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Byrd: Five policies for 2014

BY MATTHEW BYRD | JANUARY 22, 2014 5:00 AM

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It’s January, which means that Iowa’s hilariously brief four-month legislative session has thankfully begun.

Now, if I were a hack, I would insert a cynical joke here about how the politicians of this great state would take this opportunity to either be mind-numbingly ineffectual or horribly destructive. But, while I do have a very high-levels of distrust in our state (and nation’s) political elite, I do still possess a hokey idealism that comes out at the start of legislative sessions that maybe we can use politics and governing to actually uplift our society.

In the spirit of this (probably soon-to-be dashed) optimism, I have five policy proposals that the Iowa Legislature, if it actually cared about improving the state, would immediately enact.

Legalize (actual) pot

No, not medicinal marijuana, actual pot. As in the rest of the nation, the War on Drugs has been an abysmal failure in the state of Iowa, with almost 22 percent of the state’s prison population being nonviolent drug offenders. On top of that, the Drug War has perpetuated a two-tiered system of justice as blacks and whites use marijuana at the same rate, but blacks are more than eight times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, the worst disparity in the nation.

None of these costly, immoral, and draconian policies are justified by marijuana’s health effects, which are significantly less pernicious than those of the very legal alcohol.

Iowa should just legalize, regulate, and tax pot, ending these life-draining polices and providing new revenue for the state to spend on things that actually curb drug use, like treatment.

Institute a land-value tax

It would behoove the Legislature to pass a tax on land ownership. Real estate is the most valuable asset in the country and is overwhelmingly owned by the über-rich. Taxing it would provide the state gargantuan amounts of revenue and also spur increased rates of land development (since it would become more costly to just hold onto undeveloped land), creating even more economic growth in the process.

Rebuild Iowa’s infrastructure

With all the revenue coming in from land-value and pot taxes, it makes sense to put it to good use on a project such as rebuilding the state’s crumbling infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers, in its assessment of the state’s infrastructure, found that Iowa has 101 high-hazard dams, 5,193 structurally deficient bridges, and that almost half of the state’s major roads were in poor condition amid a plethora of other concerns. In response, the state ought to enact a major public-works bill that would not only improve the safety of Iowa’s citizens but also provie jobs and therefore, economic expansion. 

Raise the minimum wage

I’m not a big fan of minimum wage increases, mostly because I prefer a Social Security-for-all-type program to reduce poverty. However, that isn’t really feasible on a state level, so raising the minimum wage from $7.25 (which no one can actually live on) to something like $15 is a pretty good way to ensure low-wage workers don’t have to starve.

Bar rapists from seeking custody of children they conceive via rape

This is the biggest no-brainer policy on the list. There’s no way that violent, sociopathic criminals who have a known history of brutalization should be able to claim custody of children. On top of that, the fact that rapists can essentially blackmail their victims to drop rape charges in exchange for giving up custody rights is both sickening and a detriment to the state’s law enforcement.

So here you go, Iowa Legislature, five policies that could create a more equitable and less distressing environment for the 3 million constituents you serve. Good luck.


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