Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reading the Bils

Slate has a post discussing the size of various pieces of legislation, why some are so large, and who actually reads the stuff. It's pretty good. Though I'd add the following as my two cents:
  • the 2008 farm bill was 673 pages, I think (based on a quick Google).
  • you need to distinguish between legislation starting from scratch and legislation amending existing laws.
  • The first is conceivably something a layman, a high schooler, or even a Congress person could understand. The reason is if you're outlining a brand new program (like maybe Cash for Clunkers), you have to define your terms and specify the processes. Hopefully the definitions don't rely much on pre-existing law. (For example, if Cash for Clunkers was available in "the United States", did that mean just the 50 states, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, etc.?
  • But when the legislation changes and modifies existing law, it's very difficult for even experts to understand. The reason is lawyers write it, and they somehow think it makes more sense to specify minute changes than to provide text that's understandable. I don't know why, except that's the way they've done it. Perhaps it's because they want to minimize the number of words used, perhaps because it takes so much time and money to set the text of laws in hot lead.

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