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Minnesota Repeals 1,175 Outdated, Unnecessary, And Silly Laws

Law Books Gavel

The Minnesota legislature recently held a special session at which it repealed a whole host of laws:

It’s no longer a crime in Minnesota to carry fruit in an illegally sized container. The state’s telegraph regulations are gone. And it’s now legal to drive a car in neutral — if you can figure out how to do it.

Those were among the 1,175 obsolete, unnecessary and incomprehensible laws that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature repealed this year as part of the governor’s “unsession” initiative. His goal was to make state government work better, faster and smarter.

“I think we’re off to a very good start,” Dayton said Tuesday at a Capitol news conference.

In addition to getting rid of outdated laws, the project made taxes simpler, cut bureaucratic red tape, speeded up business permits and required state agencies to communicate in plain language.

We got rid of all the silly laws,” said Tony Sertich, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board commissioner who headed Dayton’s effort.

Well, not quite all of them. They kept a law on the books that requires state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson to personally capture or destroy any wild boar that gets loose in Minneapolis or St. Paul. Sertich said it’s conceivable that such a critter could wander into the cities.

The two biggest reforms, he said, are speeding the business permitting process and the plain language requirement.

Under a new law, the Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources must attempt to issue environmental permits to businesses within 90 days. The administration estimates 11,000 of the 15,000 permit requests it receives each year will meet that goal, and more complex permits will be issued within 150 days.

Dayton issued an executive order in March directing state agencies to communicate with citizens and businesses in easy-to-understand language. Thousands of state employees have received plain-language training.

As a result, “you’ll see better customer service,” Sertich said.

For instance, a new DNR website makes it easier for anglers to view fishing regulations and campers to book state park campsites.

A $447 million tax cut bill that Dayton signed in March not only provided income tax relief but also simplified filing returns by making state tax law conform to changes in the federal tax code. Those revisions “made tax forms easier to understand and less time-consuming to prepare” for more than 1 million Minnesota taxpayers, the governor said.

Another new law cuts in half the amount of time businesses must retain employment records.

Legislators launched an initiative that got rid of more than 30 advisory boards, councils and task forces that had outlived their usefulness.

Dayton thanked the “hundreds of state employees and thousands of Minnesota citizens” who submitted unsession ideas.

Most of the new laws were passed with strong bipartisan support, Sertich said, “We all agree government should work better.”

This strikes me as an idea that legislatures around the country, and indeed the Congress itself, ought to consider. Law books around the nation are filled with laws and regulations that are either completely outdated, completely silly, or which just don’t make any sense at all. The main reason they never get dealt with is because nobody has the incentive to go after them, and because it’s usually harder to sell the benefits of repealing a law than it is to sell the benefits of adopting an entirely new law. Perhaps the solution is to have mandatory “unsessions” like this on a regular basis. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    One sci-fi novel featured a government that had a tricameral legislature, with the third house’s role simply to repeal laws.

    Another idea is to give all laws sunset dates — if it’s a good law, then it can be renewed.

    However, that’s not the trend. Several states are passing tax hikes that they tie to future metrics, which means that they automatically go up without actually having to be voted on. Legislators love this, as it gets them more money without having to answer to the voters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  2. Tillman says:

    “We got rid of all the silly laws,” said Tony Sertich, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board commissioner who headed Dayton’s effort.

    Well, not quite all of them. They kept a law on the books that requires state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson to personally capture or destroy any wild boar that gets loose in Minneapolis or St. Paul. Sertich said it’s conceivable that such a critter could wander into the cities.

    Bullshit. They just hate Dave Frederickson.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. JWH says:

    Reminds me of this from the WaPo:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2014/05/03/unrequired-reading/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. DrDaveT says:

    And it’s now legal to drive a car in neutral

    Sorry, this was not a silly law. Most states (I thought) have laws against freewheeling and “engine braking”, because drivers have significantly less control over their vehicles when they are in neutral than when they are in gear. They are also less responsive to traffic around them, and so increase congestion and turbulence in general.

