A Four-Fold Test for Good Legislation


“You should pass a law that parents have to put away their phones three days a week so that they have time to play with their kids.”

This suggestion from a precocious third-grader was followed by a generous round of applause from his classmates.

When I visit schools in my role as a State Representative, it’s usually to talk with third graders because that’s when North Carolina first teaches about the branches of government. While I’m there, I ask them to think of laws they would want me to vote for.

I use a simple set of criteria to decide whether something might make a good law. Does it make our state safer, healthier, more fair, and more prosperous?

After understanding the idea of more prosperous, third graders like this simple litmus test. They are quire amused when a classmate suggests “We should have soda in the water fountains” because they know it doesn’t pass even the first element of the test.

Although the four-fold test is simple enough for third graders, I actually find it to be quite useful for processing what comes across my desk in the legislature. Very few bills easily pass all four criteria. Most bills force me to reflect on at least one of the criteria at length.

For instance, last session’s coal ash clean up bill certainly makes us safer and healthier, but does it make NC more fair or prosperous? Without a provision telling us who is going to pay for the cleanup, it was hard for me to judge. (I voted against because I believe the costs will be passed on to consumers.)

When the idea came up to put away the cell phones, the third grade class dutifully walked through the criteria.

“It makes us safer because if our parents are paying attention to us, then we’re less likely to get hurt,” said one.

“It’s healthier because spending time with your kids is healthy for parents and kids,” chimed in another.

“It’s fair because it’s only for three days a week,” said a third.

“It’s more prosperous for kids!” was the final remark, followed by another generous round of applause and cheers.

I had to laugh. I told the kids that I could see how the law would make a lot of sense from a third-grade perspective, but that unfortunately their parents probably wouldn’t support it. And, it’s parents who vote.

Still, I also admitted to them that I’d never seen an idea that had so much support from a class before. I mean, their eyes lit up at the possibility that I might be able to make this happen! Inside, I was struck by this sad commentary on modern parenting. I promised the class that I would put away my phone when I got home that day, which my kids did appreciate.

What ideas do you have for laws that we should consider in North Carolina? January is the time for me to get bills drafted, so I need good ideas from constituents. If you have an idea to share that passes my four-fold test, I’d love to hear about it. Just email me after the kids go to bed and you have picked up your phone again.

This post was originally published in Graig’s monthly column in the News of Orange. To contact Graig with ideas for legislation, write him at graig.meyer@ncleg.net.