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Time to define what is and what isn

As I See It

Should citizens be held accountable for laws that are incomprehensible? That question gets to the heart of the sexual harassment debacle and is also germane to the current debate over scrapping the Internal Revenue Code.

In criminal cases much is made of whether the accused had the mental facility to know that he was committing a crime. Is there any corollary between that issue and a charge of sexual harassment where the law is so nebulous that no human being is capable of interpreting the nuances? I believe there is.

Let me say at the outset that I am committed to gentlemanly behavior and am personally outraged by inappropriate conduct between the sexes. Over a career spanning nearly 30 years I have personally subscribed to a strict policy of treating females with respect and decorum and insisted that my subordinates do likewise. Off-color jokes in mixed company turn me red as a beet and make me uncomfortable. I even discourage legitimate intra-office romance because I don’t believe in mixing business and personal relationships. Enough about that.

Law should be derived from a code of behavior that the mass of citizenry has agreed is in the best interest of all. Each law restricts human behavior and therefore is a compromise of our individual freedom. In exchange for the benefits of living in a society, we give up the absolute right to do as we please. That is as it should be.

Have the majority of Americans “bought in” to the concept that males should be held hostage to the emotional whims of female co-workers? About half the country is male and therefore virtually all males would have to be in agreement for a majority to be achieved. I seriously doubt that is the case. Where are all these males who are “on board” the sexual harassment bandwagon?

America alleges to be a nation of majority rule tempered by due regard for minority opinions.

Has the regard for minority opinions gone overboard? I think it has in the case of sexual harassment.

In a recent Newsweek column, John Leo described the current landscape by saying that the “sexual harassment law continues to be a mess and a national embarrassment — the strange offspring of radical feminist lawyers and guilty, well-meaning male jurists. Every attempt to clarify it or to introduce rationality merely makes it worse.” Amen, brother.

What should be done? A clearly defined, easily understood code of acceptable conduct needs to be established by Congress. Having done that, conduct within the code will be beyond criticism while violation of the code is punishable. It’s as simple as that.

The code needs to clearly define behavior that is unacceptable so that there can be no misunderstanding. Ban forever the right to litigate based on some undefined action which allegedly creates discomfort.

Along the same lines, it’s time for a tax code that the average person can understand. Our Internal Revenue Code is garbled beyond comprehension for the average genius.

Here’s a thought. To hold a valid driver’s license you must pass a driving test and show understanding of the traffic laws. What if we insisted that the tax and sex codes be drafted so simple that the average person could pass a test on them?

Don’t just assume they could — test groups of 1,000 and keep simplifying until 65% of the test group scores an “A.” And require testing for each and every change made to the law.

I have a vision of an army of out-of-work lobbyists with sharp sticks picking up cans on the highway since their “special interest” shenanigans could never pass the “citizen’s comprehension test.” That vision is more soothing than warm cookies and milk.

Thought for the Moment

Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.

— Thoreau

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com

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