Words mean things

Writing laws is really, really hard.

Open_DictionaryIt’s hard because words mean things and laws that contain vague or ambiguous words or phrases often cause as many problems as they seek to solve. That’s why it often takes so long to get what seems like a simple law through the General Assembly. The fear of unintended consequences from a bill that sounds so simple is a real fear. That’s why bills are usually drafted by people experienced in writing legislation. It is why legislative committees hold hearings to take public testimony and why committee members are expected to read and understand the bills before them. It is why the bills are debated in their originating chamber (presumably read again by members of that chamber), amended and changed in a process that is known as “perfection” for a reason. It is why the bill approved in one chamber has to be approved by the other chamber of the legislature. But that approval comes only after that chamber’s committee reviews the bill and takes more public testimony before sending the measure to the floor for debate where it once again goes through the perfection process. Unless the bill is a proposal that goes to a statewide ballot, it goes to the Governor for his approval and he and his staff go over it another time to make sure it means what its sponsors said it means. Only then does it become a law. And even then it is open to a court challenge by people whose interpretations differ in one way or another from the opinions of the two chambers of the legislature and of the Governor and his staff.

The process is intended to make sure that words mean something. Not something else. Something.

Yesterday we came across a memory card from one of our recorders that had recorded part of the debate in the Missouri Senate in 2009. We don’t recall the bill that generated this discussion about two words. But we thought we’d pass along for your education and enjoyment a legislative discussion of two words, “irregardless” and “incentivize.”

As a matter of full disclosure, this reporter disagrees with Senator Jason Crowell as he justifies the first one.


And the word that Senator Matt Bartle tries to justify is a fingernails-on-the-blackboard thing that is the creation of a bureaucrat somewhere who should die under the accumulated weight of many volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary (the full multi-volume version, not the one-volume version that comes complete with a reading glass).


Riding to the rescue is Senator Gary Nodler of Joplin who despite having been on the staff of a Congressman in his younger years and despite wanting to return to the Nation’s Capitol of Bureauspeak as a Congressman himself seems to have a handle on these things.


Perhaps we can incentivize Senator Bartle not to speak Bureaucratese, irregardless of any advice Senator Crowell might give him.

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