What would we do without the state legislature?

“No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

– Mark Twain (or Gideon J. Tucker, depending on your source)

The state legislature is back in session, and don’t we know it.  I’m daily reminded of Twain’s prophetic quote as the emails pour into my inbox with new bills chipping away at our individual autonomy and liberty.

Yesterday the Assembly passed a series of bills pertaining to continuity of government and the legislature in the case of a state emergency, aka “emergency management.”  While I understand and support efforts to prepare a contingency plan for government in the case of emergency, I found the attitude behind these bills particularly amusing.

I listened to hearings as legislators and state employees worried about what would happen if Gov. Doyle or, heaven help us, the legislature could not make it into the Capitol because of an emergency–like last summer’s flooding for instance. Imagine! What a horrible thought.  I defer to Mark Twain…

Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 59, a continuity of government bill, is one I’ve been following since it was first introduced in June of this year because (in it’s original form), the resolution is somewhat troubling.  The resolution amends state law regarding what powers the legislature is granted in an emergency.

AJR59 would remove the arguably narrow existing definition of ’emergency’ from state statutes (that “resulting from enemy action in the form of an attack”), leaving ’emergency’ absolutely undefined. So, what would constitute an emergency?  Too many people at a tea party?  Personally, I’d like to define ’emergency’ as “whenever the legislature is in session,” but I digress.

I was glad to discover in subsequent hearings that members of the majority party were worried about the vagueness of “emergency,”  too.  So, yesterday the Assembly passed an amended version of AJR59, defining emergency as “a severe or prolonged, natural or human-caused, occurrence that threatens life, health, or the security of the state.”  Not perfect but better than nothing, I suppose.  The problem is, who gets to define those terms?  Hopefully we’ll never have to find out, but I would still argue that some of the bills before the legislature this session, if passed, would qualify as “human-caused” emergencies threatening the “life, health or the security of the state.”


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