Those who want limited government are stuck with an unfortunate fact: Legislative power rarely goes unused.
The battle over school autonomy provides a good case study.
While parents, students and school administrators may struggle over the specifics of school calendars, most agree that the decision is best left to local school boards. This is the governmental level closest to the people. School board members are answerable to voters within their district, and they are in the best position to know the needs of their community.
The desire for deference to local government was a major driver of the 2010 elections. The people routinely voted for state lawmakers who advocated for limited state government. It was refreshing to hear candidates espouse the view that the mere fact they would have the power to make laws did not always mean they would do so.
State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, is one of those who owes his election, in part, to his expressed view that government should be limited.
It should come as a surprise, therefore, that Henry is supporting a bill in which the state Legislature would substitute its judgment for that of every school board in the state.
House Bill 360 would prevent school from starting earlier than two weeks before Labor Day — Aug. 22 in the coming school year — and requires the school year to end before Memorial Day.
This is not necessarily a bad idea. Many students and parents would prefer a longer summer vacation. Local school boards have the ability to create calendars with summer vacations of the length the bill requires, and some do so. Others, after consulting with their constituents, choose different options.
As candidate Henry would have understood, though, the issue is not whether the calendar proposed by HB 360 is a good idea. The question is whether it makes sense for Montgomery lawmakers to take authority from elected local officials.
Henry, like many of his colleagues, was all about limited government as a candidate. Also like many of his colleagues, however, he cannot resist the urge to use his newfound legislative power to trump local authority.
The mere fact that legislators have the power to impose their judgment on everyone in the state does not mean they should do so.