A company in the southern U.S. state of Florida is offering a service to help people write their own laws. For a fee, the Law Store will help members of the public draft legislation and then get it enacted through a referendum. The Law Store describes its pieces of legislation as McLaws -- a reference to the fast food offered by restaurants such as McDonalds. But as Steve Mort reports, critics say the service undermines the right of citizens to petition their government.
At a recording studio in the town of Hollywood, Florida, The Law Store's Margaret Kessler records an advertisement that will air on a local radio station. It urges voters to back a law that her company wrote to make it harder for sex offenders to live in certain areas.
It's just one of the pieces of legislation that members of the public have asked The Law Store to draft - and she is now drumming up the support it needs to become law.
"It's the most democratic way of doing things,” says Margaret Kessler of The Law Store. “And we looked at the program and felt that this really is very much the type of democracy that our Founding Fathers had in mind because it gives control of city decisions back to the people that live in a city."
In U.S. cities, such as Miami, local rules often allow people to petition for changes to the law -- and that is where The Law Store comes in.
Kessler's team of lawyers will draw up a law for anyone with few thousand dollars to spend - and then gather the signatures needed to have it put as a referendum for voters to consider in a special election.
The draft is worded carefully so officials can't modify or reject it. Then if enough voters support the measure, it becomes law.
Kessler says members of the public have the power to change election laws or even how much tax they pay. "At the end of the day, it simply comes down to a vote of the people. And if the majority of people want something done, it gets done".
But critics accuse The Law Store of doing more harm than good. "I mean, lets face it, this is a publicity stunt. It's a way for a lawyer to make a little bit of extra money and it's really not going to help ordinary people," says Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University. He says The Law Store is using the system to ram through silly laws in special elections that can cost the taxpayer millions of dollars.
As a result, he says, city governments such as the one in Miami are beginning to take away the public's ability to petition for change on important issues.
"They're abusing one of the important rights that citizens have,” says Marino, “which is the right to petition their government for change and to enact change and to go over the heads of their elected representatives. And if this is abused it will become more difficult to use the initiative process to make positive change."
But back at the recording studio, Margaret Kessler is already recording another advertisement. She says she will press on with her work as long as the rules allow her to, and envisages companies like The Law Store springing up across America.