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house Bill H.R. 498

Should Unused Sections of the U.S. Code Be Eliminated?

Argument in favor

The U.S. Code is unnecessarily complicated and criminalizes actions that shouldn’t be criminal, such as transporting water hyacinths across state lines. It’d be better for criminal law enforcement to simplify the Code to criminalize only what should be illegal.

Chickie's Opinion
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01/22/2019
Since many loopholes are being used for dishonest purposes; since other sections are now obsolete, yes, they should be reviewed and removed. Since it may be deemed a waste of time for group of Congress to work on this ‘clean-up’, perhaps assign a staff member from the representative’s office to work on the clean-up. The representatives would need to decide in the number of members required. Each representative would be responsible for their assigned person and would be responsible to sign off on the finished project before sending for a vote. The group must be a split of Democrat, Republican, including Independent voices. These arcane sections would be allocated where the parts removed could be easily accessed for review.
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01/21/2019
If only we could clean up the Tax Code as easily! Sigh!🙄
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01/23/2019
Why stop with the unused sections? I'm sure there are plenty of used sections that deserve elimination, too. In fact, let's scrap the whole thing and start over.
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Argument opposed

While there are some extraneous laws in the U.S. Code, they aren’t generally enforced, so there’s no need to waste Congress’ time on eliminating these unused sections of the Code. Additionally, if the Code were to be cleaned up, it’d be better to do so comprehensively, rather than using the piecemeal approach in this bill.

burrkitty's Opinion
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01/21/2019
I don’t want ANY POLITICIAN to conveniently edit the law to suit themselves. Who is choosing what gets deleted and what stays? Water Hyacinths can go but the Jim Crow laws don’t? Get a nonpartisan group to do this and make the recommendations. Not a politician.
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Linda's Opinion
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01/21/2019
This is a waste of Congress’ time. Codes not used are doing no harm. Get to work on more important issues.
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Jeffrey's Opinion
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01/21/2019
Any US codes that are on the books should be left as they are. Let someone get in there to “clean” it up and I guarantee crucial codes would be erased to benefit a group or groups of people
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedJanuary 11th, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 498?

This bill, the Clean Up the Code Act of 2019, would eliminate unused sections of the U.S. Code that are described below.

The specific sections it’d eliminate would be:

  • Section 46, relating to transportation of water hyacinths;

  • Section 511 A, relating to unauthorized application of theft prevention decal or device;

  • Section 707, relating to fraudulent use of the 4-H club emblem;

  • Section 706, relating to the Swiss Confederation coat of arms;

  • Section 711, relating to the “Smokey Bear” character or name;

  • Section 711a, relating to the ‘Woodsy Owl” character, name, or slogan;

  • Section 715, relating to “The Golden Eagle Insignia”;

  • Chapter 89, Professions and occupations; and

  • Section 1921, relating to receiving federal employees’ compensation after marriage.

This bill would also make clerical amendments to the U.S. Code, striking unnecessary sections.

Impact

Criminal laws; and the U.S. Code.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 498

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to get rid of laws that arguably never should’ve been enacted in the first place:

“While we need to make sure that there are appropriate punishments for illegal activity, people should not be criminally prosecuted for honest mistakes or benign behavior. Over the last few decades, there has been a significant expansion of the federal criminal code, and that has led to the criminalization of some activities that simply should not be crimes, such as unauthorized use of an emblem or slogan or the transportation of dentures. Our legislation will help to simplify and streamline the federal criminal code by eliminating several unnecessary and trivial criminal penalties.”

House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte added that the federal criminal code is currently bloated due to outdated crimes:

“There is a reason that the Federal criminal code contains nearly 5,000 criminal statutes today. It is because, over the years, when Congress has been faced with a problem, it has all too often enacted a Federal statute creating a new crime. These ‘crimes du jour’ may be outdated, ill-drafted, or, frankly, ridiculous. However, they still exist in the criminal code.”

The Heritage Foundation supports this bill, which Jonathan Zalewski argues is needed to combat overcriminalization and ensure that laws are properly enforced:

“Have you ever asked yourself how many federal criminal laws there are on the books in this country? Perhaps not, as that might be a question only criminal law scholars and lawyers ask themselves. But it is an interesting inquiry, because nobody knows the answer. That’s right. No one—not even the federal government—is certain of exactly how many federal criminal laws are currently on the books, but some rough estimates have concluded that there are more than 5,000 criminal laws scattered through the U.S. Code. That’s a problem. First, it’s a problem because, as two of my Heritage Foundation colleagues have noted, ‘An elementary rule of constitutional law is that government must afford the public fair notice of the conduct defined as criminal so that the average person, without resort to legal advice, can comply with the law.’ How can the federal government possibly give the average person fair notice of the law if the government itself doesn’t know what laws exist? Second, as a societal issue, the vast—yet unknown—number of federal criminal laws in our country is a problem because of the phenomenon of overcriminalization. Overcriminalization is ‘the overuse and abuse of criminal law to address every social problem and punish every mistake.’ Heritage scholars, for many years, have explained how and why overcriminalization is antithetical to the rule of law and a free society…. Yes, a more comprehensive review and repeal of unnecessary laws in the federal criminal code is the ideal solution, but even a piecemeal approach like the Clean Up the Code Act of 2018 is an effective starting point.”

