Stevenson: 51 legislatures

Fifty-one legislatures cannot govern a nation.  Fifty-one legislatures cannot write a law.  Fifty state legislatures cannot write coherent national law.  Only the federal government can do that.  But some of our state legislatures are attempting to write laws addressing national issues—issues that affect all Americans.

The 10th amendment to the United States Constitution states that: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  That has both political and practical significance.  Our states, counties, and cities administer the functions that pertain to them.  It would not be practical for national government to administer all of those routine functions nor attempt to meet specific local needs.

Commentary by Jack Stevenson

Commentary by
Jack Stevenson

This new activity in the state legislatures is partly an attempt to circumvent national laws that some members of state legislatures dislike, but it also reflects the perception that the U.S. Congress isn’t functioning very well.  We tend to like our own congressional representatives because they bring money and jobs to our congressional district or state.

But polls taken in recent years indicate that we have very low esteem for the performance of the U.S. Congress.  We are dismayed with the influence of money, with the partisan rankling, and with the seeming inability of Congress to produce timely legislation.  That leaves a legislative vacuum, an opportunity for state legislatures to write laws that properly belong to the national government.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that, during the first three months of 2015, members of states legislatures introduced 791 bills pertaining to sexual and reproductive matters.  That could include birth control, abortion, marriage, pedophilia, “human trafficking,” and female circumcision.  Whatever law may be right or wrong regarding these issues doesn’t change because of geography.  If it is wrong in one state, it is wrong in all 50.  If it is right in one state, it is right in the other 49.

If we truly believe in our American democracy, then every American citizen needs to have an unobstructed opportunity to vote.  When the elective office is national, i.e., for president or a member of congress, the rules for voting need to be national—exactly the same for everyone.  If proof of identity is desirable, then the national government needs to issue that ID, free of charge, to every citizen.  There is nothing more fundamental to democracy than the right to participate in the selection or removal of public office holders.

Immigrants to America often settled in clusters making it easier for them to adjust to their new country.  Those concentrations caused alarm among Americans whose ancestors had settled earlier.  We Americans have, during our history, worried about German, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, and Latino immigrants.  Concentrations of immigrants may induce burdens for some states impelling those states to attempt legal measures to address their concerns.  But when immigrants come to the United States, they cross a national boundary, and all laws regarding immigrants and their potential citizenship must be national laws.

Firearms legislation is another perplexing issue.  One problem was revealed, recently, when a European commercial airline co-pilot committed suicide and took a plane load of passengers and crew with him.  His mental condition was missed even though he was receiving treatment.  The mental condition of people who have access to firearms is difficult to assess or continuously monitor. Another issue is people who use firearms to commit mass murder for political reasons.  Advance detection of intent is not easy.  Federal efforts to regulate firearms displease some people.  A few states have adopted legislation that attempts to circumvent firearms federal law.  But the problem is national and needs to be addressed by carefully drawn federal legislation.

“United we stand; divided we fall.”

Jack Stevenson, now retired, served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer. He retired from military service and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. Mr. Stevenson also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA). He currently reads history, follows issues important to Americans and writes commentary from his Florida home.

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