IN a book on the lawmaking process published by the Cambridge University Press, The Law-making Process (Cambridge, 2004), Michael Zander surveyed the long and winding road that legislative proposals have to travel before they can become statutes and part of the law in the United Kingdom.
He said, for starters, that a legislative bill is preceded by a green or white paper setting out the government’s plans in advance.
A white paper is essentially a statement of government policy for implementation on a given issue. A green paper, invented by the Labor government in 1967, presents the best that the government can propose on the given issue.
New legislative bills in 18th Congress
I thought about these curious details in the law-making process in major democracies, as I read in the papers last week the parade of newly proposed bills in the 18th Congress.
Incredibly, this is what I read:
1. Two legislators, a senator and a House representative, have filed “designated survivor” bills, because they apparently saw a thrilling series on Netflix about a practice by the US government, wherein one member of the president’s cabinet is designated to take over as president, in the event that the president and his constitutional successors (the vice president, the House speaker, and the secretary of state) are simultaneously killed in an unimaginable disaster.
The local proponents want the practice to be adopted by our government, lest some madman decide to assassinate our top government officials in one blow or one sitting, like at the inaugural opening of Congress.
2. Sen. Mary Grace Poe has filed a bill that would protect the country’s senior citizens from abuse, neglect and exploitation, by institutionalizing an assistance program to victims of elder abuse and the training of health and government professionals to assist them.
3. Three senators have filed separately legislative proposals to combat fake news.
4. Other legislators have focused on Santa Claus legislation that will give away taxpayers’ money in the form of salary increases, benefits and other goodies. They didn’t bother to think of course, of how government is going pay for all these giveaways.
Insignificant and unnecessary laws
How do our legislators, senators and representatives alike, make their decisions on what pieces of legislation to propose in the Congress for approval?
Do they start by making an inventory or survey of outstanding national problems and pressing public issues, before they and their staff settle down to draft a bill and filing it in their respective chambers?
I ask these questions because I have for some time wondered about our legislators’ incredible proclivity to pass insignificant and unnecessary laws. When they are not pushing Santa Claus legislation, they are often batting for vanity legislation to memorialize an ancestor or their families or clans.
Last year, we witnessed the Congress approve a national speech pathology law, well ahead of the 2019 national budget. The Speech Pathology Act outlines the regulations that will govern a little-known profession that evaluates, diagnoses, manages and prevents human communication and swallowing disorders.
The budget measure was detained because of the protracted quarreling and blame-passing between the two houses of the legislature, and the greed of legislators to get their pork barrel in time for the May elections.
Why did the Congress assign more importance to an unheard-of law for a specialized profession, than to vital legislation on which hung the stability of the national economy, the fulfillment of targets, the livelihood and welfare of millions, and the smooth operations of business and industry?
Screening commission for draft bills
To avoid wasting invaluable time on unnecessary and insignificant legislative proposals, the advanced democracies have devised a screening and vetting commission for draft bills. This is what they do in the United Kingdom and France.
In the UK, they have a system or law council that advises the government on draft bills, examine them from the viewpoint of importance, soundness, and coherent and orderly presentation.
In France, they have the Conseil d’État, which reviews all draft legislation, and holds a discussion with an official of the initiating department. If the ministry is not prepared to accept an amendment from the council, it states its reasons, and the matter is resolved by the council of ministers.
The French council concerns itself with the form and substance of draft laws. In regard to substance, attention is paid to the cost of the proposals, difficulties of control, or conflict with some parts of France’s international obligations or the Constitution.
We would not be in our kind of legislative quandary today, if we had in place a council or unit that continuously evaluates and rates the legislative proposals of individual legislators and executive departments. It will assign proposed legislation to its proper place in the order of priorities and importance.
The high importance and pressure of time concerning the budget would be persistently placed before the noses of our congressional leaders.
As things stand, our Congress deplorably fails its duty to legislate; they rush to the front instead minor and insignificant legislative proposals.
Through the practice of horsetrading and log rolling, individual legislators are able to win approval for their pet proposals. They do not normally win approval through the process of debate and persuasive advocacy of their proposals.
The truth is, our typical legislator, both senator and representative, is not conversant on vital issues that affect the public interest. They only sit up straight and become alert when the subject is the pork barrel and their budget insertions.
Without political parties to direct their work, their output becomes strictly second-rate and pedestrian.
The media can enormously help in improving the quality of proposed legislation by publicizing legislative proposals — the good, the bad and the ugly.
By publicizing the inanities of legislators, they could be shamed into taking the job of legislation responsibly and seriously.
Green paper? White paper? They will mistake them for colors in a political campaign.