Monday, May 29, 2006

Single Purpose Legislation

A rider is a piece of legislation attached as an amendment to another unrelated bill. Usually the rider is something of specific interest to only a limited number of the members of the legislature, and the bill it is attached to is usually something of significant importance that is likely to be approved without much comment or controversy. An example of this is the REAL ID act passed about a year ago by the US Congress as a rider to a military appropriations bill. Riders can be used to as a means of pork barreling, if it the rider can be attached without too much notice.

A rider can also be used to sabotage important legislation. By attaching a rider with provisions that may be abhorrent to others, so that people will vote against the bill to prevent the rider getting through, even though the original bill may have many positive outcomes.

Riders are a problem for legislatures, as they increase the complexity of debate as well as splitting the focus of the legislature. They are bad for the people since representatives trying to get bills through without appropriate consideration are not serving the people they were elected by as well as neglecting the people as a whole.

There is a simple way to minimise the impact of riders. Every bill should have a single purpose that is clearly stated at the beginning of the bill, and all provisions of the bill must act towards that purpose. This still allows amendments that are aimed at improving the bill, but prevents the addition of riders that are unrelated to the bill. This also means that a rider would need it's own bill with its own clearly stated purpose and will get the appropriate debate.

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