20 for a Tiki torch (which is a brand name and subject to trademark rules) you are buying a very nice Tiki torch.

While our elected officials are pondering the price of bungee cords and water jugs, they will also consider more serious matters, such as requiring certain businesses and service providers to have generators. Six different bills have been introduced to require certain service stations, nursing homes, and water and sewer service providers to be able to operate after a storm. In addition, the operators must keep make certain documentation relating to the installation and testing of the equipment available to state officials.

After Ike, the first station I found that had gasoline did not have electrical power. A generator certainly would have been helpful in that situation. However, that is properly a decision that should be made by the station owner, not politicians sitting in Austin. If a station owner decides that the cost of such equipment is not wise, then he will bear the consequences of his decision.

Politicians will argue that service stations provide a vital "public service"-- without fuel, homeowners cannot run generators and other service providers cannot travel. But the importance of any particular business is not justification for mandating that the owner act against his own judgment. The owner has a moral right to use his property--including his money-- as he chooses. To force him to install equipment so that he can operate after a storm is to declare that his business and his life are the property of the state.

It is often said jokingly that nobody's rights or money are safe when the legislature is in session. But the violation of our rights and the confiscation of our property are not joking matters. Legislators are intent on controlling more and more of our lives, and it is time that citizens took that matter very seriously. It truly is a matter of life and death.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Legislature is taking a page from the President's book, and "chunking" their free market principles out the window.