Proposals for an open source legislative process

Interesting proposal by Dave Pollard at the Save the World blog:

Today there is no reason why the legislative (law-making) process cannot be completely transparent and draw on the collective wisdom of many citizens. In order for that to happen, I would propose a radical change to the way in which that legislative process occurs:

1. Each jurisdiction would have a wiki where any citizen or group of citizens can post, contribute to and comment on proposed new legislation. Such draft legislation would begin, as is the tradition, with the ‘whereas’ clauses that lay out the policy and rationale for the proposed legislation. The drafts would include both the legislation and the regulatory enforcement mechanisms that would assure that, if it were passed into law, it would be properly enforced. The drafts would have to meet standards of simplicity (as short as possible), clarity (understandable language, not legalese) and consistency (each bill for one purpose, with no pork or other irrelevant riders attached).

2. Political parties and independent candidates would be required to commit in writing, prior to any election, precisely which draft legislation they would propose to pass into law if they were elected. Once in office, they would be bound to vote on all draft legislation in accordance with these commitments: There would be no need for votes. The purpose of elected officials would be simply to carry out their mandate, to ensure the legislation that they committed to approving is passed and that the resources and budget necessary to ensure enforcement of such legislation are put in place.

3. Individual elected officials would be able to break ranks with their party on a specific piece of legislation if and only if they had committed in writing prior to the election to do so.

4. If an emergency situation required the passage of additional legislation that had not been committed to in advance of the last election, a new election would have to be held within 60 days of its passage to ratify and/or amend the legislation. During this time, the wiki would be used to discuss and amend the legislation. The first order of business after this emergency election would be to ratify or amend the emergency legislation in accordance with the commitments of those elected, failing which the emergency legislation would expire.

5. Failure to provide adequate resources for enforcement of the law (as determined by government auditors) would constitute a breach of duty and be an indictable offence.

Such a process would have a number of benefits:

* It would drastically reduce the power and authority of elected officials, and therefore the value of lobbying and other anti-democratic activities. Pork-barrelling would be impossible, as would subsidies to big corporate oligopolies.

* It would drastically reduce the cost of legislature, the salaries and sizes of staff needed to draw up legislation and to respond to lobbyists. Through citizen participation this would become a zero-cost, more inclusive process. The cost savings could be used to ensure proper enforcement of laws, which are now routinely and conveniently ignored by governments that don’t like them.

* It would engage citizens, think tanks, unelectable minority parties, scientists and others in the legislative process, and lead to a great deal more reasoned, evidence-based legislation, instead of legislation designed to respond to knee-jerk reactions of citizens, to get re-elected, and to pay off political campaign contributors.

* It would educate citizens in the political process and reduce the propensity of citizens to abrogate their responsibility to be informed and involved in the process.

* It would direct the majority of political energies towards the drafting of legislation instead of towards the influencing and election of candidates to do so without proper oversight.

* It would democratize the legislative process without the use of oversimplified, emotionally-charged and ill-conceived referendums.

* It might well eliminate the need for presidents, cabinets and prime ministers, and reduce the need for the judiciary to have to interpret (and the propensity of ideologically-driven judges to distort and misinterpret) ambiguous, poorly-formed, politically-motivated laws.

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