John Florez: Laws should be passed carefully

Published: Saturday, March 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The Utah State Capitol on the opening day of the Utah State Legislature Monday, Jan. 23, 2012.rn

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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At least when we complain about the weather, we know there is nothing we can do about it. Yet, when it comes to complaining about big government, there is something we can do about it — that is, if lawmakers have the courage to do so.

Utah's so-called conservative legislators keep complaining about big government and too many regulations — even though they are the ones that made it big, and the ones that can make it small. They have the power and the responsibility to make our government work for the public good. However, there isn't a campaign, or a day for that matter, that we don't hear politicians rail at the size of government and pledge to reduce it. Still, each legislative session they pass over a hundred new laws, often on a whim, that bloat it even more.

In school, we were taught about freedom and that laws were made only when they would serve a compelling public interest. A society creates its own way of living together in harmony by sharing common values. Its people establish folkways (traditional social customs) and mores (fixed, morally binding customs) to help them get along. It is only when the mores of a society must be followed for the common good that laws become necessary.

However, we now have lawmakers who act as though our government is their sandbox in which to play and do as they wish, regardless of what the public wants. It seems they come up with laws based on their temperament, or on what their lobbyists and campaign donors that keep them in office want. Unlike the past, today's candidates or incumbents running for office seldom seek money from constituents in their districts; rather, they look to special interest groups to finance their campaigns. As a consequence, the plethora of laws legislators pass each year reflect the interests of the special interest groups. Forgotten is the public's interest.

Gone are the days when elected officials determined if there were compelling public interests to intervene and pass a law. As a former Utah Industrial Commissioner, I was able to significantly reduce the number of employment regulations we were asked to sign by simply establishing a policy to review them. Before approving any regulation, staff had to write a memo indicating how it would serve the public's best interest. Next, ask if the affected parties in the matter had been consulted. Finally, all parties would come to an open meeting where the issues were deliberated, and then, the Commission would make the decision in the open meeting. The result, fewer regulations because they had to be drafted, shared, studied and decided in an open meeting.

Legislators should consider passing a law only when there is a public need. They must listen to the public to see if there is a compelling need to consider passing a law, study the matter, hold public debates with those affected voicing their opinions, and then, determine if a law would promote the public good. Unless lawmakers perform their duties with the public interest at the forefront, they will continue to make government bigger, regulate our lives more and interfere more with our freedoms.

Lawmaking in our society is a serious matter that should be done only when there is a compelling state reason for doing so. Legislators should respect the rights of individuals and pass laws only when they promote the common good. To propose laws that do otherwise is to trivialize the importance of being free from a government regulating our lives.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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