Steven Greenhut: Spare me the parades and Reagan statues
SACRAMENTO — This year's Rose Parade featured the Department of Defense's "Freedom Isn't Free" float. While nothing is free when DOD is involved — the B-2 bomber that made a fly-by as parade-goers cheered cost more than twice its weight in gold — the replica of the Korean War Veterans Memorial got me thinking about the state of America's freedoms as we ring in the new year.
The news isn't encouraging. Maintaining a free society involves more than standing up, militarily, to un-free ones. The federal government is indeed a mess, as the "fiscal cliff" drama reminds us. But I'm most concerned about the future of California, given that one party — the party that believes that "more government" is the answer to every question — has dominance in the political system.
Democratic leaders in Sacramento already are taking aim at Proposition 13, as they eye removing tax protections from business-property owners and making it easier for localities to raise property taxes for myriad purposes. Taxation is a freedom issue in that the more government takes from me, the longer I have to work to serve the needs of the bureaucracy.
But your wallets are not the only thing endangered when California's Legislature is in session. Legislators will ramp up their efforts to regulate everything in sight that isn't already regulated. The sheer volume of legislation is staggering. Former talk-radio host Cameron Jackson found that California legislators have passed 12,097 laws since 1993. More than 800 new laws went into effect in California beginning January 1.
Not every new law is an assault on freedom, but the cumulative effect can be daunting. Try starting a business or building something anywhere in this state and you'll quickly learn that freedom isn't free — it's really expensive, as you pay the taxes, conform to the endless regulations and beg for the approval of multiple legislative bodies and bureaucracies.
Most of this year's new laws are ridiculous, unneeded and annoying.
Legislators, for instance, banned the open carrying of unloaded long guns after gun-rights activists staged "open carry" protests to demonstrate their Second Amendment rights.
California parents must now receive information from a government-approved health provider before choosing to exempt their kids from mandated immunizations.
There are new rules on health-care providers mandating that they provide additional medical services and a ban on therapists who provide a therapy that is supposed to cure them of homosexuality. As you can see, there is no area of life so personal that the state Legislature won't intervene.
Just as California's real-estate market is rebounding, emerging from a busting housing bubble caused in large part by government-mandated lending- and land-use practices, we have a package of laws granting homeowners new "rights" not to be foreclosed upon — something that will slow down the natural market-oriented process of foreclosure and resale, and basically enrich lawyers.
Legislators can now get special vanity license plates, but you can no longer use dogs to hunt bear. A few measures actually increase, albeit modestly, your freedoms, such as a bill that allows Californians to sell food products out of their home kitchens, although even this good law adds government oversight.
Republicans didn't have much luck controlling government, but they did pass a law that authorizes a privately funded statute of Ronald Reagan to be erected at the Capitol.
The result of this endless sea of legislation is a society mired in bureaucracy, taxed to the hilt and where the citizenry always is at risk for violating an incomprehensible and miles-deep list of regulations and rules.
As a friend has noted, we have morphed from a nation of laws to a nation of rules.
Personally, I can do with a few less parade floats and Reagan statues and a lot more commitment from Americans to defend our founding principles in Sacramento and Washington, DC.