?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Why does Congress make laws that expire? - Zer Netmouse
July 21st, 2012
11:01 am

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Why does Congress make laws that expire?
This year we saw a lot of drama around whether or not Congress would renew an expiring ruling onthe interest rates for student loans. Then a line from an article on the recent Colorado Shooting caught my eye:

The AR-15 rife carried by Holmes, a civilian semi-automatic version of the military M-16, would have been defined as a “semiautomatic assault weapon” under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 — which expired in 2004. “The type of ammunition magazine Holmes is accused of using was banned for new production under the old federal assault weapon ban.” Though once it expired, “gun manufacturers flooded the market with the type of high-capacity magazines Holmes used Friday.”


If we at one point thought it made sense to ban assault weapons for private ownership, why was that ban part of a law set to expire? why not make laws and then, when and if someone decides they no longer make sense, let them repeal them or make new laws? Expiration dates on sseem rather arbitrary and therefore nonsensical.

Can anyone explain this to me?

(24 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
From:nicegeek
Date:July 21st, 2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Sometimes, the votes might not be there to pass a permanent law, but by making some parts of it temporary, a bill's sponsors can bring a few more on board to get it passed. For examples on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum, consider the Patriot act, or the Bush-era tax cuts.

When a law is only able to pass very narrowly, that generally means that the country is conflicted about it; it's not universally accepted as a good law. But the way our legislative process works means that laws, once passed, have a lot of inertia; it takes a lot of effort to revise or repeal them even if they turn out to have been bad laws, especially if the special interest they favor starts lobbying to preserve them (think about farm subsidies).

I actually think that it would be a good idea if all laws automatically expired in, say, 20 years, unless passed by some level of supermajority. That way, outdated and controversial laws would get phased out over time unless agreement could be reached that they were really good ideas.
[User Picture]
From:lsanderson
Date:July 21st, 2012 05:55 pm (UTC)

quibble

(Link)
The bush era tax cuts had to meet revenue requirements/timelines to be passed in the senate and avoid a filibuster, I think...
[User Picture]
From:asim
Date:July 21st, 2012 07:05 pm (UTC)

Re: quibble

(Link)
The Bush tax cuts actually expire due to a "hard" rule (after a quick Google check to make sure of terms, you can call it the Byrd Rule to Reconciliation); in order to pass budget/monetary changes without dealing with amendments and fillbusters, there's a rule that says you can get certain laws pushed through without having to file closure -- but those laws have to pass a close check against the rules allowing such, AND have to expire after 10 years max. So it's not the same case as with the Brady bill, but the Byrd rule might have inspired the timeframe of the Brady bill's time-limited sections.
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:July 23rd, 2012 04:32 am (UTC)

Re: quibble

(Link)
CompliCAted. (thanks for the explanation)

Any chance we can convince you to run for public office sometime?
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:July 23rd, 2012 04:21 am (UTC)
(Link)
But doesn't legal precedent, as upheld by the courts, stand until overturned? It seems to me the legal system is slanted toward being slow-moving and building consistencies people can rely on, yet these expiration dates create sudden changes.
From:nicegeek
Date:July 23rd, 2012 05:39 am (UTC)
(Link)
But doesn't legal precedent, as upheld by the courts, stand until overturned?

Generally, but if the law has changed, a court may decide that a precedent no longer applies, and ignore it. On appeal, higher courts will decide if the lower court was right to do so. The legal system has always had to deal with the laws changing underneath it; it's not an unusual thing.

It seems to me the legal system is slanted toward being slow-moving and building consistencies people can rely on, yet these expiration dates create sudden changes.

I don't think that's a problem, though; the expiration dates aren't a secret, and companies and people can plan for them, as can judges and bureaucrats.
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:July 23rd, 2012 05:58 am (UTC)
(Link)
Yeah? Is there a place where the public can easily go to find out what laws are expiring this year? Or next year?
From:nicegeek
Date:July 23rd, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Easily? Probably not, but that's a general reflection of the way our laws are insufficiently indexed, and not specific to their having expiration dates. The laws themselves are public, so such an index could be created. There probably is one already somewhere, because reporters and analysts regularly field stories and reports about upcoming expirations. And if laws had a standard built-in expiration, it would be easy; just list all the laws that passed 20 years ago (or whatever the period was), with less than the permanence threshold.

Hmmm...it appears I'm not the first one to suggest this.
[User Picture]
From:ckd
Date:July 21st, 2012 06:50 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Interestingly enough, the lack of an expiry date was part of the legal reasoning striking down DOMA Sec. 3 in the First Circuit's decision in May!
Finally, it has been suggested by the Legal Group's brief that, faced with a prospective change in state marriage laws, Congress was entitled to "freeze" the situation and reflect. But the statute was not framed as a temporary time-out; and it has no expiration date, such as one that Congress included in the Voting Rights Act. See Nw. Austin, 129 S. Ct. at 2510 (describing original expiration date and later extensions); City of Boerne, 521 U.S. at 533. The House Report's own arguments--moral, prudential and fiscal--make clear that DOMA was not framed as a temporary measure.
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:July 23rd, 2012 04:23 am (UTC)
(Link)
Is that legal reasoning or cultural reasoning? Or is there some law requiring certain types of laws to be temporary that is not cited here?

