Dating back almost 50 years, a consumer law has been on the books in Indiana to keep retail stores, car lots and whatever else from having perpetual liquidation and closing sales. “Going out of business” isn’t just an advertising strategy, after all.
Prior to the bullhorn of the Internet, the law may have worked. It scared three Elkhart County businesses into getting permits for their final sales … in the last 27 years. In fact, the clerk’s office in Goshen hasn’t issued a single permit since 1998.
Starting July 1, the law goes away. Last month, the General Assembly repealed the requirement in a 65-page behemoth importantly titled “Government Reduction.” The bill, passed with bipartisan support and signed by Gov. Mike Pence, includes such provisions as allowing fencing at the former Evansville mental-health facility and changing the name of an environmental rules board.
In a year when local governments did some effective campaigning for replacing lost revenues, this one didn’t make the cut. Counties reaped only $40 to $150 for every permit issued. Averaging one transaction every nine years, Elkhart County probably lost money on the deal by paying to keep the cobwebs off the ledger book in the courthouse vault.
The true reduction is the headache. These types of laws are common – written by lawmakers to address constituent complaints, probably with good intentions but without due consideration for those having to fulfill the responsibilities. In this case, clerks have had no ability to track these types of sales and little authority to serve in an enforcement role if they did uncover problems.
In the 21st century, the law had an even more inherent problem. Christopher Anderson, chief deputy to Wendy Hudson in the Elkhart County clerk’s office, kindly calls the law an anachronism. A company’s reputation on Yelp and Facebook would be toast a lot sooner than government could react if consumers felt exploited by the plaintive wails of “going out of business” ads. Besides, Anderson said, consumer complaints are more effectively handled by the attorney general or Better Business Bureau.
The Internet is full of stories about obscure, seldom-enforced or just plain weird laws. By working to get outdated solutions off the books, we can help our local governments focus more on the services they can actually deliver and that we genuinely need.