Wednesday Reads — Mandates and Bummers

Biodiesel boosters are pushing for a bill in the Legislature that would force Iowa fuel marketers to discontinue the sale of regular diesel fuel in favor of soybean-based biodiesel. The Des Moines Register reports that backers, including 31 co-sponsors in the Senate, say it would create “green collar” jobs and cut dependence on foreign oil.

Ethanol advocates have tried and failed for a decade to get the Legislature to mandate the exclusive sale of corn-blended gasoline in the state, without success. Despite the lack of a mandate, the use of ethanol has grown, thanks to a tax break that makes it cheaper at the pumps.

Biodiesel advocates were hoping for a similar boost through a bill that would have raised the tax on gasoline by 8 cents while exempting biodisel from the increase. Now that the tax hike has been scrapped, soy promoters are going after a mandate. The bill cleared the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday.

And how do I know the gas tax hike is dead? The Gazette told me so this morning. Backers say they still plan to look for other ways to raise road-building revenues. Gov. Chet Culver said Friday he would veto any gas tax hike sent to him by lawmakers.

“I think the governor’s made a politically expedient decision, but it’s a bad decision,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, in arguing that the deterioration of Iowa highways is an issue that won’t go away and will force policymakers to “bite the bullet” on a gas tax increase at some future point.

 Another state mandate, the ban on smoking in public places, drew fire at a Statehouse rally Tuesday. Radio Iowa reports that more than 100 people gathered to protest the ban. Democrats who run the House and Senate say they have no interest revisiting the ban this year.

You also won’t be smoking legalized pot anytime soon. A Senate bill that would have legalized marijuana for limited medical uses has been snuffed out, according to The Gazette’s Rod Boshart, who calls it a”bummer” for ailing Iowans.

The bill’s backer, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, says he plans to work on the proposal and bring it back for consideration in 2010.

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