Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You Expected Better From Florida?

You know, we've been over this before. Writing legislation is the primary task of a legislator. It is literally the job description. While we argue- and do we ever argue- about what the content of that legislation should include, I think we can all agree that legislators ought to know what is in the legislation. Especially if they are the people that wrote it. What we went over last time, specifically, was the consequences of writing legislation that is too brief and straightforward to do what it needs to do, but that is just one branch of a more fundamental miscue: just plain bad writing. Whatever someone writes into a bill, we expect them to know what they're writing into a bill. We are not talking here about 'this bill will cause businesses to ship jobs to China', although that level of foresight would be nice. That's looking at the 'effect' side of cause-and-effect. We're talking about cause. We're talking about creating laws that you did not intend to create.

Florida may have just made one such piece of legislation when they wrote and passed a bill that was intended to ban slot machines and Internet cafes in an attempt to shut down online gambling, which raises its own set of questions, but let's focus here. Here is what they defined as a slot machine:

any machine or device or system or network of devices that is adapted for use in such a way that, upon activation, which may be achieved by, but is not limited to, the insertion of any piece of money, coin, account number, code, or other object or information, such device or system is directly or indirectly caused to operate or may be operated and if the user, whether by application of skill or by reason of any element of chance or any other outcome unpredictable by the user.

Which describes anything on which you can access the Internet. And just about any game into which you input information before playing, which means, among other things, I believe they've just banned World of Warcraft, which requires a subscription to play, requires you to tell it whose account you're using to operate it, and relies on both skill and chance (e.g. loot drops).

If you're reading this from Florida: what are you doing? Reading things on the Internet like a common criminal. You scofflaw, you.

One of the Internet cafe operators who had to shut down their business, Consuelo Zapata, is challenging the legislation in court, claiming the bill was passed "in a frenzy fueled by distorted judgment in the wake of a scandal that included the lieutenant governor's resignation." In the process, Zapata and attorney Alan Dershowitz have argued a constitutional violation of free speech and due process, as well as being too broad and vague to actually be able to enforce.

Let's put it this way: if it was enforceable, it would be illegal for, oh, say, the Tampa Bay Times to go online and post a writeup.

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