Libertarian Project Spreads: the ‘Read the Bill’ History and see latest efforts of this measure, championed as well by its founder Harry Browne . Article was by late lamented M. Davis at behest of Mr. Browne.

Article posted Oct 31 2005, 10:00 AM Category: Politics/Corruption Source: Best Syndication Print

Florida Libertarians Launch Campaign for Congress to Actually Read Laws It Passes

Washington, D.C.–Should Congressmen get a pay-raise for actually reading the laws they pass?

So wonder tongue-in-cheek Florida newspapers reporting that those plucky Florida Libertarians, joined with non-profit policy groups such as DownSizeDC, have launched another wild-eyed Libertarian initiative: That legislators actually read the laws they vote upon.

“Citizens are automatically held accountable in law to have carefully read and to completely know every jot and tittle of the 50 feet of bookshelves occupied by US law-books and their state’s legal statutes. We propose that legislators be nice, and meet the same burden,” said Michael Gilson-De Lemos, a movement spokesman and Libertarian affiliate chair in St Petersburg, Pinellas County, Florida. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Why should it be the actual standard for ‘creating’ law?”

He has been promoting the idea for several decades, he says, after a conversation with a Massachusetts Senator. “The Senator complained he had to have a form letter made to calm irate constituents wondering how he could have voted for certain legislation. He said increasingly no one was reading the bills, the lobbyists were writing everything, and he was concerned over how bills were even changed after they were voted on.”

Now a new initiative is underway that, if Libertarian’s history is any guide, will in due course help them galvanize a broad coalition and end up being championed by its present opponents upon altering their positions.


Libertarians say they unalterably champion inalienable rights and suggest ways for voters to cut intrusive government, ranging from devolution to small local governments to re-legalizing voluntary and private alternatives to promoting peaceful anarchist communities. Libertarian initiatives for less-is-more government do have a way of sounding a little out-there at first. Yet their record is to soon be leading debate and taking root. Often, it’s because they point out that what many people assume is so isn’t legally so, or actually happening, awakening public interest.

People laughed when Libertarians proposed small claims courts, the Earned Income Credit, legalizing gold coin ownership, stock-brocker fee deregulation to allow discount brokers, telephone deregulation and phone set ownership, privatized Social Security and IRA’s, mom’s breastfeeding in public, removing legal blocks to cable TV, less ballot regulations, and even out of this world ideas such as private space tourism.

No one laughs now.

Space tourists propose cheap honeymoon travel into orbit for the masses as they phone Charles Schwab on their personal phones to check their gold coin portfolios, all as seen on cable TV.

So why not legislators who read the regulations first before the Libertarians do, usually to undo them?


Critics charge that, increasingly, in the US laws are being passed unread by the people most supposed to understand them: the legislators. It’s an issue entering the public radar. “When I suggested that Libertarian candidates take this up, even some LP leaders thought this was a pointless issue. But I said we must make Libertarianism the issue, not attempt to reflect leftover issues from the major parties. What can be more Libertarian, and American, than the lawmakers do their basic job?” said Mr. Gilson-De Lemos. The Florida Libertarians became interested in the issue, and their 2002 State House candidates received half the votes as the Democrats in 2002 when, among other items, they pledged to not vote on anything they hadn’t actually read if elected.

The media was mostly unaware, at first ridiculing the Libertarians until accepting the Libertarian’s challenge to check with legislators. The ridicule stop. Some newspapers invited Libertarian candidates to brief them on the subject.

The Libertarians kept up interest locally post-election and started attracting broad interest from different political groups. Soon the buzz helped launch a slate of articles in Florida dailies such as the St Petersburg Times and eventually the Wall Street Journal, which agreed that the Libertarians were right. According to surveys, it discovered, most legislation is passed unread by the legislators in both Congress and State bodies. USA Today also followed the story, complete with quotes from legislators bemoaning that they had lost control of the law and it was humanly impossible to read the reams of legislation and regulations.

Jim Babka, whose group DownSizeDC has begun several initiatives for what they call commonsense reductions, stated that a result of the problem is that ” Aides seemed less concerned about the particulars of the bill than they were about who supported” it.


In common law, at one time it was typical for laws to have long waiting periods for public comment and deliberative scrutiny. Many local governments have such policies, going out of their way to televise proceedings and solicit public input. The US Constitution sets a protocol for Congressional records with this in mind.

The Founders apparently never anticipated that Congress would not attempt to hide legislation so much as not even be aware of it. Today, however, the problem has grown so bad that Congress and many state legislatures follow up votes with so-called ‘technical adjustments’ where the law is again re-written for obvious boo-boo’s and to insert unpopular clauses, say aides close to the process. Lobbyists have found the adjustment sessions perfect for persuading the adjusters, often teen-age legislative aides, to insert favorable paragraphs. Some lobbying groups have started workshops on how to influence the adjustments, and it is not uncommon for a law to have clauses ending up being the opposite of what was actually passed, claim some critics and former aides.

While the proposal found no immediate co-sponsors, this did not discourage the Libertarians, who have a reputation for thinking in long term ways and taking on the multi-year efforts to make things happen that would discourage most activists.


The Libertarian coalition is beginning to attract attention. According to the Sarasota, Florida, Herald Tribune article on October 28, “Capital’s Moles Keep Their Heads Low” even aides derided Congressmen for hiding like ‘moles’ before the onslaught of a contingent from DownSizeDC and led by people such as Walt Augustinowicz, a Florida Libertarian Party Vice-Chair, who traveled to the capital to help inaugurate the effort. Their proposal, dubbed the “Read The Bills Act” calls for all items to be read to legislators and be published at least 7 days in advance of a vote.

Such a measure would stop embarrassments such as the Patriot Act, which critics discovered had not only been passed unread, but wasn’t even printed so anyone knew what it said.

Critics charge the practice is not only increasingly common, but makes a travesty of a Court’s later attempts to divine the will of Congress in difficult cases.

The Florida Libertarian Party did not participate officially in the non-partisan action in the capital but has long endorsed the effort to get legislators to pay attention to what they pass.


Libertarians say they’re not exactly understanding of the overworked legislator’s dilemma. Mr. Gilson-De Lemos summarizes the view passionately: “We’ve watched in the last century the call for an omnipotent, centralized government and now find no one’s even running it. In many areas some 60% percent of policing and 70% of mediations are being done by private bodies. Police spend over 80% of their time enforcing lifestyle offenses that weren’t even crimes a generation ago or so ago. Wars are ended not by armies but private ‘second track’ citizen diplomats. Now no one is writing the law. ”

“Libertarians say people can replace government programs with compassionate and common sense voluntary alternatives, and deserve that choice in their communities. The issue is no longer debating the role of government or coercive government policies. The government has already abdicated: we’re saying, move aside then and let people try some options,” he said.

They’re certainly taking the first step of attracting sympathetic media and grassroots attention: the Herald article sarcastically implied that perhaps Congressman get extra pay for doing their jobs, comparing them to coaches getting extra pay for extra assignments. Even the older party chat groups are discussing the issue. “Legislators don’t read legislation well before signing on to it. I think that’s going to be a question I ask the next time a candidate comes knocking on my door,” said Eva Young, a poster at a public site for Republicans.

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