The Interim Committee on Local Government has been charged with seeking out and destroying obsolete statutes. In that capacity, John Stieff, director of the Legislative Service’s Agency’s Office of Code Revision (and officiant at my wedding), wrote a memorandum to the Committee (which mentioned nothing about my wedding).
It’s not uncommon to hear people complain that we have too many laws. You look at the Indiana Code and see 36 titles (really 33 – Titles 17, 18, and 19, have been repealed). It seems like too many. Really, we should get by with less is the sense. And, there is some cruft. We’ve been a state for just shy of 200 years. Some residue builds up over the years. So, you get charges like this one to identify statutes that are obsolete, superseded, or no longer apply (“obsolete” statutes).
The memorandum described a prior approach to seeking out “obsolete” statutes when John and deputy director, Craig Mortell, undertook a similar effort in 1988:
The standard we applied in determining whether a particular statute was appropriate for inclusion in the obsolete statutes bill was that we had to be convinced that the statute had no further viability. Since we were faced with the impossibility of proving the negative that a statute could never be applied in the future, we took the stand that a statute would be removed from the bill if anyone disagreed with our conclusion that the statute was obsolete. If a court case declared a statute unconstitutional or a federal law pre-empted a statute, that fact alone did not require the statute’s inclusion in the obsolete statutes bill. The thought was that the court or the Congress could change its mind at any time, thus making the statute viable.
Of necessity, this is a very conservative standard. When labeling legislation “technical” in nature, the Legislative Services Agency tries very hard to avoid including anything with a policy impact. Policy decisions are up to legislators. The example John gives, and I can just imagine how much fun he was having when he wrote this, is the curious case of “Rat Day.”
[I]n 1949, the General Assembly enacted a statute that was recodified at IC 16-41-34-1. The statute authorized the Governor to designate by proclamation a day in the spring as “Rat Day”, a day to be observed throughout Indiana as a day for destroying rats in homes, public buildings, and other places. It is not clear that any Governor ever officially proclaimed a day as “Rat Day”.When the Code Revision Commission considered the obsolescence of this statute in 1988, the determination was made to leave the statute on the books, since the next Governor might take the opportunity to make such a proclamation.
He goes on to say that a legislator authored P.L. 142-1995 which apparently stripped the Governor of his authority to declare Rat Day. So, no whacking day for Hoosiers. The memorandum goes on to suggest that the committee might want to use a more aggressive approach to identifying obsolete statutes. But, that is going to be a legislative decision, not one that LSA is going to assign to itself.