The statement you quote seems only to suggest that the precedent of The Voting Act has been accepted as the cultural norm, and therefore doing something different is somehow unacceptable.
[User Picture]
From:ckd
Date:July 23rd, 2012 06:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Legal reasoning.

The "Legal Group" mentioned there is the Congressional group defending the law (since the DoJ has said that DOMA Sec. 3 is in their opinion unconstitutional, they will no longer defend it). Part of their defense is asserting a "rational basis" for the law so as to meet that standard of judicial review. Part of that assertion is a claim that Congress passed DOMA in order to allow more time for lawmakers to consider the potential issues raised by a change in state marriage laws.

The judges point out, quite correctly, that if the intent of Congress had indeed been to allow such a delay (rather than to block marriage equality for an indefinite period) the law would have had an expiration date. Since it didn't, that can't be part of a "rational basis" for DOMA. The Voting Rights Act was cited as a demonstration that Congress has passed expiring laws before as temporary measures in areas where the situation is changing.
[User Picture]
From:dd_b
Date:July 21st, 2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Weird experiments *should* have expiration dates; otherwise they become embedded, fossilized, relics of somebodies crazy ideas. If, after trying for a while, it's not clear something is a good idea, it's much more convenient to let it die quietly than to force Congress to waste the time to fight it through and repeal it.
[User Picture]
From:spacecrab
Date:July 22nd, 2012 05:50 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Maybe the ban wasn't a weird experiment. I assume you've read Terry Karney on the subject. He's in your camp, DDB.

But I'm in the camp that asks why we need more of those things to be sold to the general public. Will you concede that there may be other ways to challenge a government monopoly on the things -- that we don't really want them used in house-to-house situations, and that police and soldiers are human beings with individual consciences? If it ever came to one of the scenarios some people envision, my belief is that we'd be better off opposing tyranny in ways other than a civilian-populated civil war.

I'll never forget the GD concert in Bolinas where Jerry was warned that someone in the audience was armed and intended to shoot him.

He got up on stage and performed.

("When I awoke, the dire wolf, six hundred pounds of sin,
Was grinning at my window, all I said was come on in.
Don't murder me, I beg of you, don't murder me.
Please, don't murder me.

The wolf came in, I got my cards, we sat down for a
game.
I cut my deck to the queen of spades, but the cards
were all the same.
Don't murder me, I beg of you, don't murder me.

Please, don't murder me.")
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:July 23rd, 2012 04:27 am (UTC)
(Link)
That's a really interesting illustration, and emotionally affecting story.

I too am not sure I see the sense in describing banning semi-automatic assault weapons as a "weird experiment."

The recent power grabs of the executive branch do concern me, but I would rather see us have peaceful demonstrations like the ones in Nigeria where the women shamed Chevron into changing its policies by going en masse to the oil rigs and threatening to take all their clothes off than to get into escalating threats of violence.
[User Picture]
From:dd_b
Date:July 23rd, 2012 06:43 am (UTC)
(Link)
I'm pretty sure that the general public's knowledge about "these things" (meaning Evil Black Rifles) is really really bad -- full of untruths and misinformation and confusion. Perhaps yours is also.

First, "assault rifle" is a technical term in military arms. It means a smaller, sub-caliber rifle that supports full-auto firing ("machine gun"); the term is used to distinguish it from a "main battle rifle", which is larger caliber and more powerful, and not necessarily capable of full-auto.

None of the things banned by the 1994 "Assault Weapons Ban" were in fact assault rifles. None. Not one.

The ban focused largely on cosmetic features of absolutely no significance to criminal use -- like flash suppressors, for example, and bayonet lugs. Whether there was a pistol grip, or a pierced stock. Completely weird things that really truly made no difference to the potential of the rifle. (What they did do is ban importation of military-surplus arms, good practical weapons often available cheap.)

(The ban also blocked sales of larger capacity magazines. I see why people think that's significant, so we'll set that aside from this rant about the parts of the bill that were stupid and irrelevant.)

The most popular Evil Black Rifle design is the old Colt AR-15. These are most commonly chambered in .223 Remington (very very similar to the military 5.56x45 NATO round used in the M-16 assault rifle). So, this is a "high-power military rifle", right?

Well, not exactly. The .223 round is not legal for deer hunting in most states -- it's not powerful enough to give you quick humane kills reliably. It's less powerful than the venerable .30-30.

