I greatly respect Colonel West and wish he were running for higher office. Were he to seek the Presidency, I would vote for him with enthusiasm. However, on this matter I think he has stepped into a trap.
According to this article at his blog, Rep. West favors new federal legislation requiring states to impose uniform driver licensing requirements for teenagers in exchange for additional federal funding as well as to retain certain existing federal funding. The stated goals of the legislation, The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act, appear on their face to be commendable. When considering apparently good intentions, however, the detriments likely to accompany them must also be considered, fully and in light of history. As noted in the last indented paragraph immediately below, the Secretary of Transportation would have authority to adopt “any other requirement” he might chose.
Here are the goals proposed to be accomplished.
The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act (STANDUP Act) would establish minimum requirements for state GDL laws:
A 3-stage licensing process (learner’s permit and intermediate stage before unrestricted driver’s license);
A prohibition on nighttime driving during the learner’s permit and intermediate stages;
A passenger restriction during the learner’s permit and intermediate stage (no more than 1 non-familial passenger under the age of 21 unless a licensed driver over 21 years of age is in the vehicle);
A prohibition on non-emergency use of cell phones and other communication devices, including text messaging, during the learner’s permit and intermediate stages;
Age 16 for issuance of learner’s permit and age 18 for lifting of all restrictions on newly-licensed teen drivers;
Any other requirement adopted by the Secretary of Transportation, including learner’s permit holding period at least 6 months; intermediate stage at least 6 months; at least 30 hours behind-the-wheel, supervised driving by licensed driver 21 years of age or older; automatic delay of full licensure if permit holder commits an offense, such as DWI, misrepresentation of true age, reckless driving, unbelted driving, speeding, or other violations as determined by the Secretary. (Emphasis added)
The words “Any other requirement adopted by the Secretary of Transportation, including . . . ” do not limit his authority to adopt other requirements not on the included list.
The stated means of accomplishing those goals are pernicious because the legislation would further increase federal involvement in matters properly of state rather than federal jurisdiction and concern. Here are the proposed federal enforcement mechanisms:
The purpose of the STANDUP Act is to provide safety grants to states with qualifying GDL laws and urge all states to adopt GDL laws that meet specific minimum requirements within 3 years.
For 3 years following enactment of the STANDUP Act, states complying with the defined minimum requirements will receive grants based on the same ratio used to apportion funds under the Section 402 highway safety program. The annual authorization level is $25 million.
For States that do not comply with the minimum requirements section within three years of enactment, the Secretary shall withhold a percentage of certain federal highway construction program funds otherwise required to be apportioned to that State. The withholding percentage increases each year for the first three years (3%, 5%, 10%) after the incentive grant program ends. Funds withheld for noncompliance in the first two fiscal years of withholding will be returned to States that later come into compliance within three years following the year for which funds were withheld. Withheld funds that are not recovered by a State within the three-year period, and any other funds withheld for other fiscal years, will be returned to the U.S. Treasury. (Emphasis added)
Federal funding is and long has been a powerful inducement for the states to do or to refrain from doing things. Often it is so appealing that it cannot be resisted. Worse, it is an addictive inducement because once states become accustomed to receiving federal funds they tend to become dependent upon and reluctant to forgo them — even when the rules that need to be followed to continue to receive such funding cease to be compatible with their needs. The process often occurs slowly but inexorably and as it happens the sovereignty of the states is diminished. The ability of the Secretary of the Treasury to promulgate new requirements — quite common in such legislation — exacerbates this problem. We have seen that progression in many fields. Education is one of them, health care is another.
If all or some of the individual states wish to implement goals similar to those of The Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection Act they are of course free to do so and should. That does not mean that federal largess is needed or even appropriate because the states are also free to make the necessary expenditures and to reap the consequent benefits; if that’s what a state desires, it should do it.
The Federal Government is already too invasive, too powerful and too costly. That has happened in part because the authority of regulatory agencies has for many years “growed like Topsy” on steroids. The impact of this regulatory progression is highlighted by the authority often granted to bureaucrats to impose new requirements and the inability of the states to reject them without forfeiting federal funds on which they have become increasingly dependent. Texas recently provided a case in point:
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday directed state officials to begin looking for money to keep the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, even if the Obama administration revokes federal funding amid a fight over clinics affiliated with abortion providers.
“We’ll find the money. The state is committed to this program,” Perry told reporters, shortly before he issued a letter directing Thomas Suehs, head of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, to work with legislative leaders and identify money to keep the program going if federal funds are halted.
But pulling that off will be no mean feat: The program costs about $40 million and the federal government currently covers 90 percent of that.
Texas, like other states, “drank the King’s wine and ate the King’s bread.” She became accustomed to the federal food and wine. Now, it will take Herculean efforts to escape the once comfortable bondage. To create even one more situation where this can and probably will happen may well provide temporary joy, only to be followed by discomfort.
I hope that Colonel West will carefully read the legislation he supports and consider the consequences of its enactment. Most of the federal intrusions into state affairs have come from just this sort of willingness to provide good stuff “for the people” while brushing aside the unpleasant reality that the good stuff will come only at the cost of expanded federal power to dictate what the states — and of course the people — can do and cannot do; ultimately with little or no regard to the desires of those states and their citizens. If these things are not to be considered now, when will they be?