Iowa Code – 10,909 Pages and Growing

There are two things with me each and every day as I sit at my desk in the Senate chamber. Today I would like to briefly talk about each of them and explain how they are related.

The first are the philosophies I apply to every bill in determining how I will vote on it. Beyond being the most honest way for a legislator to serve the people who elected them, applying a core set of beliefs to issues is also a necessity. Since the Senate is made up of Iowans who hail from every corner of the state, who belong to different political parties, and who have vastly different backgrounds, the large number of bills we deal with each session end up covering every subject you can imagine. Having fundamental principles and determining where each bill fits into them is critical in sorting through so many complex issues. The first question I always ask is, ‘should government be doing this?’

One of the most important and overarching philosophies I have deals with the duty and role of government—and subsequently affects my views on the size and scope of government. On issues of what state government should and should not be involved with, the general philosophy I apply is the great Ronald Reagan’s belief that government does not exist to protect us from ourselves—rather it exists to protect us from each other. Each session this comes into play when we are asked to vote on a constant stream of bills that attempt to transform common sense into Iowa law. My position is that just because something is common sense and a good idea—that doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be turned into a law.

While my philosophy has remained unchanged during my four years in the Senate, the thing that has changed dramatically is the size of the Iowa Code. I have a small shelf under my desk, and every session I use it to hold the several volumes which make up the Iowa Code. The Iowa Code books contain every Iowa law ever passed, and each year we add all the new laws we pass to it. While this is routine procedure, the extreme rate at which the size of the code has grown in recent years is not. In 1991 the code was only three volumes and 5,229 total pages. By 2001, only 10 years later, the number of pages had increased by 30% to 6,802—and this year’s version has doubled in size since 1991 to six volumes!

There are two reasons why the ballooning size of the Iowa Code is important to me. First, the larger government gets and the more things it is made to encompass—the less effective it becomes at doing the most fundamental and important things. Secondly, each new law we add is not just a few additional sentences in the Iowa Code book under my Senate desk—every one of them needs to be enforced by either a government bureaucrat or a law enforcement officer. Since managing this increasing number of new laws ultimately requires hiring new state employees—in many ways the growth of government is a self-fueling process.

As a legislature we certainly have the very important job of passing laws when they are needed. However, I believe that all Iowans would benefit if we limited lawmaking to only the truly important things. If we keep insisting on legislating common sense, not only will government become larger and less effective—the shelf under my desk will snap from the weight.

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