Reading Time: 4 minutes
You have another chance to improve government and fight petty tyranny by supporting Senator Eric Schmitt’s latest bill to hold local government accountable.
Last year, Senator Schmitt became the champion of responsible local government with SB-5, a bill designed to end “taxation by citation” in local governments.
This year, Senator Schmitt is back to close a loophole that some cities are exploiting to suck more money out of residents who can least afford it. SB-572 applies caps to revenue raised through tyrannical enforcement of local ordinances and building codes, some of which written explicitly to generate revenue outside the state-permitted tax laws.
Before I post my written statement to the Senate Committee, here are some of the things you can do to promote this bill
- Write your State Senator and Representative asking them to support SB-572. (Click here to look up your legislators)
- Promote the bill to your friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media
- Submit a witness form supporting SB-572 before the hearing on Wednesday, January 13. (Click here for witness form)
Here is my testimony:
WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF WILLIAM T. HENNESSY, A RESIDENT OF EUREKA, MISSOUIR, IN SUPPORT OF SB-572 TO THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON JOBS, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT GIVEN JANUARY 9, 2016
To the Committee:
I strongly support SB-572, and I urge the Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government committee, the Missouri Senate, and the Missouri House of Representatives to pass the bill. I urge Governor Nixon to sign it.
Governments exist to promote the safety, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of those they govern, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Everyone understands these simple truths, but we sometimes ignore them when thinking about local government. But history shows that tyranny can happen at any level of government. Let’s call this “petty tyranny.” Here are a few examples:
* In Hazelwood, Missouri, two schoolgirls were cited for selling Girl Scout cookies illegally from a stand they had constructed outside their home. These aspiring Bonnie Parkers were in violation of a city ordinance that bans the sale of commodities from people’s homes.
* In Burnsville, Minnesota, a man named Mitch Faber was charged with a building code violation and placed under arrest for failing to finish a siding project on his house, a project that had been stalled by financial troubles. After receiving an ultimatum from the city, Faber spent $12,000 on a stucco façade to cover up the partial work that had been done, only to be told by a city inspector that this was not good enough. This visit was followed up by another from the police, and Faber was taken into custody and charged with the heinous crime of remodeling his home in an unacceptable manner.
* In San Juan Capistrano, California, a town that was founded in the 1700s as a religious mission, Chuck and Stephanie Fromm were fined several hundred dollars for holding private Bible study meetings in their homes without a “conditional-use” permit. The statute that was applied prohibits religious organizations from holding services in residential neighborhoods.
* Washington, D.C. resident Patricia White has so far racked up fines totaling over $2,000 for not recycling her cat litter, which she makes at home from newspapers and junk mail. District of Columbia laws require that cat litter always be put in a recycling bin, even though Ms. White’s homemade variety is not really suitable for salvage. Employees of the Department of Public Works have discovered her violations of the rule while picking through the trash in the waste bins outside her apartment building, which is apparently something they are instructed to do at random locations throughout the city as a part of their regular duties.
* In New Orleans, volunteers from the Hope Church in Metairie, Louisiana, were stopped from handing out free water bottles with the church’s name and address imprinted on them during the most recent Mardi Gras celebration. The reason? It was because they did not have an occupational license and had not registered to pay sales tax. An agreement was subsequently negotiated that allowed the church to distribute free hand sanitizer outside of temporary porta-potties instead.
* Three young girls in Midway, Georgia, were busted by the police for selling lemonade from a homemade stand without first acquiring a business permit. In justifying the crackdown on the nefarious activities of these aspiring arch-criminals, the chief of police stated that “we were not aware of how the lemonade was made, who made the lemonade, and of what the lemonade was made.” Jack Webb as Joe Friday couldn’t have explained it more concisely.
The list of examples of petty tyranny could go on for hours.
I understand the need for ordinances that promote safety, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But I also recognize that city governments are often seduced by the easy money from fines–taxation by citation, as Senator Eric Schmitt calls it. In our work in Ferguson and St. Louis County in 2014 and 2015, my friends and I discovered disturbing patterns of petty tyranny that drove a wedge between residents and the justice system. By treating citizens like ATMs for government, some cities in the area have built walls between government and people. People come to distrust all authority and determine to take back whatever they can. Petty tyranny kicks off an endless cycle of fines, resistance, and anger.
SB 5 was a major first step on the road to better government and freer people in Missouri. SB 572 is the logical and necessary next step on that journey.
I urge this committee to recommend SB 572 to the full Senate.
William T. Hennessy
Thanks to Senator Schmitt for continuing his work for good government and against petty tyranny.