Thinning statutes, but how much more could be done?

Members of the Nevada Legislative Commission agreed on Wednesday to repeal four obsolete and unenforced state laws, including one that allows employers to reject applications from communists and fire any communists on their staffs.

Legislative Research Analyst Scott Young said he could not find a record of any Nevadan being fired under the law – enacted in the 1950s.

But since Nevada has been a right-to-work state since the 1950s, employers have no obligation to start an argument by citing a reason for firing people, anyway.

Members of the Legislative Commission also agreed Wednesday to take other actions:

– Repeal laws enacted in 1911 and 1913 that require railroad engineers to be able to read and further specify the job positions required for each train;

– Repeal a 1951 law that allows Nevada to have a representative on the Columbian Basin Interstate Compact (the Western states never approved the compact);

– Repeal 1975 and 1983 laws that spelled out ways to provide financial assistance to businesses "creating economic prosperity" for the state (no applications have been filed for aid under these laws in 11 years).

We continue to hope our railroad workers can read, though perhaps a stipulation as to how many men must shovel coal and how many staff the caboose can now be left to the good judgment of the railroads, themselves.

Such occasional efforts by state legislatures to weed out dated enactments are usually good for a smile – protective Midwestern dairy states once famously required purveyors of nasty oleomargarine to sell capsules of orange dye (used to make the stuff look like butter) separately, for instance. Edicts barring the keeping of a mule in a second-floor apartment or requiring a flagman to walk in front of a motor vehicle to prevent the spooking of the horses are old favorites.

And some people’s silliness can still be another party’s hill to die for – just try repealing the laws that it make it illegal to sell ducks, chicks or rabbits dyed in attractive colors at Easter time.

The Legislative Commission deserves full credit for making a start, but the web of rules and regulations that so easily ensnare and cripple the simplest undertaking these days are no laughing matter. Their cumulative effect leaves our economy and our personal liberties sputtering like a lawnmower with water in the gas tank.

The best way to restore some freedom of action – and the prosperity that follows – would be to enact a single new law: Simply stipulate that, for every new statute enacted, two old laws must be repealed. Nevadans did not live in anarchy decades ago, when the set of "Nevada Revised Statutes" on the bookshelf comprised only a handful of volumes, instead of the dozens that sprawl there today.

The 2013 Legislature should give it a try.

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