In 1998, an American Bar Association (ABA) task force reported that the body of federal criminal laws as “so large… that there is no conveniently accessible, complete list of federal crimes.” At that time, the ABA task force estimated that there were over 3,000 federal criminal offenses in the U.S. Code. Today, there are around 4,500 federal criminal statutes in the U.S. Code — an increase of approximately 1,500 over a 20-year period.

In the current Congress, this bill has one cosponsor, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). Last Congress, it passed the House by a 386-5 vote with the support of two bipartisan cosponsors, one Republican and one Democrat.


Of NoteThe U.S. Code is a consolidation and codification by subject matter of U.S. general and permanent laws. It’s updated on an ongoing basis, and the print version of the Code is updated once a year. In 2015, the U.S. had approximately 300,000 federal regulations and about 4,500 federal criminal statutes on the books carrying fines or prison terms for offenders.

In the 113th Congress, House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) put together a bipartisan overcriminalization task force led by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and ranking member Bobby Scott (D-VA) to examine federal criminal laws and make recommendations for reform. The task force held ten hearings.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Llgorko)

AKA

Clean Up the Code Act of 2019

Official Title

To eliminate unused sections of the United States Code, and for other purposes.

    Since many loopholes are being used for dishonest purposes; since other sections are now obsolete, yes, they should be reviewed and removed. Since it may be deemed a waste of time for group of Congress to work on this ‘clean-up’, perhaps assign a staff member from the representative’s office to work on the clean-up. The representatives would need to decide in the number of members required. Each representative would be responsible for their assigned person and would be responsible to sign off on the finished project before sending for a vote. The group must be a split of Democrat, Republican, including Independent voices. These arcane sections would be allocated where the parts removed could be easily accessed for review.
    Like (11)
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    I don’t want ANY POLITICIAN to conveniently edit the law to suit themselves. Who is choosing what gets deleted and what stays? Water Hyacinths can go but the Jim Crow laws don’t? Get a nonpartisan group to do this and make the recommendations. Not a politician.
    Like (19)
    Follow
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    If only we could clean up the Tax Code as easily! Sigh!🙄
    Like (9)
    Follow
    Share
    This is a waste of Congress’ time. Codes not used are doing no harm. Get to work on more important issues.
    Like (8)
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    Why stop with the unused sections? I'm sure there are plenty of used sections that deserve elimination, too. In fact, let's scrap the whole thing and start over.
    Like (5)
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    Oy vey. This is like cleaning out an old storage unit instead of cleaning ones house. It’s all very interesting, the stuff you’ll find, but your house is a damn mess. Focus!
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    Any US codes that are on the books should be left as they are. Let someone get in there to “clean” it up and I guarantee crucial codes would be erased to benefit a group or groups of people
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    Just as any individual reviews their own documents each year to justify keeping or outdated information, we should have a clear and updated criminal laws stated.
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    UNLESS THEY DECRIMINALIZE LEAVING FOOD & WATER IN THE DESERT FOR WHOM EVER MAY FIND IT THEN REMOVING UNUSED LAWS AS STATED IS SUCH A WASTE OF TIME - ESPECIALLY WHEN OUR GOVERNMENT IS STILL SHUT DOWN AND THE GOP ARE PLAYING GAMES ABOUT IT!!
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    Good idea, but the entire code should be rewritten at local, state and federal levels. All discrimination should be removed. All loopholes should be removed. All language that benefits special interests should be removed. All code, legislation, policy should pass ethics review and should be For the People, Of The People and By The People.
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    No not by this administration. Too much corruption and not enough concern given to the people these policies impact.
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    We have a lot of other problems with the government not being fully open. Might want to start there, you think?
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    Not without research, transparency & consultations. We are not going to blindly throw everything into the trash. The gop who introduced this bill, is in a party that has shown zero integrity & credibility. Remind me of the first bill on the first day was for again....see below. “Monday night, House Republicans voted 119-74 during a closed-door meeting in favor of Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte's proposal, which would place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of those very lawmakers. The full House was set to vote on the plan Tuesday, part of a larger package of House rules changes.” By Deirdre Walsh, Manu Raju and Stephen Collinson, CNN Updated 6:38 PM EST, Tue January 03, 2017
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    This is a good idea in principle. And the particular laws mentioned in this act seem reasonable for pruning. But this is a very low priority right now. Can't you guys focus on the real problems?
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    I worry about deleting codes without oversight.
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    What? Eliminate laws? Need to know details. Is this being done for nefarious purposes?
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    JUST MORE WAS TO TAKE UP TIME AND NOT TAKE CARE OF THE REAL PROBLEMS-----SHUTDOWN ---CORRUPTION IN GOVERNMENT -----TREASONOUS TRUMP
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    We have more important things to worry about right now then the rights to Smokey Bears logo...
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    There's so much else currently needing to be done that this is something for a rainy day. Fix immigration, infrastructure, climate change, unscrupulous lenders, WIC.
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    Other purposes? 🤔
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