Jason Davis: Do more laws always help? It appears not

Apr. 14, 2014 @ 09:37 AM

Tasked with regularly writing editorials for The Mountain Press, I’ve watched the Tennessee Legislature more closely this session than ever before in my life.

Years ago, when working as the news editor for the LaFollette Press, I wrote one or two editorials a month, a much easier task than the six I typically write in a given week these days.

Back then, I could always draw on a local topic. Now, sometimes, I have to dip into state issues, so I’ve been trying to stay aware about what’s going on in Nashville.

It’s dizzying, to say the least.

It seems like each day the legislature is in session, some new controversial bill is up for vote by either the house or senate. How these legislators could possibly keep all the bills and amendments straight is a small miracle (and, perhaps, a credit to good aides).

Out of curiosity, I looked it up. Literally hundreds of bills are somewhere in the governmental process in Nashville at any given moment — either in a committee, subcommittee or on the house or senate floor. Then there are amendments. Ah, the amendments. It’s a crazy cycle.

And, if you think that’s bad, cue up Bachman–Turner Overdrive, because you ain’t seen nothing yet.

In Washington, D.C. last year, the 113th Congress introduced nearly 7,000 bills between the U.S. House and Senate. It’s almost like these folks get paid by the bill. 

Of course, in some instances, they do. It’s called lobbying. Lobbyists make passionate pleas (campaign donations) to get their agenda before a congressman, who, in some instances, introduces a bill to help the lobbyists, ahem, people.

Personally, I’d like to see a government official, just once, introduce nothing. They could take the stance that we — in the land of the free — have enough laws on the books already.

Maybe we could concentrate on enforcement. We all know at least one or two laws that nobody enforces, mainly because they’re politically inconvenient or expensive to enforce.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped some laws from being enforced to the furthest reaches. 

According to the Associated Press, the United States has spent over $1 trillion to wage the War on Drugs over the last 40 years.

For the fiscal year 2014, the President requested $25.4 billion “to reduce drug use and its consequences in the United States.”

That represented an increase of $900 million from previous spending levels, and nearly $80 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

Like many of you, I was a “Just Say No” kid growing up in the 1980s. I’m not a drug user, and my friends aren’t drug users. As the old saying goes, I don’t have a dog in the fight. 

But if we’ve spent a trillion dollars on a problem over nearly a half-century, I’d expect a better return on investment than where we are today.

While tobacco and alcohol use have declined in the past decade, illicit drug use increased from 8.3 percent of adults in 2002 to 9.2 percent in 2012, according to the latest data available from the feds.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know, and I’m not afraid to admit that.

What I do know is that the U.S. incarceration rate is the highest of any country in the world — 30 percent higher than Cuba and 33 percent higher than Russia.

From 1925-1975 the number of incarcerated people in the United States remained fairly level, increasing ever so slightly as the population increased, but by no more than 50 percent over the entire 50-year period. 

From 1975 to present, however, we’ve jumped from around 200,000 people jailed to over 1.5 million, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  That’s roughly a 750 percent increase in almost 40 years.

Something’s not working.

Maybe before we should pass more hollow laws and resolutions further funding the drug war, we should find policies that actually work to decrease drug use and stop blindly throwing money at the problem and people into jails.