Wasting Time in Springfield

In the face of $9 billion in unpaid bills, the Illinois legislature has found time in 2012 for an amazing amount of peripheral legislation to take effect in 2013.

For instance, after Jan. 1, 2013, it will be illegal in Illinois to possess, sell, trade, or distribute a shark fin. 

According to the Jacksonville, Illinois Journal-Courier, it’s to keep people from killing sharks to make soup:

About 73 million sharks are killed each year, a large portion of them simply so their fins can be used to make shark fin soup, a Chinese dish often in demand at the most luxurious of events.

If the estimate given for the number of sharks killed seems high, it’s because it’s a wild overestimate. According to UN statistics, the world shark catch comes to about 750,000 metric tons per year.  The 73 million number appears to come from a 2006 study (pdf) of the number of shark fins sold in Hong Kong fish markets, which was then generalized to the world total shark catch. The study also assumed, it appears, that sharks killed for their fins are never used for their skin, cartilage, or as food.

In fact, while the number of sharks in the world is not even known, the number killed or caught is probably closer to 30 million. The most widely cited study (pdf) on the topic states further that 

…controls on finning are a blunt instrument that have no capacity to provide differential protection to those shark species most at risk from overfishing.

If direct controls on finning don’t have much impact, then outlawing their sale in Illinois is an especially vain effort. 

As if the shark fin law isn’t absurd enough, there are 150 more such laws that take effect in Illinois January 1, 2013. For instance:

  •  HB 4531 changed the name of the Illinois Disabled Person Identification Card to the Illinois Person with a Disability Identification Card. The same bill quietly removed the religious objector’s exemption for having a photo ID.
  • HB 3950 Allows condominium associations to include high-speed Internet as a type of easement, instead of just TV cable. That is, the condominium version of homeowner associations in Illinois can now vote to allow other cable to be buried as a feature of the condominium development. The level of micromanagement never ceases to amaze. 
  • Starting January 1, stalkers may receive a shortened form for notification of an alleged violation. If the stalker is in prison, the sheriff has 48 hours to deliver the notification.  Can I repeat that? Illinois regulates how quickly its stalkers who are in prison are notified about orders of protection against them.
  • In Illinois, purchasers of 5 or more plastic shipping pallets will have to gather, from the seller, the name, address, and telephone number of the seller, a description and count of the containers, and the date of the transaction. The buyer must verify the identity of the individual selling the containers from a driver’s license or other government-issued identification card that includes the individual’s photograph, and record the verification. The buyer must keep these records for a year after the date of purchase.  The purpose? To deter theft of plastic shipping pallets.

When Illinois state government overreaches and micromanages the affairs of the people, the will of those people to succeed falls away. That’s a big danger of government growth and excess spending: with too much spending comes a need to justify the jobs of policy makers, even with unnecessary and counterproductive legislation.

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