In comparison to mainstream hunting rounds like .270 or .30-06, it's many times less powerful.

The .223 actually is useful for home defense. With the proper ammo it's less likely to go through walls than most pistol rounds, but it's a considerably faster "stopper" (when somebody attacks you, shooting him in a way that kill him 5 minutes later is useless; shooting him in a way that stops the attack right now is useful). And it's easily equipped with laser and/or holographic sights and lights and things that are useful in combat in the dark or in close quarters.

The reason the "Assault Weapons Ban" raised such loud opposition is that it was stupid, and blocked cheap useful guns that many people were interested in. (Plus the magazine thing, people also opposed that, but that doesn't look the same kind of stupid.) It raised to some huge status as super-especially dangerous a class of rifle that was actually much LESS powerful than common ordinary hunting rifles. Basically, it was bullshit.

[User Picture]
From:spacecrab
Date:July 23rd, 2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
(Link)
David:

I read your first sentence accusing people who might be in favor of limiting public sale of semi-automatic weapons of being stupidly afraid of an Evil Rifle.

That's it for me. I don't care much what you wrote after saying that, this time. I'll be frank with you, I've always felt a personal dislike for projectile weapons. Your sanity on the subject has, in the past, been a good exemplar to convince me that in the hands of trained, caring civilians, sometimes projectile weapons may be a deterrent to violence.

But you're never going to convince me to vote for you to be allowed to own and train with semi-automatic weapons if you start out by painting anyone opposed to their sale in the public marketplace as a superstitious fool. You haven't proved to me (sneaking a peak at what you said after your insult) that you need these things to defend your castle. You haven't convinced me that putting them in the hands of civilians instead of a regulated police force is a good idea. I don't think I need you to protect me from the use of semi-automatic weapons in criminal hands.

I anticipate one of your main arguments is along the lines that the world cannot and will not ever agree to a mutual de-escalation of the arms race. But I think the world just might.

If you want to enjoy the things for recreational purposes, I'm in favor of organized government controlling the distribution and renting them to you. Then you can check the thing back in. I'll take my chances with police forces and branches of the military going rogue -- by paying for better police and soldiers, who have an appreciation of the trust invested in them when they're given access to and training with those kinds of weapons,

For me, sense on this subject radiates from Teresa's posts and comments about Castle laws on Making Light.

Have a good day and see ya. If the people where we next meet have voted that concealed projectile weapons are legal, I'd rather that you hold one than anyone else I know.
[User Picture]
From:dd_b
Date:July 23rd, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Writing is hard. My suggestion that perhaps your information was faulty was specifically added to raise that as a question -- that is, to remove the presumption that your information was faulty; to make it a possibility, not a certainty. Apparently that worked backwards on you (or maybe it was something else), but in any case, I apologize for that.
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:July 24th, 2012 10:31 pm (UTC)

Well, my information was certainly faulty

(Link)
I seem to have temporarily forgotten there's no law or rule requiring the names (or nicknames) of laws to be accurate. I appreciate the clarification.

There's further discussion about firearm laws over on Tom Smith's LJ that you both might find interesting.
[User Picture]
From:cos
Date:July 22nd, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
(Link)
In this particular case, the sunset was put in the bill specifically in order to get enough support to pass it. So to find out why this law had a sunset, you'd have to examine the few legislators who were willing to vote for it with a sunset but not without. I suspect that you'd find a mix of political pressures and logic, and it might not be a consistent set of reasons from all of them.
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:July 23rd, 2012 04:31 am (UTC)
(Link)
I get that impression, thanks.

But when was the "sunset clause" concept introduced? Is it recent or has it been around for a long time? It doesn't seem to be mentioned in Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm just a Bill" and, perhaps more seriously, I don't remember learning about it in history or civics classes.
From:nicegeek
Date:July 23rd, 2012 05:42 am (UTC)
(Link)
According to Wikipedia, the practice dates back to the Roman Senate.
[User Picture]
From:mabfan
Date:July 23rd, 2012 02:27 am (UTC)
(Link)
I can't speak for Congress, and I see others have made this point, but a few years ago Brookline Town Meeting passed a bylaw with a sunset clause because the town wanted to see what the actual effect of the bylaw would be before voting to make it permanent.
[User Picture]
From:netmouse
Date:July 23rd, 2012 04:28 am (UTC)
(Link)
So when they passed it, did they also indicate/put in place a process for evaluating the success of the bylaw, and identify metrics to reflect the intentions of said bylaw?
[User Picture]
From:mabfan
Date:July 23rd, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
(Link)
It wasn't in the bylaw itself, but it was part of the process. When the article was filed to amend the bylaw to make it permanent two years later, people presented data on what had happened and posed their arguments in favor of renewal and in favor of expiration.
Netmouse on the web Powered by LiveJournal.com