Sometimes we can discern important principles most easily in relatively inconsequential contexts. Take, for example, Senate bill 2669, which the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity did not consider substantial enough to include on its Freedom Index.
It mandates that “all children attending public schools… shall receive… at least twenty (20) consecutive minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free play recess each day.” When Republican Senator John Pagliarini (Tiverton, Portsmouth, Bristol) initially stood up against the group-think and voted against it, Democrat Senate President Theresa Paiva Weed (Newport, Jamestown) chided him, saying “How can you vote against recess?”
Let’s be specific. Voting against this bill wasn’t a vote “against recess”; it was a vote against the state government’s assuming that it is swooping in as the hero of recess to save the kids from horrid local committees and administrators bent on depriving children of unstructured play.
Just so, politicians in their vanity layer on mandates that make them feel good about themselves and give them something to brag about to voters with no strong base of information on which to make electoral decisions. Rather than observing a problem (no recess) and investigating its causes for factors within the proper scope of their role (like eliminating other state mandates), the legislators go straight from intention (encourage recess) to command (thou must).
Sen. Pagliarini was correct in his first instinct. His narrow-minded peers may fervently believe that children should have time to play in an unstructured way, but they can’t imagine that their neighbors can live without the detailed list of rules and requirements to which the legislature and bureaucracy add year after year after year.