    Truckers like to freewheel down hills to save gas. “Hypermilers” are worse. They are outright dangerous, and they coast whenever they can, as part of their silly game. I can imagine a law against driving in neutral as a sideways attempt to stamp out hypermiling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  5. C. Clavin says:

    Wasn’t long ago Doug and Jenos were complaining that Obama wasn’t enforcing silly laws.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  6. CSK says:

    In Hartford, Connecticut, it’s illegal to kiss your wife on Sundays. That was a Massachusetts law as well, but I don’t know if they ever got around to repealing it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: Wasn’t long ago Doug and Jenos were complaining that Obama was selectively wasn’t enforcing silly laws.

    FTFY.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 8

  8. rudderpedals says:

    @CSK:

    In Hartford, Connecticut, it’s illegal to kiss your wife on Sundays.

    The neighbor’s wife is fair game.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. Tillman says:

    I think it used to be illegal here to whistle off-key.

    Those were better days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  10. Franklin says:

    And it’s now legal to drive a car in neutral — if you can figure out how to do it.

    In what car can you not figure out how to drive in neutral?

    @DrDaveT:

    “Hypermilers” are worse. They are outright dangerous, and they coast whenever they can, as part of their silly game.

    I’d actually much prefer a hypermiler, who is at least paying attention to driving, over most of the people out there.

    DrDaveT is correct that safety would be the purpose of this law, although it’s not nearly as dangerous as he makes it out to be. Not to mention, saving gas is a general benefit to everybody, the law is nearly impossible to enforce, so there are definitely pro’s and con’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. Andre Kenji says:

    Believe or not, many people, at least here in Brazil used to drive in the neutral when driving downhill in the mountains.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Wasn’t long ago Doug and Jenos were complaining that Obama wasn’t enforcing silly laws.

    Wasn’t long ago Doug and Jenos the Republican Party was obstructing the implementation of an important new health care law were complaining that Obama wasn’t enforcing silly laws.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  13. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @al-Ameda: We’re talking SILLY laws here, Al. Of all the things I’ve called ObamaCare, I really don’t think “silly” was among them.

    But if you want to talk about ObamaCare, could you clarify which one? The one passed by Congress (not a tax), the one ratified by the Supreme Court (definitely a tax), or the one that exists today after Obama’s rewritten it by fiat numerous times?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  14. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Man, Cliffy and Al can find any excuse to look for a fight. Any excuse at all…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  15. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    But if you want to talk about ObamaCare, could you clarify which one? The one passed by Congress (not a tax), the one ratified by the Supreme Court (definitely a tax), or the one that exists today after Obama’s rewritten it by fiat numerous times?

    Which one? That would be ACA, the law that the Republican Party has attempted to rescind or repeal going on 50 times now. The law that Republicans in a majority of the statehouses that they control have refused to implement, thereby denying important health care resources to those citizens most in need of it. The fact is, ACA is succeeding despite a petulant and disgraceful 5 year Republican temper tantrum. That is the Affordable Healthcare Act I’m talking about.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  16. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Man, Cliffy and Al can find any excuse to look for a fight. Any excuse at all…

    Sorry, it’s just the Republican in me coming out. I apologize.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  17. gVOR08 says:

    It should be noted that Gov. Dayton is a Democrat (DFL), as are majorities in both chambers of the legislature.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @al-Ameda: Still didn’t clarify which version of ACA, but since you apologized, I’ll drop it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  19. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @al-Ameda: I’ve reconsidered my previous comment. Allow me to substitute this:

    All the versions you’ve cited are bad, but I’ll drop it here too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  20. JWH says:

    Somebody needs to get the Civility Stick.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. C. Clavin says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    the one that exists today after Obama’s rewritten it by fiat numerous times

    If you have to lie to make your argument…it just ain’t much of an argument.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  22. Kit Smith says:

    Courtesy of a century-old law, it turns out that most breweries in Indianapolis are operating illegally: http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2014/05/23/sobering-discovery-indy-microbreweries-violation/9491131/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Hal_10000 says:

    They did more than repeal silly laws. They also overhauled regulations and the tax code, something we desperately need on the federal level. Every system of laws accumulates cruft. We haven’t had any cleaned off since Bill Clinton’s re-inventing government initiative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0