There ought to be a law. How many times have you heard that said?
There’s also the common refrain: “We have too many laws.”
I always chuckle when I hear people complain that there are too many laws in this country. Despite what some of these curmudgeons may think, most legislators don’t sit around all day drafting new laws to perplex their constituents.
The truth is, some of these laws come from people who have had an unpleasant experience and ask their local lawmaker to do something about it. Generally, the issues are not trivial. Often they are rooted in tragedy. That was the case in 2007 when the parents of Johnia Berry helped to pass a law named for their daughter, a 21-year-old graduate student who was stabbed to death inside her apartment in Knoxville in 2004.
The law that bears her name requires DNA samples to be taken from all persons booked for violent felonies. Previously, state law only required DNA samples from convicted violent offenders.
Sometimes it doesn’t take passage of a law to correct a problem. Back in 1990, two Republican lawmakers from Johnson City sponsored a bill requiring sprinkler systems be installed in all high-rise buildings in the state. Former state Rep. Bob Good, who passed away in 2004, and former state Sen. (now Sessions Court Judge) Don Arnold were responding to public call for action following a Christmas Eve fire in 1989 that killed 16 elderly residents of the John Sevier Center.
Good and Arnold faced stiff opposition from some lobbyists, who argued the measure would be too expensive. Even so, the national building code was amended later that year to require sprinklers in all new or remodeled high-rise buildings.
That might not have happened had Good and Arnold not brought the issue to the attention of lawmakers in Tennessee and elsewhere.
Every year, hundreds of bills are filed in Nashville by legislators who deal with issues brought to them by constituents, public officials and business interests. Every one of these bills addresses a specific concern of these individuals.
In some cases the bills are actually drafted by lobbyists representing business or special interest groups. There’s also the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is responsible for drafting many of the “model” bills that are sponsored by Republicans in Tennessee and elsewhere. One of ALEC’s most popular is the voter ID law that is now facing a legal challenge here (and in North Carolina).
In the coming months, local city and town officials meet with the lobbyists from the Tennessee Municipal League to go over their legislative agenda. The same is true for the organizations that represent county officials, homebuilders and trial lawyers on Capitol Hill.
By the time they return to Nashville in January, state lawmakers will have heard from many of these groups. Some of these conversations will no doubt result in more of those pesky laws that folks always complain about.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.