Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Legislative scorecard misses positive benefits of new laws

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has recently released its 2008 Legislative Scorecard. State lawmakers were ranked based on the Institute's own criteria on how well liberty and freedom were held up this year and through analyses of voting records.

Although praised for passing HB 2971, HB 2557, HB 1755, SB 2292, SB 2400, and SB 2425, many lawmakers scored low for voting yes on several other bills deemed bad for taxpayers by the Institute. After reviewing the scorecard, it was apparent that the scores lacked reflection of some of the positive benefits of passing certain bills. Legislators were ranked based on subjective and stringent rules and categories that do not take into consideration the bigger picture.

Scores were based on whether lawmakers made the "smart vote" on matters regarding personal freedom, taxes, business regulations, government and justice. A "smart vote," according to the Institute, is a vote in support of personal freedom, against higher taxes and fees, against the burdensome regulation of business, in favor of smaller government, and for appropriate penalties for harmful activity.

Many of the bills selected cannot be determined good or bad for taxpayer based on cut-and-dried observations. Several of these bills did not fit the ideals of the Institute, but a lot of them are obviously good for our state.

For example, SB 2373, a bill that closes a loophole in a previous law of maintaining written records of sales of pseudoephedrine products by requiring all pharmacies to use electronic logs that can be sent immediately to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) was considered a bad law for taxpayers. Pseudoephedrine products contain the chemicals that are needed to make crystal meth. Drug dealers and drug addicts are known to frequent drug stores to purchase these products in order to make and sell crystal meth. The Institute criticized the bill for being a gross invasion of privacy, however this new law is necessary to make the old law effective. Electronic logs will allow DPS to take real-time action in identifying habitual buyers rather than waiting months for written logs. This bill will help the department to make strides in preventing the production and sale of illegal drugs.

Another bill considered bad for residents is HB 2843, which expands inspection fees to any freight brought to the islands. The Institute reports that taxpayers may absorb the cost of fees through higher prices, but fails to mention that the fee is an "invasive species" inspection fee that will be collected by the Department of Agriculture in an effort to control the spread of invasive species that may hitch a ride on foreign cargo. In written testimony, the Department of Land and Natural Resources states, "Preventing new invasive species from establishing in Hawaii provides the greatest long term protection for Hawaii and the Department supports strong import quarantine measures." Failing to address the threat of invasive species today will prove to be even more costly to Hawaii residents in the future.

Check out the Grassroot Institute's website where it provides you with a summary of the results, a description of the bills and its reasons for opposing or agreeing with the passage of a bill. You can also find bills in their entirety and public testimony in support or against a bill at the Legislature's website to make your own decision on the effectiveness of a certain bill.

Commentary by Thelma Dreyer

1 comment:

Pearl Hahn said...

Thank you for your analysis and coverage of the Grassroot Institute’s 2008 Legislative Scorecard. We are pleased to find that our published works are reaching policymakers, news media, and other citizens. We always welcome feedback and appreciate the time you have taken to share your thoughts.

For the benefit of readers, I am writing to clarify some points and to account for the reasoning behind our criteria and rankings of specific bills that appear to be in conflict with your assessment.

Firstly, the Grassroot Institute is a think tank founded upon free-market principles and a belief in limited government as the best way to protect individual liberty and promote prosperity. In launching the scorecard, we recognize that all the bills that are put forth to the Legislature each session seek to accomplish laudable goals. We do not dispute any of these goals; rather, we disagree with the methods by which they are to be accomplished. Whether a law is well-intentioned or not alone cannot determine the basis of whether its passage is necessary. Whether prompted by safety concerns, demands from interest groups, or scientific studies, a law often comes to fruition without mention of its effect on individual freedom or its constitutionality.

In an ever-growing morass of laws and regulations, elected officials are granted greater power with which they can score political points, penalize disfavored businesses and industries, or curry favors with certain groups or individuals. It becomes difficult to enforce all laws consistently, creating an atmosphere vulnerable to abuse of power and corruption.

In particular, you defended SB 2373, which requires pharmacies to maintain a log of sales of pseudoephedrine products, and HB 2843, which expands inspection fees of imported cargo.

Pseudoephedrine products are often purchased over the counter to relieve symptoms associated with colds or allergies. From a legal standpoint, maintaining such a log of customers constitutes a major violation of privacy as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. This information should not be privy to the public or the Department of Public Safety. Without a probable cause, there can be no search or seizure, and any criminal evidence obtained from the log would be suppressed and declared null in a court of law. Evidence can be used only after the fact that a crime has occurred.

The second bill reflects a growing and troubling trend of imposing new taxes to fund special programs instead of utilizing existing funds. As an organization that emphasizes fiscal responsibility, we believe that free markets provide services more efficiently and economically than government intervention. In addition, the bill constitutes a violation of the Constitution, as states are barred from levying fees on imports or exports in Article I, Section 10.

We thank you again and hope you will continue reading our publications.

Pearl Hahn
Policy Analyst
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii