DRY Legislation (Don't Repeat Yourself)

I don't know much about the United States Code, really. One thing I do know, or have at least heard, repeatedly, is that it's immense. Individual bills sometimes come in at thousands of pages, and go completely unread by a large percentage of the legislators who vote on them.

This is the story, anyway. I'm presuming it's accurate.

And it strikes me, in thinking about this, that probably a large percentage of all those words involve some sort of standard boilerplate-like language that shows up again and again - either across bills, or within a bill. Maybe that's not at all the case, I don't know. But knowing what I know about how I've seen things done elsewhere, I'm inclined to guess that it's likely. It's certainly a common thing in a lot of software I've seen (and some I've written), to express the same things over and over again.

And in software, it's often a horrible way to go about things. And I suspect the same to be true in the world of legislation.

It's understandable, mind you... One time you want to say "one time you want to say", and another time you want to say "another time you want to say". They're not identical statements. Yet there's a whole lot of repetition there.

There's been a movement in the software world to keep code "DRY"... An acronym for "Don't Repeat Yourself". In computer code, this is arguably a lot easier than in English. You have functions, and variables, and a readership who knows how to deal with these sorts of things. So you can do something like (in some arbitrary pseudo-code English):

1. Let "tywts" mean "time you want to say".
2. One tywts, "one tywts", another tywts, "another tywts".

There's arguably still repetition there, of course. And in a real code environment, there'd be ways to reduce it further. Still, if you decided you wanted to change things to be "one time you wished you had said", you only have to change it in one place (never mind that the acronym is now obsolete in its lettering; you could fix that, too, but you don't have to). This is one of the major wins with DRY code. And I suspect there are a lot of places in legislation where we could do something similar. After all, the readership of legislation is presumed to be sophisticated, too.

So make a library of specific definitions - within the body of law, overall, and within specific laws, as needed. An then express ideas in succinct, if slightly cryptic to the lay reader, ways. I think that might be better. At the very least, I think it's worth thinking about.

And maybe some day we'll set aside 5% of congress's time for a decade or three to "DRY off" the existing laws.

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