Lawmakers create, on average, 60 crimes a year – for other people
A recent study by the Manhattan Institute caught our attention. Titled “Overcriminalizing the Palmetto State,” the study, authored by James Copland and Isaac Gorodetski, documents in painstaking detail the speed and efficiency with which South Carolina state lawmakers have added criminal offenses to the law code in recent years.
Messrs. Copland and Gorodetski point out, for example, that large numbers of criminal offenses are regulatory in nature, and didn’t require specific legislative authorization at all. In other words, the legislature has given authority to state agencies to promulgate their own regulations, and these agencies have decided on their own authority that certain actions are crimes. From the study (p.8): “South Carolina’s agriculture, environmental, fish and wildlife, occupational , and public-health codes are riddled with provisions not only criminalizing the violation of any legislative provision … but also violations of any rules promulgated, orders issued, or operational standards developed by various departments.”
Many of these regulatory “crimes,” furthermore, include no requirement of criminal intent. Others involve what are clearly minor, insignificant activities: for example, engaging in new kinds of business activities without the requisite license. (Not only, by the way, do licensure laws add needlessly to the criminal code; they punish low-income citizens and stifle competition.) In short, you may be violating the law at any time, for any reason – and have no clue you’re doing anything wrong.
And there are more crimes of all kinds being added to the books all the time. From 2009 to 2014, South Carolina added an average of more than 60 new criminal offenses to the law code every year – a substantially higher rate than in the other states studied, Michigan and North Carolina.
It’s an excellent report, and we commend it to our readers’ attention. We would remind them, too, that there is still only one felony in the entire Ethics Act – the part of the law code that applies specifically to the conduct of elected officials. Maybe in 2016 they can add a few felonies to that.