New laws and programs are often initiated as a way of resolving problems. At the same time, new laws and programs serve as “accomplishments” for members of Congress. Unfortunately, more often than not, such “accomplishments” do not actually differ that much from programs and laws that are already in existence. As a result, the federal code is filled to overflowing with statutes that are outdated and obsolete.
photo credit: Rory Finneren
While many laws might have made sense at the time they were passed, after years or decades many of these laws no longer serve any contemporary purpose. In many instances, such laws remain on the books because they serve to benefit a particular favored interest group. In other instances, they remain simply because Congress fails to take action.
The momentum of Congress tends to run toward the direction of passing new laws instead of getting rid of obsolete laws. That dynamic could be changed through the creation of a committee that held jurisdiction that extends only to bills that repealed existing laws.
In 1995 a practice of setting time limits for secondary committees in the House was established. That practice continues today. It has effectively eliminated the standoff that previously took place whenever a bill fell within the jurisdiction of more than one committee. Prior to that change, either committee could effectively bottleneck a bill. The deadline works by forcing the secondary committee to reach some type of compromise with the first committee.
A committee on repeals could have jurisdiction over a bill to create a sunset commission on federal government agencies. The purpose of a sunset commission is to periodically review the activities of government agencies and make recommendations regarding whether that agency should even continue to exist. Such a statute exists in Texas, with law providing a specific date on which an agency will cease to exist unless it is reviewed by the Texas legislature and renewed. As that particular date approaches, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission makes a thorough review of the activities of the agency and makes subsequent recommendations to the legislature regarding that agency.
Source: A Better Congress, by Joseph Gibson, Chapter 16 The Committee on Repeals.
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