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Nielson: Thinking long and hard about decisions
by Rep. Jim Nielson
Mar 02, 2011 | 7069 views | 0 0 comments | 90 90 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rep. Jim Neilson District 19
Rep. Jim Neilson District 19
I never push the yes or no button without thinking long and hard about what I hear from constituents and about the principles I stand for. These things inform my choices, but it’s still never easy. Our decisions as lawmakers often balance one important principle against another.

Take the committee discussion we had on H.J.R. 1, Joint Resolution Amending State and Local Taxing Authority. The bill requires a two-thirds majority for a tax increase. On the one hand, allowing a minority to block the will of the majority is a concern. On the other hand, raising taxes is not something we should take lightly. It was a close call for most of us. I voted yes, but the measure failed on a tie vote.

In a recent committee hearing on H.B. 89, Protection of Children Riding in Motor Vehicles, the contrasts between competing principles were stark. This bill would outlaw smoking in a vehicle with a child. I voted with the majority to defeat it by a vote of nine to five. I was quoted in the paper and on the radio. I’ve taken a bit of heat for this difficult decision; I owe all of you an explanation.

This bill outlaws a practice that puts a child’s health at risk. How can you argue with that? The bill sponsor handed out an editorial with the following highlighted: “For those who feel it is a matter of parental discretion and rights and not that of the state, we would have to declare secondhand smoke harmless. It is not.”

This message supporting the bill, although eloquent, contains the germ of a potent argument against the measure. Reading these words, I thought to myself, “What if we took this to its logical conclusion and stated that review of any action by a parent, unless declared harmless, is the province of government?”

Based on this test, I wondered if feeding a child junk food (arguably not harmless) would be the business of government. Then I thought of a child riding in a convertible without sun block. That might cause cancer, just like secondhand smoke. Both happen in a car. Are we ready to have government fine us for sunscreen dereliction? Would eating Twinkies in a car be next? And when would surveillance by the state move from our private property on wheels to our homes?

Am I over-reacting? Consider seat belt laws. In 1984 New York passed the first mandatory seat belt law. Since then, 48 states have followed suit. At the outset we all heard that a seat belt violation was only intended as a secondary offense. Now that decades have passed, some complain that we have laws on the books we can’t enforce. As a result, more than 20 states have now made seat belt violations primary offenses.

As this example demonstrates, government’s influence over our lives tends to increase in subtle ways. In the process, we lose liberty.

In committee we heard that H.B. 89 won’t lead to further expansion of government. But it surely will. During the hearing, proponents justified the proposed law based on the relatively recent ban on smoking in private clubs. If that law created a precedent for this one, H.B. 89 would doubtless be used to justify future bills expanding government power yet again.

So this is the dilemma. On one hand we want to protect children. That’s pretty convincing. On the other hand, however, we must acknowledge that government’s influence over our lives will, if left unchecked, continue to grow as our freedom shrinks. For me that reality carried the day.

I hope these words help explain my approach to representing the great citizens of Bountiful and Woods Cross responsibly. Choosing how to vote is almost never clear cut. I listen and strive to understand. I vote on principle to the best of my ability.

And then I do what I can to explain myself.

Jim Nielson is an architect and small-business owner. He represents most of Bountiful and a small portion of Woods Cross.

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