SYNDICATED COLUMN: Here’s the Constitutional Amendment We Need But Never Thought About

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Amendment XXVIII: No law governing a basic human need shall be passed in a jurisdiction whose government fails to provide citizens with the means to fulfill that need.

Start gathering petition signatures.

If you’ve ever had to work for someone else, you’ve probably been presented with a no-win situation of someone else’s making. “Be promptly at your desk at 9 am,” my boss ordered me. “We can’t have customers calling at the start of business with no answer.” Reasonable. But it was a two-man office — him and me — he had the only key and he was often late. When customers complained, he’d yell at me. “What would you have me do,” I’d ask, “break in?” Unreasonable.

A lot of bosses are stupid little tyrants. But government should know better than to pass a law its citizens can’t obey.

Like most cities, New York prohibits public urination. It’s no longer a criminal offense but public pee-ers still risk a ticket and a fine. The NYPD issues 20,000 to 30,000 such summons a year. Yet, as The New York Times noted in 2016, “New York City…is one of the most public-bathroom-resistant places in the world.”

People pee. People poo. A city that chooses not to provide people to pee and poo knows that some folks won’t find their way to Starbucks or other de facto public restrooms before it’s too late.

The city wants people to pee and poo in public.

Experts estimate that properly equipping Gotham’s streets with the thousands of toilets necessary to serve the city’s inhabitants and visitors would cost tens of millions of dollars. “I gave you a pot to piss in” isn’t the legacy most mayors want to be remembered for (though perhaps they should reconsider). Getting NYC to do the right thing by everyone with a bladder would require ratification of my proposed 28th Amendment.

If nothing else, those who answer nature’s call in the streets and avenues could do so without fear.

Some people charged with a crime have successfully used the “necessity defense” that the harm they committed was necessary in order to avoid a greater wrong or harm. If you’re trying to escape from someone trying to kill you, a judge should dismiss the charge that you trespassed on private property to get away.

Yet, even though it defies common sense, American law still permits government to pass laws that are impossible to follow. In June the California Supreme Court ruled on a law requiring gunmakers to microstamp bullets fired from semi-automatic weapons with unique identifying information.

The court’s ruling was complicated but it included this gem: “impossibility can occasionally excuse noncompliance with a statute, but in such circumstances, the excusal constitutes an interpretation of the statute in accordance with the Legislature’s intent, not an invalidation of the law.” In other words, an impossible-to-follow law can be passed and no court can invalidate it. Each individual who wants to be exempted on the basis of impossibility must hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit.

The Impossible Law Amendment (ILA) would ensure that any law deemed impossible for any citizen to follow would be overturned on constitutional grounds.

Impossible-to-follow laws are more common than you might think.

The Affordable Care Act requires people to purchase health insurance from private for-profit corporations or get slapped with a fine when they file their annual tax returns.

The cheapest healthcare plans in the Obamacare marketplaces run around $1600 to $1800 in many counties. One out of four Americans say they can’t afford healthcare. If the United States insists on spending tax dollars on blowing up brown people in Muslim countries rather than caring for its own sick people, that’s a political priority this nation is free to select. But it’s insane to charge people a fee for not buying something they can’t afford. Punishment is immoral if there was no intent or desire to disobey the law.

The ILA would effectively eliminate an entire class of government fines for things people are mandated to buy but must have in order to live: motor vehicle registration fees, smog inspection fees, parking.

On July 27 The New York Times reported that parents, usually mothers, are routinely arrested and have their children taken away from them by child-welfare authorities, because they can’t afford daycare and so are found guilty of such “abusive” behavior as leaving their kid in the car for a few minutes while running into a store.

Children have died of heatstroke in locked cars, so it reasonable for the police to be concerned when they come across a possible case of neglect. But society should not criminalize the behavior of people who have no other choice. Daycare runs about $200 per week per child. Individual average income runs about $500 a week before taxes, or $350 after taxes. Unless the average American goes without food or shelter — which child-welfare authorities will look down upon at least much as leaving a kid in a car — he or she can’t afford daycare. In many other (civilized) countries, of course, daycare is provided gratis by the government.

If and when the U.S. provides daycare for all, it may prosecute parents for refusing to use it.

A government that passes laws that anyone — much less a significant portion of the population — cannot obey, yet imposes fines and jail terms, deserves nothing but contempt. Ratify the ILA!

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

9 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Here’s the Constitutional Amendment We Need But Never Thought About

  1. Amendment XXVIII: No law governing a basic human need shall be passed in a jurisdiction whose government fails to provide citizens with the means to fulfill that need.

