Opinion Columns & Blogs

Chapman Rackaway: Office of Repealer has opportunities

During his gubernatorial campaign, Sam Brownback proposed an Office of the Repealer. The Kansas repealer would scour the statute books for deadwood to cut out, and solicit ideas from the public to make government more responsive and agile.

Brownback made good on the promise and installed Dennis Taylor as the repealer, who immediately went about his work by inviting suggestions for extraneous laws. During the past month, Taylor traveled the state to 18 locations inviting suggestions at public forums.

Some have called the entire premise of a repealer silly and want an end to the position. But closer examination reveals some interesting opportunities that should not be so quickly dismissed.

Every state has antiquated laws on the books. Kansas is no exception, featuring laws that prohibit hunting rabbits from motorboats and catching fish with your bare hands, and require that pedestrians who cross highways at night wear taillights.

Cities aren't immune in our state, either. Spitting on the sidewalk is illegal in Dodge City. Leaving a car idling while running into a convenience store is against the ordinances of Salina. And in Topeka it is illegal to yell, whistle or sing on the public streets from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Maybe Taylor is onto something.

More serious is the red tape that accompanies laws. According to an Eagle article, a business owner at one of Taylor's tour stops informed him of the difficulties small-business owners have when dealing with state regulations. Describing a Byzantine system where alcohol providers at weddings must send forms and maps of the venue to the Kansas Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and seek multiple layers of approval, the provider argued that onerous regulations suppress business in Kansas.

Not everyone shares that enthusiasm for Taylor's mission. After a stop that drew 10 people, the Hutchinson News suggested that the first act by the repealer ought to be repealing his own job.

The editorial and the story of the Wichita business owner bring a federal dispute into Kansas.

Republicans particularly point to regulation as one of the causes of a weak economy, claiming it costs jobs and profits. They want to free businesses from reporting requirements and other forms of red tape.

But others point to the 2008 mortgage crisis as an example of inadequate regulation of businesses. The Occupy Wall Street movement provides a perfect example of the push to have more such oversight.

Where the Office of the Repealer can benefit the entire state, regardless of one's position on regulation, is as an ombudsman between the citizens and the government. At a time when most citizens distrust elected officials, an administration official with independent authority to link between the public and the everyday governmental staff could provide a vital communication bridge.

Taylor is a partisan appointed official, so either the structure of the office must change or he must establish himself as more than just another mouthpiece for Brownback — a sentiment that surely drives some of the negative thoughts about Taylor and his position.

The repealer is a good idea on its face. But like many government jobs, it is a means to an end. How well Taylor navigates between the administration and the public will tell whether the position is a long-term addition to the government or a passing fad.