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Larry Lough

In lawmaking, better to feel good than do good

Feel-good laws.

Those are statutes that make people feel good but address no real issue and solve no actual problem.

Such laws usually result from concern about a related matter, but never quite get to the central point.

Legislators like them because they create the illusion of actual work while silencing some noisy constituents.

But many folks ignore them as being too intrusive to personal decision-making.

You be the judge.

JUST THIS WEEK, the Illinois House approved a bill to ban the use of cellphones – sort of – while driving on public roads in this state.

The city of Chicago already has such a ban inside its boundaries.

The 69-48 vote in the House tells you the bill had plenty of dissenters.

So, 40 percent of the vote was negative even though the watered-down prohibition actually allows motorists to use their phones with hands-free devices or speakerphone functions.

The point being ...

SOME FOLKS STILL want to ban use of cellphones by drivers, with no exclusions.

Why? They say phone conversations are a distraction to drivers that causes accidents.

So, you can fill in the blank: A bigger distraction than talking on a cellphone is ...

Juggling a sandwich, fries and a shake.

Kids fighting and screaming in the back seat.

A cup of hot coffee spilled in your lap.


SPEAKING OF HOT coffee in your lap ...

That will never happen to this editor. He doesn’t drink coffee.

But after a few hours on a golf course, he does like a cold beer.

It’s perfectly legal for him to put 12 ounces of brew into his belly before getting behind the wheel.

But it’s illegal to sip on those 12 ounces while he’s driving home.

Because ... the beer includes alcohol, and alcohol ... impairs your driving if you drink too much.

OK, so if you’re impaired, you shouldn’t drive.

But if you’re just sipping that one beer ... well, it’s still alcohol.

And drinking and driving don’t mix.

Unless that drink is hot coffee.

So drinking is not a distraction.

Unless the drink has alcohol.

And you might be impaired if you’ve had too many.

But if you are having just that one ... it’s still too many.

Because drinking alcohol ...

Oh, never mind.

Those “open container” laws made some people feel good.

And they didn’t even have to drink.

THIS COLUMN ONCE addressed bad ideas that have made their way into law.

Almost all of them are “feel good” laws.

Many of them involve “fixing” government because ... somebody didn’t like the way an election turned out.

Here are a few of them.



Recall allows sore losers to invalidate elections and foolish voters to change their minds.

But elections should have consequences.

Deep-pocketed special interests should not get a second shot after they miss the first time.

And voters should have to live with their mistakes. Maybe they’ll cast a more intelligent vote next time.

State laws provide for removal of elected officials who commit crimes.

That’s the only “recall” process we need.

Just ask Blago.



Some states, notably California, allow voters to petition to write laws.

Of course, it’s never a groundswell of public outrage that puts such proposed legislation on a statewide ballot.

It’s well-financed special interests that collect the signatures and wage expensive statewide campaigns to advance their causes after they lose elections.

States already have a lawmaking entity. It’s called the Legislature.

And every member of the Legislature is elected by the voters. That’s the representative republic form of government.

Don’t like it? There are plenty of countries you could go where they don’t have it.

Besides, buying legislators isn’t enough? You have to buy elections, too?


An arbitrary limit on the amount of time an elected official may serve is superfluous.

There is, after all, already a way to limit the term of any official: Don’t re-elect him.

Voters have the power to end the tenure of any elected official.

They also have the power to allow good ones to continue their service.

And you want to take that democratic choice out of the hands of voters?

Yeah, they do that in other counties, too.


Our government of checks and balances has separate executive and legislative branches.

What the line item veto does is give the executive branch the legislative power to write laws.

We don’t have that at the federal level – between the president and Congress – but several states do, including Illinois.

So when the Legislature sends a bill to the governor, he can do something more than just sign it or veto it. He has the power to selectively edit the bill, and even write new language.

That’s crazy. Never mind the complexities of the override process when the governor writes new provisions into bills.

Let the Legislature legislate.

That’s not the executive’s role.


The concept is a lie, because the proposal doesn’t really require a balanced budget. There are exceptions – wars, emergencies ... loopholes that render such an amendment meaningless.

Besides, Congress already can balance the budget anytime it has the will. (Don’t hold your breath.)

And you elect the members of Congress.

But this is a hot topic among fiscal demagogues.

May they continue to fail.

In lawmaking, better to feel good than do good shaw-push-component-1