Friday Follies: Incandescent Bulbs, Made in S.C.

light bulbs

NOT EVERY FIGHT IS A FIGHT WORTH HAVING

It’s understandable that many South Carolinians want to push back at the federal government’s regulatory overreach. It’s understandable, too, that their Statehouse politicians want to respond to that desire. But S.186 is a fine example of a badly chosen fight.

Billed as the “South Carolina Incandescent Light Bulb Freedom Act,” S.186 aims to circumvent federal regulations surrounding incandescent light bulbs. The bill purports to accomplish this by declaring that light bulbs manufactured within South Carolina’s geographical borders are considered to be intrastate commerce, and outside the scope of federal regulation, provided that the light bulbs themselves are sold only within South Carolina’s borders.

The bill stipulates that “generic and insignificant parts” brought into South Carolina from other states to be used in the manufacture of light bulbs don’t bring their manufacture under federal regulation. Some of the “generic and insignificant parts” include: “steel, glass, springs, screws, nuts, pins, and ceramics.” In other words, all the materials needed to produce incandescent light bulbs.

In plainer terms, S.186 states that incandescent light bulbs produced in South Carolina are exempt from federal regulations by virtue of being produced and sold through intrastate commerce. These South Carolina bulbs are therefore, in the view of the bill’s authors, shielded from federal regulations by the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. So even if parts cross state lines to manufacture the bulbs, the bulbs are exempt from interstate commerce regulation.

That might work in theory. It won’t happen in reality.

The commerce clause of the U.S. constitution – found in article 1, section 8 – gives the federal government the authority to regulate commerce between states. True, the commerce clause has been stretched and twisted to the point of absurdity by federal regulators, to the point at which the federal government may regulate virtually anything. But it still has a legitimate meaning, and that meaning clearly applies to products bought and sold across state lines.

There is no argument here. This bill, like so many superficial protests against federal authority, only has the potential to waste time. If South Carolina lawmakers really want to push back against federal overreach in some area of policy, all they have to do is stop taking federal money for it. Which, so far, they’ve shown no interest in doing.

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