Unintended Consequences

I met with a couple of legislators this past week.  And when one of them was asked why are we having to wait in long lines to get our driver’s licenses renewed, the response was it’s an “unintended consequence” of the bill that we passed.

To be completely honest, he seemed more interested in excusing their actions by calling them unintended consequences, then trying to explain the purpose of the bill that requires us to go through a longer lines to renew our licenses.  I personally support the reason behind this bill, and I am willing to go through the longer lines.  Fortunately for me, I go in June and hopefully a lot of the kinks will be worked out.  My wife is going there sometime in the next couple of weeks, and she will have to suffer through the long lines.

But this legislators response reminded me of a similar response I heard another legislator give when asked about the district split bill.  As a resident of the south west valley of Salt Lake County, I was one of the citizens whose property tax rate was raised because of the recent district split of the Jordan School District.  In essence, the legislator responded that the tax increase was an unintended consequence of the bill.

As a resident of the south west valley, I support the reasoning behind the district split legislation.  I believe in smaller more localized school districts.  I feel that the Jordan School District was (and still is) too big to properly serve the needs of Utah’s students.  However, I don’t support the unintended consequences of the bill.  In this case there were two unintended consequences.  The first was that a large body of people couldn’t vote on a change that directly effected them.  the other unintended consequence was the needed tax increase on the citizens of the south west valley.

The issue that bothers me here is that these bills aren’t being thought completely through.  They aren’t recognizing that their are ramifications in real people’s lives when these bills are passed.  If they were, the bills would be written in away to prevent extensive unintended consequences.

My understanding is that if a bill has a financial impact that this must be studied.  It seems to me that every bill should be studied similarly to prevent non-financial impacts on the community.  Unfortunate consequences like long lines and voters not being allowed to vote.  I never want to hear the word “unintended consequences” from a legislator again.

I don’t believe that all unintended consequences should be avoided.  However, I think that the need to avoid a consequence should be directly proportionate to the impact that consequence has on society.

With these two particular legislators, I support them and the work that they are doing.  Politically they are both very similar to me.  But I would appreciate if they would take the time to understand that EVERY bill they pass will have unintended consequences and they need to write the bills in a way, that these consequences are minimized so that they have very little impact on the people.

I hope that every legislator will take an oath, that after the 2010 session, that they will never have to use the excuse of “unintended consequences” when they have to explain their bill.

Update (1 Feb 2010): Wow, I am shocked to admit that for once I agreed with KSL. They posted a commentary with the same title on their news today.  We do part ways on part of it, but the meat of the subject is the same.

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