We occasionally disagree with City Councilor Justin Wilson on this page, but when it comes to reforming antiquated laws, we have found a champion.
Wilson’s push this month to comb through city ordinances and codes to find out-of-date and out-of-touch laws drew a bit of national attention, though not for the reason he expected. Wilson told the Times he believed his campaign to reform a city code banning cohabitation of unmarried people would raise eyebrows.
Instead, it was his call to drop a decades-old naming convention requiring all new north-south streets be named in honor of Confederate generals that made the national rounds.
Putting aside the likely snickers and tsk-tsks at the latter ordinance, both — as well as a ban on shoeshiners in the city — no longer belong on our books, if they ever did in the first place. (As far as naming conventions go, it’s beyond us how honoring Confederate heroes with streets makes it easier for residents to navigate the city. But that was the official explanation at the time.)
This city council has been proactive in reforming out-of-date regulations. Last year, councilors voted to ease onerous restrictions on massage therapists and brought the city’s bicycling ordinance into the 21st century. Officials also are weighing lifting restrictions on food trucks within city limits.
But there is more work to be done.
Wilson rightly recognizes that laws banning cohabitation and shoeshines are just the tip of the iceberg in a city that’s more than 250 years old. After all, we have editorialized before on the inane restrictions on pet owners, regulating how many cats and dogs belong in a household.
We welcome Wilson’s call, then, to keep digging. While it needn’t be a top priority — and combing through the legalese that is our city charter won’t be fun — it’s a necessary task. It may seem trivial, but we can think of a few reasons to continue this exercise in reform.
For one, laws should be enforced. We don’t want to see local authorities canvassing town for illegal shoeshiners, but leaving unenforced regulations on the books is a perversion of the legal system.
In the same vein, though, we also don’t want to spend precious tax money on chasing down illegal shoeshiners or — in this day and age — an unmarried couple cohabitating. If it shouldn’t be enforced, and if it’s not going to be enforced, it doesn’t belong on the books.
Finally, hanging on to outdated regulations leaves the door open to possible abuse. In the case of cohabitating, Wilson has told reporters that at least one local landlord was using the prohibition in lease agreements in recent years.
Think back on the regulations regarding the number of pets per household. No, City Hall isn’t sending out inspectors to check for compliance, but a nosy neighbor might be able to cause quite a bit of a headache.
Pruning a few dead branches on our tree of laws is long overdue in Alexandria.