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South Williamsport, PA
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County Hall Corner: I Fought the Law and the Law Won

A standard science-fiction device is an unstoppable foe. It could be a virus or disease, an alien invasion, or a monomaniac bent on world conquest, but the common strain is that its power grows and grows without anyone being able to stop it. We have had such a creature growing in the United States for

A standard science-fiction device is an unstoppable foe. It could be a virus or disease, an alien invasion, or a monomaniac bent on world conquest, but the common strain is that its power grows and grows without anyone being able to stop it.

We have had such a creature growing in the United States for some time now — it is called “Law.” COVID did not bring us under the weight of government regulations; it only revealed its all-consuming power. To illustrate, answer this question: how many laws are there in the United States? No, that’s too hard; let’s make it simpler — how many federal laws are on the books in the USA?

Ready for this? No one knows!! Really — even the Library of Congress website admits, “At the reference desk, we are frequently asked to estimate the number of federal laws in force. However, trying to tally this number is nearly impossible.” But wait a minute, isn’t there such a thing as the United States Code that chronicles all these laws? Again, the Library of Congress noted, “The current Code has 51 titles in multiple volumes. It would be very time consuming to go page by page to count each federal law, and it also does not include case law or regulatory provisions.”

And it was not for lack of trying. Back in 1982, the Justice Department set out to determine the total number of criminal laws. Get this, just federal laws and just federal criminal laws were to be researched. Headed by Ronald Gainer, a Justice Department official, after the most exhaustive attempt to count the number of federal criminal laws in our history, commented to the Wall Street Journal, “you will have died and been resurrected three times and still would not have an answer to this question.”

That was forty years ago, and the number of laws has literally multiplied since that time. This explains why every government body meeting almost always has a solicitor sitting with them. I could not count the times during the Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting that the solicitor must stop the commissioners in their tracks because the legal process would require this to happen before that can be done unless this other condition is met, and so on and so on.

This also explains why the Community Arts Center faced eviction from the Trade and Transit Centre Building on Third Street, why exchanging a parking lot between the city of Williamsport and Lycoming County has been tied up for months, and why the routine matter of selling off unused land at the White Deer Golf Course has turned into a quagmire. It all goes back to laws that were so deep in the bureaucratic bog that no one was aware of them until the process was almost completed.

And if this were not enough of a burden, we have seen in the past two years state officials making edicts that have the power and enforcement of law without going through a legislative process. It took two constitutional amendments by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to curtail Governor Wolf’s unlimited power to control virtually all aspects of the state’s economy, education, and freedoms.

Unfortunately, as the old 60s song title that headlined this article reminds us, there is nothing that can change because we are a nation of laws. Every attempt to streamline or review antiquated or even contradictory laws is like pushing a giant boulder up a large hill. My suggestion would be to pass a law named the Addition by Subtraction Act — there cannot be a new law unless two archaic laws are removed. Even then, it would take decades before we would see some sanity, but failure to address this issue will eventually crush our freedoms so far down, we won’t even remember what it was like to have them.

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