The Web of Accumulating Legislation

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On GoLocalProv, Stephen Beale revisits the habit of Rhode Island legislators to burden the state law with restrictions that make no sense and/or of which residents might not even be aware unless they’re cited for breaking them.  Both Steve Brown of the local ACLU and I point to the danger that this attitude toward the authority of government can move into areas of political activity:

“It is not far-fetched to worry that other dubious laws on the books, like one banning online impersonation, could easily be used against political speech or even satirical Web sites,” Brown said. He cited the newspaper case as an example of why such fears are not groundless. …

Katz … worries about further government limits on political speech.

“For example, S0384, which passed the Senate but died in the House would have expanded the requirements for politically active citizens to register and file reports, forbidding them from running for office if they run afoul of the regulations and owe fines. A story on your site today illustrates how people organizing on important political questions might be contacted by the state government to let them know that they’re coming up to the line of the law. Others are less fortunate and only find out that their civic engagement has been illegal when somebody files a complaint,” Katz said.

Of course, it’s much worse than direct regulation of political activity and related rights, like free speech.  In a society in which everyone has pretty good odds of breaking some law, somewhere, at any given moment of the day, government has a limitless power to arrest or at least discredit anybody in the entire society who might become a problem.



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