When the Missouri General Assembly gathers each year, you can expect a host of new laws to hit the books. I fully recognize that part of the purpose of the state legislation is to address through new laws changes in our culture, our society and the wishes of the people. But just once I think it would be nice if the legislature met and decided we had enough laws on the books of Missouri. Don't hold your breath - it will never happen.
On Tuesday of this week nearly 200 new laws took effect in Missouri. A dozen and a half of those simply address the state budget. But the remainder may well impact your life. Were I a bit less lazy, I might be able to find out just how many laws Missouri has on the books. But I suspect most Missourians would stagger under the weight of year-after-year of new laws creeping into our system of justice.
Some of the major legislation signed Tuesday would spare the mentally retarded from executions in Missouri. Another bans same-sex marriages. And yet another creates another level of state bureaucracy for the elderly by moving the Division of Aging into the state Health Department and out of the Department of Social Services. But these are but three changes out of hundreds.
Teen-agers - actually minors - can now be fined and forced to attend anti-smoking classes if they are caught with cigarettes or chewing tobacco. It seems that we have a law on the books that makes it illegal for teens to buy cigarettes but until now, no law that makes the smoking illegal. That all changed Tuesday.
If you speed through a highway construction zone you will face a more hefty fine as a result of legislation signed Tuesday. The money generated from these higher fines will go to local school districts. And you can now tint the windows of your car - all except the front window, duh!
Here's a law that I think will likely be revisited. Missouri is now the 16th state to ban executions of the mentally retarded. It's fairly hard to argue with the intent of this measure. But the bill defines mentally retarded as having "substantial limitations" with "significantly subaverage" intelligence. By not putting an IQ number or some more specific requirement, all lawyers will argue that their clients fit this definition of mentally retarded. Mark my word it will be revisited.
I don't know what to make of all of this legislation. Perhaps some of these bills will actually improve the lives of Missourians while others may seek to right some wrongs. But with each new law we all lose some of our rights. Maybe that's the way it should be or simply the way it must be. The difference between interference in our lives and protection of our lives is a thin ribbon that is increasingly defined by the court system. At a pace of 200 new laws each year we may well be headed toward a society defined by narrow laws and even more narrow freedoms.