“Feel Good” Legislation

When I was the new kid my freshman year in high school, a girl from the “in crowd” took me aside to let me know that I would not be accepted if I associated with a couple of very nice classmates who apparently did not make the cut for being “in”.  Well, I did not follow this unasked for advice and spent a difficult and shortened high school career outside the “in crowd”.  It was never my desire to be part of this crowd. They loved spreading malicious gossip and my refusal to conform made me an easy target for declaring an open season on destroying my reputation.   But it wasn’t this group that damaged my outlook on life.  An adult employee at the school spread misinformation about me.  So what I learned from my high school experience is if you set high expectations for adults, it is a hard fall down to reality.  It isn’t that I regret my decision for refusing to let others determine my relationship.  After all, when you start making decisions based on the opinions and acceptance of others, life may be a painful and unhappy journey.

Legislators walk a fine line between representing and building relationships with their constituents and being manipulated by malicious gossips threatening to spread their venom with campaign literature.  It is easy for seasoned politicians to justify voting for bad or unnecessary laws fearing that voting against the legislation will come back to bite them during the next election cycle.  This harmful outlook drove through some unnecessary and potentially damaging legislation.

The first bad piece of legislation to pass through this session was HF2023, also known as the strangulation bill.  This law enhances the penalty for certain domestic abuse assaults committed by impeding the breathing or circulation of the blood of another. The unfortunate consequence to this new law is that limited resources will now have to be earmarked for prosecutors and correctional supervision with the inevitable cuts to victims programs; programs that educate and empower women; and implementing better programs for alcoholism and substance abuse.  But can you imagine the campaign literature on this one if you voted against it?  “Representative So and So VOTED NO to protect your daughter from violent and abusive sexual predators.”  Malicious gossips love throwing in the sexual predator spin.  It is very effective.  Few voters take the time to seek out the truth.

Another unnecessary law now added to the Iowa Code is the solicitation to commit murder bill, SF2296.  Are there already laws in place to address someone attempting to pay another person to commit murder?  Yes.  So why would the County Attorney’s Association lobby so heavily for it?  Well, 90% of cases are plea-bargained, so this is simply a negotiation tool for the overflowing “tool” chest.  The only good news is that soliciting someone to commit murder is a rare occurrence in Iowa.  But no one wants campaign literature stating that Representative So and So is not tough on crime.  So in the interest of reelection, most legislators decided to vote for this unnecessary law.

Then we had Kadyn’s Law.  This was in response to Kadyn Halverson, a 7-year-old first grader from Kensett, Iowa who was killed last year by a driver who illegally passed a stopped school bus.  So once again penalties will be enhanced, instead of teaching and empowering children so that they don’t have to die in this tragic way.  The good news is that part of the legislation will have a study to look closer at this issue; too bad that we can’t do the study first, before enhancing penalties.  But when a child dies, what legislator is going to vote against this law?  Wouldn’t the malicious gossips just love that scenario?

One of the toughest issues this session for me was the tow truck bill.  Mainly because I feel strongly that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed.  This bill is yet another enhanced penalty, after-the-fact-bill, in response to a tragic accident that killed a tow-truck driver.  There is nothing in this law that will prevent other tow truck drivers from being injured and killed.  Actually, this bill died as it should have in the House, but the Senator who was able to gain publicity from this tragedy attached it as an amendment to another House bill.  This is what is known as a “feel good” bill.  Well, maybe other people feel good about these laws, but not me.  When the issue is not properly identified and addressed, more people will be injured and killed.  It sets a false sense of security.  Why would anyone feel good about that?

But is it fair to judge the legislators who fear the malicious gossips ruining their reelections?   Gossip only works if people give it power.  Should it fall on the voter to seek out the truth or at the very least contact the legislator to find out why he or she voted a certain way?  Probably not a realistic goal, but if enough individual voters start making the time to seek out the truth instead of accepting malicious campaigning as fact, the consequence may be stronger legislators passing necessary laws.  Now that would make me truly feel good.

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3 Responses to “Feel Good” Legislation

  1. So much legislation that is passed is based on fear: fear of not being reelected. The laws now in place regarding sex offenders are a good example, as is our entire criminal justice system. We spend an unbelievable amount of money on prosecuting and punishing criminals and a very small amount on programs which help the victims of the crimes. We know that education, job training, opportunities for fostering healthy family connections, and shorter sentences work, but we unfund these programs and have built a system that creates dependence and unhealthy living habits. Because of our fears we demand that our legislators continue to fund programs that fail and create new laws that will bring add to our failures. When will our legislators have the courage to end this cycle?

  2. Carlos Jayne says:

    We continually have fought such bills over the years but it seems the numbers of them have increased as legislators grasp at the easy issues to get points rather than insisting on being candidates of reason. Reason/politics > there’s an oxymoron for you.

  3. Another on the point, compelling essay. Yes, the question is how do we empower voters to assume responsibility for the people they elect. And how do we support those who stand up for right?

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