Imagine a household that never takes out their trash. They shop carefully, only buying things they reasonably expect to make good use of. So, they think that since they only bring good things into the house, they should never need to take anything out of it. The problems are immediately obvious. Some items outlive their usefulness.

Food packaging is a wonderful thing to have in your house – assuming there’s food in it. But what happens to that “empty” can of chili when it sits in the trash for a week? The remnants of a tasty meal begin to smell. After two weeks it would become unbearable. The can was good when it entered the house, but it outlived its usefulness.

Or what about that trampoline that seemed like such a good idea? The kids loved it for a week, until one broke his arm. Now they’re all scared of it. Do you leave it to kill the grass until the next big storm deposits it in an unsuspecting neighbor’s yard? Or do you sell it online to recoup some of the copay for the kid’s cast?

The Oklahoma Legislature has passed many good bills in recent years. Earlier this year they passed laws to prevent Oklahoma schools from indoctrinating our children with neo-Marxist theories on race and gender. A plan to gradually phase out the statewide income tax was put into place. The governor was given more control over several agencies, putting responsibility on one official who is accountable to voters.

Other laws were well intended, but entrusted to faithless agents, rendering them worse than useless. The law intended to prevent public schools from implementing mask mandates was thwarted by a series of school superintendents looking for a loophole, and by the failure of the executive branch to push back. The Incentive Evaluation Commission and Licensing Review Commission were intended to take a critical look at corporate welfare and occupational licensing, respectively. Instead of a thorough investigation of the harms (many) and benefits (few, if any) of these various programs, each commission has become a rubber stamp committee, recommending changes only to unused economic incentives, and not offering any critique of licensing schemes despite the wealth of state and national outlets condemning the practice as one which enriches entrenched interests at the expense of consumers and outsiders. 

The point isn’t that we shouldn’t pass good new laws (we should). It’s also not that we need the legislature to do a better job making sure agencies can’t screw up statutes through bad rules or incompetent rulemaking procedures (though that’s true too). The point is that all the good laws in the world don’t matter if we don’t also start to repeal some of the bad ones.

We seem to think we’re stuck with every law that ever got through the bill making process. Perhaps that pitiful old bill in the school house rock cartoon tugs at lawmakers’ heartstrings. How sad for it to have worked so hard, achieved “law” status, only to be repealed by a subsequent legislature who didn’t appreciate it. But how much sadder for real Oklahomans to live under the tyranny of the past, simply because their legislators treat as sacrosanct every law ever passed?

This is far worse than the family sentimental about garbage. At least they were only wallowing in their own filth. The failure of Oklahoma’s legislature to correct past mistakes, and to eliminate good laws that have outlived their usefulness, is more like moving into a hoarder’s house, and adding your own filth without removing the previous owner’s.

Perhaps the legislature should dedicate one half of each session to repealing old laws. If even years were dedicated to budgeting and passing new laws, and odd years were reserved for taking out the trash, perhaps legislators would remember that their job isn’t to pass bills, it’s to govern. A constitutional amendment would signal to legislators that voters value taking out the trash as much as they do bringing in new groceries. But a repeal session isn’t strictly necessary. Repealing bad laws is.

Mike Davis is Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.