Wins for liberty in the Iowa Legislature

BY ADAM B SULLIVAN | JULY 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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You are freer today than you were at the beginning of the legislative session.

While a handful of bills garnered the lion’s share of attention this past legislative season, lawmakers in Des Moines passed more than 30 meaningful laws, according to Gazette Statehouse reporter Rod Boshart. While there are wins and losses in this year’s crop of laws, this session can be considered a win for liberty.

Win: Mourning-dove hunting

To the vast majority of Iowans, lifting the ban on hunting mourning doves (the sorrowful birds, not the early rising ones) means nothing. Indeed, lawmakers were criticized for pushing this measure through before tackling such bigger issues as abortion restrictions and education funding. But small freedoms count, too. Even as a vegetarian who has no interest in blowing a bird’s brains out, I appreciate having the right to do so.

Loss: Lower boating blood alcohol

The argument is reasonable enough — if drivers can’t operate cars with blood-alcohol contents greater than .08, neither should skippers be able to operate their boats. However, driving a boat is much different from driving a car because you have more reaction time and a greater margin of error. And with little evidence that a higher boating blood-alcohol content has led to many deaths or injuries, this seems like a solution in search of a problem.

Win: Juvenile-parole reform

While we all agree there are some things people ought to be put in jail for, there’s something unsettling about locking up a teenage forever. Giving kids not convicted of murder the opportunity for parole eventually is a good thing, especially in a world where there’s still a very real risk of prejudiced conviction and sentencing.

Win: Motorcycle training wheels

This one makes you wonder why putting stabilizing wheels on a motorcycle was ever outlawed in the first place. Of course you should be able to attach extra wheels to your vehicle. It’s your hog — do with it what you want.

Loss: Ban Four Loko … again

Even though there’s no national ban on the books, federal regulators had set a precedent of disallowing the sale of caffeinated energy drinks. But Iowa lawmakers passed a ban on the drinks anyway. Not only does this needlessly double up on federal policy, there’s very little credible research to suggest high-caffeine booze is a serious public-health threat. Iowa lawmakers should not have given a stamp of approval to over-reaching federal bureaucrats.

Win: Open-records reform

As is usually the case with open-government issues, this bit flew mostly under the public radar. Open-records law violators now face tougher penalties. That’s great, and it’s a win for freedom, but lawmakers once again failed to push for big reforms that are needed to keep Iowa governments accountable.

Win: State budget online

This is a no-brainer. Of course there should be a searchable database of state spending online. Part of being free is operating with complete information, and this helps voters do that.

Win: Gas-station liquor

In a society in which most of us agree adults ought to be able to buy and drink alcohol, it’s frustrating that special interests try to manage where and how those sales can take place. While it’s probably good nobody is calling to allow the sale of open containers at drive-throughs, allowing convenience stores to carry booze is a win for freedom.

Win: No gay-marriage ban

What the Legislature didn’t do is important, too. Democrats successfully blocked Republican attempts to ban same-sex marriage. While I’d like to see civil marriage done away with altogether, it’s likely here to stay for the foreseeable future. While it’s here, gay people ought to be able to join in.

There are no libertarian game-changers coming from this year’s legislative session, but small changes are perhaps even more important as they’re the ones most likely to go unnoticed. Freedom doesn’t go away all at once; instead, it is usually whittled away. This year, luckily, lawmakers did little whittling.

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