    I understand – and agree – where you’re going, Ted, but were the amendment to be couched in the broad terms you employ above, the determination of «basic human need» in your country would inexorably be left to the tender mercies of a US Supreme Court majority, which would no doubt follow the «dog-bladder» type reasooning displayed by one of our resident trolls below. Given the understanding of, e g, human physiology exhibited by people of that ilk, I doubt the outcome would be quite what you had in mind. On the other hand, any attempt to more narrowly define these needs would open a very large can of worms….

    Pity that people urinating in the bushes doesn’t in most cases seem to lead to the obvious conclusion on the part of good upstanding citizens that more public toilets are needed, but rather to the verdict that more people should be arrested and fined (at teh very least) for their uncivilised behaviour….

    Henri

  2. Even dogs can control their bladders.

    It is too bad that “human beings” have so little agency, but instead need the government to provide everything for them.

    • > Even dogs can control their bladders.

      So … you expect the homeless in NYC to completely give up urination? Can you show us how it’s done? Or are you suggesting that humans should publicly piss on any available surface just like dogs do?

      > need the government to provide everything for them.

      :: Sigh :: nearly two and a a half centuries in, and you guys still have trouble understanding the concept of “We the People.”

  3. Large transit hubs and tourist hubs should be required by law to have public restrooms open from the first train to last train(or bus). Still you would need bathroom monitors in many cities but as Ted said no mayor wants to spring for it.

    Bathrooms bring problems and well as NEEDED relief:
    1: The homeless have vandalized our apartment’s community restroom on more than one occasion, that is why it is locked at night now. In addition to vandalism the homeless will often paper towel shower and shave and leave a mess behind, sometimes the room need to be complealy cleaned before it useable again.

    2: I slept in my car at the rest stop for a year after the 08 crash, the lot would fill every night with rent refuges. The police came around a few times looking for gay prostitution because the statue on the hill behind the bathroom had a long history as hook up spot.

    3: Then there are the bathroom drug deals

    We need to work on more than just bathrooms:

    1: Reducing homeless reduces problem one…just try and find the funds and a plan that reasonable people can agree on….a huge argument will break out and local goverment will stick to inaction as the best way not to offend too many people the right or the left.

    2: Two adults should have a legal hook up place, not trying to signal in a bathroom used by the general public. Don’t bother me, don’t leave a mess for the city to clean up and we won’t bother you….the right starts pushing into argument…. guess we can’t fix that issue today

    3: Drugs opens a can worms because of children, driving and what it does to addicts. Better jobs would help, worker run business would help connect more people….money flowing downhill to help average people…..that is off the table.

    No public restrooms are the product of lot what is wrong and can’t be easily fixed, when the rich can just duck in to high class establishment and normally skip any fee that working stiff would be stuck with if they where allowed to use the facillites, the rich don’t see the problem unless you want to raise their taxes 0.2% to cover public restrooms.

  4. It’s one of the things I love the most about China, it’s not illegal to be a human being here. Public everything is ok, as long as it’s done within reason. Urination, sleeping, drinking, bbq-ing, etc, no problem.

    Also, they don’t do traffic stops here. I’ve never once seen a Chinese car pulled over with the police searching it. Never once, in 5 years. I guess they use cameras and mail tickets to speeders, but as far as pulling people over, they just don’t do that. Can you imagine?

  5. Excellent idea. Same goes for vagrancy, of course – people gotta live somewhere.

    Of maybe reverse it – if the city passes a law against peeing, then they must provide a place to pee.

    Under Islam, it’s not a sin to steal food if you haven’t eaten for three days. Hmmmm, maybe ‘they’ are more civilized than ‘we’ are after all…

  6. The Chicago Transit Authority trains have about 1.5 million passengers daily and there are ZERO public restrooms available.

    The parking lots and platforms reek of urine, so the CTA has workers who regularly hose the mess on the platforms down sewer drains.

    In June of this year a woman was shoved onto the train tracks after she confronted a man with her video camera while he was urinating on the Red Line platform. He has since been charged with attempted murder.

    In New York, a woman thought to be in her 20s was killed at Grand Central station in Manhattan when she fell onto the tracks while urinating in between two subway cars.The woman, whose name has not been released, lost her footing and slipped onto the trackbed as the southbound 4 train was leaving the station, police said. She was declared dead at the scene around 2am on Sunday. This happened to a woman in Chicago also, but she was rescued.

    My advice is to pee in the parking lots before paying your fare because there is nowhere as discreet once go through the turnstiles.

    http://chicagoist.com/2015/08/24/public_urination_is_popular_in_ever.php

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