- - Wednesday, January 1, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The tradition of making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, kick the smoking habit or exercise more shouldn’t be limited to mere men and women keen on self-improvement. Now more than ever, the government should resolve to slim down and become more effective — and less annoying. Such a resolution would require lawmakers to show restraint before proposing a new rule.

In New York City, Bill de Blasio is champing at the bit to demonstrate that he’s ready to replace Michael R. Bloomberg as America’s nanny. Before he was even sworn in as mayor, Mr. de Blasio announced that the most urgent issue on his agenda is what to do about the horse and carriage. “They are not humane,” says Mr. de Blasio. He does not say whether he consulted the horses, but he wants to deprive tourists of open-air rides through Central Park. “They are not appropriate for the year 2014. It’s over.” The horses are actually a hit with the public. Customers line up to pay $50 or more to experience the Big Apple in something more exciting than a ride in a taxicab, and “once around the park” has closed more than one romance with a proposal of marriage.

It’s not that slow horses cause traffic congestion. It’s just that the new mayor wants electric trolleys in place of the hansom cabs. Nor is Hizzoner’s show of concern for the welfare of horses particularly persuasive, considering that once they’re evicted from the street, their next stop will likely be the glue factory.

Never one to be upstaged, Mr. Bloomberg couldn’t resist dropping his own regulatory bomb on his way out the door. He took his ban on smoking to a new level by prohibiting fake smoke. Nicotine addicts often turn to electronic cigarettes as the first step in weaning themselves from the real thing. The devices deliver nicotine without fumes or noxious odors. But the nannies are tough. Faking it is illegal in New York.

Lawmakers elsewhere have a knack for regulations that don’t actually accomplish anything real or valuable. Under a law that took effect Jan. 1, all high schools in Utah must hold bimonthly earthquake-evacuation drills. This will protect the children in the event the state is jostled — something that hasn’t caused a fatality in Utah since 1934, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In Illinois or Oregon, teenagers are forbidden to acquire a tan on a tanning bed. Delaware tries to prevent the sale of shark fins in shark-fin soup. The sharks thus spared continue to pursue Delaware swimmers for a tasty lunch. More than 90 people have given their lives in the Atlantic to sate shark appetites, and none of the states has done anything about shark manners.

It’s only a matter of time before there’s nothing left to ban. The Council of State Governments keeps a tally and finds that states passed 16,894 laws and adopted 12,632 resolutions in their 2012 sessions. That’s in addition to federal laws and red tape.

Perhaps Mr. de Blasio’s war on hansom cabs isn’t all bad. Lawmakers will spend less time banning functioning light bulbs or dictating the recipes for refreshing beverages if distracted with regulations on the manufacture and sale of buggy whips. Telegraph reform is long overdue, too. While they’re busy with these important tasks, the rest of us could use a little breathing room.

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