by Richard McCarty
This year, hundreds of Republican candidates for federal office will be on the ballot this fall, and many of them lack the resources to put together a strong policy team. While taxes, abortion, guns, school choice immigration, and defense are all very important issues, they have limited reach beyond the usual Republican voters. Here are seven policy ideas for House and Senate candidates who would like to expand their platform to try to appeal to more voters – without alienating key elements of the Republican base.
- Ban civil asset forfeiture. Governments should not be able to keep or dispose of seized property that it is allegedly illicit without proving that it was ill-gotten in court. Although 35 states have already banned or limited civil asset forfeiture, local governments are often able to work around bans by working with the federal government.
- Enact mens rea reform (Mens rea is Latin for “guilty mind.”). There are basic crimes that we all know are wrong, but there are thousands of crimes on the books that people are unaware of. For example, it is a crime to use a dog leash that is longer than six feet in a national park, and it is a crime to allow your pet to scare wildlife while on federal land. Somehow, it does not seem fair to punish people when they did not realize what they were doing was illegal. Just as police officers sometimes just give warnings, rather than tickets, to drivers who did not realize that a taillight was out, it seems reasonable that the government should warn people about obscure crimes before prosecuting them for those crimes.
- Address college debt. Sell off the federal student loan portfolio at a discount, which is toxic; get the federal government out of the business of making student loans; much stronger allowance for bankruptcy for college debt for those who cannot find a decent job years after leaving college; and require those students’ colleges to repay half of the discharged college debt. By allowing bankruptcy and holding colleges accountable, colleges would likely work much harder to ensure that students were prepared to graduate and find a paying job. For the record, bankruptcy used to be allowed for college debt, and there seems to be little reason why college debt should be treated any differently than credit card or business debt.
- Require colleges that take federal money to be transparent with parents and students about job and salary prospects and the typical debt load of graduates. This information should be required to be broken down by major. After all, how can young people be expected to make wise decisions if they do not have access to relevant data?
- Require that colleges that accept federal money must issue clear financial aid award letters. These letters should specify the total cost of attendance, which portions of aid packages are grants, which portions are loans, and which portions are work-study. Currently, many award letters are intentionally confusing and omit key information.
- Remove the credit bureaus’ immunity, which makes it very difficult to successfully sue them for their errors. Credit bureaus routinely make mistakes that can cost consumers job opportunities as well as opportunities to purchase homes and vehicles. For example, bureaus routinely mix up information on people with similar names or with similar Social Security numbers — even if their ages are far apart. While these are simple errors, it can take consumers a lot of time to get them corrected. Credit bureaus have repeatedly promised to do better, but the problems remain. Currently, when consumers do file lawsuits, the bureaus just belatedly fix the problem and have the lawsuits dismissed, which is not acceptable.
- Make the federal court system easier to navigate for those who cannot afford a lawyer, and make law school more affordable. It has been estimated that 30 million people each year represent themselves in court. Courts should standardize and streamline their local rules, post those rules online, and offer templates and simplified forms to make it easier for people to file documents and to represent themselves in court. To bring down the cost of law school, the federal government should end its recognition of the American Bar Association to accredit law schools. As it is, the ABA’s requirements for accreditation unnecessarily drive up the costs of a legal education, which contributes to higher costs for legal services.
To grow the Republican House and Senate caucuses, the Party must bring in new voters; and one way to do this is for candidates to expand their campaign platforms. After all, the Democrat Party is always innovating and finding new issues to appeal to niche groups. While pandering is inadvisable, getting the government and crony capitalists off of the backs of everyday citizens, saving taxpayers’ money, and empowering citizens should be both good policy and good politics.
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Richard McCarty is the Director of Research at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.