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Variations: Legislative alchemy

ON Jan. 20, 1989,  Variety reported that “[l]itter-bugs in the Commonwealth may soon have to scatter and run like bugs in a T.V. commercial if the Littering Control Act of 1989 makes it through the Senate and Executive Branch as it did the House of Representatives Tuesday.”

The news story was published above the day’s “Sores of Saipan” photo which depicted an illegal dumping site in Koblerville. “This mess,” according to the photo caption, “had the usual beer cans and pampers, not to mention the remains of a butchered pig or cow….”

The anti-littering law was enacted in Sept. 1989, but it was not consistently implemented, if at all. In 2016, it was “revived” and “revised” by yet another law, P.L. 19-53 which is supposed to be implemented by not one or two or three but at least eight government agencies.

How effective is the spanking new law? You tell me.

Lawmakers also passed a retroactive pay hike in 1991, but up to now we still read news stories about appropriation measures regarding salary adjustments that were supposed to have happened 27 years ago. Saipan’s stray-dog-control law was enacted in 1995, but it was never fully implemented until Donald Flores became mayor in 2010. Stray dogs, of course, still roam certain areas of the island.

There are many other laws that have already been forgotten, ignored or barely implemented.

So what should lawmakers do? Well, pass another law!

Signed last week, S.L.L. 20-25 targets blighted and/or abandoned buildings or structures. Now that it is on the statute books, will blighted properties on Saipan finally disappear? What if the owners are no longer on island? What if they say they can’t afford to remove the offending structure or pay the penalties? If the government seizes such properties, will it demolish them right away or wait for “funding availability” or an “investor” willing (and foolish or sleazy enough) to take over?

We’ll soon find out. If we still remember this issue in the coming months or years.

* * *

In his 1884 book, “The Man Versus the State,” Herbert Spencer noted that the complaints we usually make “against the existing system show [our] belief to be that men have neither the wisdom nor the rectitude which [our] plan requires them to have.”

For example, we complain about politics and politicking, and then we turn to politics and politicians to address our concerns. Alas, many of us and our politicians, Spencer said, “never look beyond proximate causes and immediate effects…. [We] habitually regard each phenomenon as involving but one antecedent and one consequence.”

Illegal drugs? Because of pushers and traffickers. Solution? Punitive anti-drug, zero-tolerance, war-on-drugs laws.  Result? Problem not solved and, in many countries like Mexico, actually getting worse.

Low wages? Because employers are greedy. Solution? Wage hike law. Result? If the state of the economy can’t afford wage hikes: work-hour cuts, loss of benefits, automation, loss of jobs, higher prices.

High prices during calamities? Because businesspersons are greedy. Solution? Price control. Result? Shortages.

“The facts cannot yet get recognized as facts,” Spencer wrote in a book published 134 years ago. “As the alchemist attributed his successive disappointments to some disproportion in the ingredients, some impurity, or some too great temperature, and never to the futility of his process or the impossibility of his aim; so, every failure of State-regulations the law-worshipper explains away as being caused by this trifling oversight, or that little mistake: all which oversights and mistakes he assures you will in future be avoided. Eluding the facts as he does after this fashion, volley after volley of them produce no effect.”

Faith, Spencer said, “is proof against all adverse evidence.”

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