Senator-elect Zach Nunn will be the first to admit he’s still getting to know the eastern half of Iowa Senate District 15, but the Bondurant Republican said he’s ready to represent the people of Jasper County when the state legislature convenes Jan. 14 for its 2019 session
“I realize I’m a back-bencher in the Senate. I went from being the majority whip (in the House) to the new guy,” Nunn said. “Part of this is building friends, building coalitions — not just bipartisanly, but people from rural as well as urban districts. And getting smart issues that are important locally.”
Nunn is replacing retiring one-term incumbent Sen. Chaz Allen, a Newton Democrat who developed a reputation as a moderate in the Iowa Senate. As Nunn works on building those coalitions in the capitol’s upper chamber, one of his biggest priorities for the 2019 legislative session, he said, will be workforce development.
“When we talk workforce development, we’re taking the ability not just to get high school kids transitioned into a four-year program, but where they can really be successful in a two-year program.”
Nunn sees the state’s partnership with Des Moines Area Community College as a builder in isolating the workforce needs of Iowa’s entrepreneurs
“Anything we can do when it comes to our entrepreneurs when it comes to workforce development. It’s fantastic when you have one of the lowest unemployment rates in recent history, but it’s also a challenge,” Nunn said. “(It’s about) finding individuals with both the ability to go to school and get the skill set they need to get a job where they can afford to live and work.”
Nunn said state-funded student loan forgiveness programs for trades such as carpentry, steel and electrical workers have helped fill the workforce in growing industries. Nunn wants to do the same in other high-need areas like teaching.
“Making (education) affordable is a key aspect of this and, also, looking at those critical careers,” Nunn said. “Everything from teachers and being able to forgive loans for people who want to educate in high-need communities across Iowa, to a lot of our trade skill sets where we’re doing great partnerships between the state and things like carpentry, electricity. We just set up the new union hall in Altoona which is our new carpenters’ training facility.”
The federal government currently has a teacher loan forgiveness program, offering $5,000 to $17,000 for full-time teachers who work for five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school or educational service agency to put toward their subsidized state and subsidized federal loans. The State of Iowa’s Teach Iowa Scholar Program provides qualified educators with awards of up to $4,000 a year, for a maximum of five years, to teach in Iowa schools in designated shortage areas.
Nunn wants to expand a state incentive that matches the community college grant or a loan forgiveness program to help in key workforce areas. The incoming senator said he plans to propose legislation that will encourage teachers to not only join small and rural school districts but also help districts retain current instructors.
“So the community colleges can be a facilitator for that and the state can be a partner in that. I think where the state does a good job in that is loan forgiveness,” Nunn said. “If you stay in a district for four years, we’ll help forgive your loan.
“... If we have a need for some dental hygienists, then we team up with some of our dentists across Iowa to say ‘what can we do to incentivize people to look at a career in dental hygiene,’ so our dentists on Main Street not only have a workforce available but it, ultimately, keeps his or her business open,” Nunn said.
Criminal Justice Reform
During his four years in the Iowa House, Nunn served a term as the House Judiciary Committee chair and will continue his focus on criminal justice in the Iowa Senate. He’s been appointed to the chamber’s Judiciary Standing Committee and will be vice chair of the Judicial Appropriations Committee.
Nunn said one of his first priorities in the Senate will be getting a “sensible judicial reform process” for criminal sentencing. Nunn said the state’s correctional system needs to focus on Iowa’s non-violent drug offenders, getting them into a rehabilitation program as opposed to long-term incarceration. This will help reduce Iowa’s recidivism rate, Nunn said.
“When it comes to justice reform, this is an area where I’ve been a leader and want to continue to be a leader,” he said. “We got rid of mandatory minimum (sentencing). Now we need to talk about how we actually take care of these individuals so they can get back to their family, back to their community and back to being a productive part of society.”
Beyond rehabilitation, Nunn thinks improving the prison system’s re-entry programs would compliment Iowa’s recent sentencing reforms. The freshman senator said the focus needs to be on job skill set training — working in conjunction with community colleges while the inmate is still in prison to gain work processing skills or with small businesses to gain blue collar trade experience, using that education as a launch point after reentering society.
Nunn said the recidivism rate is much higher among women, a demographic incarcerated in Nunn’s district at the Iowa Correctional Facility for Women in Mitchellville. Lacking a core skill set, Nunn said, leads to individuals falling back into drug use and abusive relationships which contributes to former inmates re-offending.
“How do we make sure once they’ve served their time to the justice system, they are going back and being productive members of society and we’re not spending more money re-incarcerating this individual because we let them go back to the same situation,” Nunn said. “We’ve moved forward on sentencing reform, but we haven’t moved forward getting people back to work.”
But for violent criminals, Nunn will push the legislature to take a “harder tone.”
To Nunn, the current system puts habitual offenders back on the street before their debt to society has been paid and gives the correctional system less time to work with the offender before they re-enter their community.
“We had a situation we came across two weeks ago where a man had attacked six separate women, sentenced to 10 years in prison and was getting out after 3.5 years because of good time earned. That, in and of itself, is dangerous,” Nunn said.
Nunn led a bill in 2016 in Iowa House that dealt with habitual violent offenders to reduce the amount of good time earned they could receive. It passed with bipartisan support, but the bill is not retroactive for sentencing issues before it became law. For those individuals, Nunn wants to look at legislation this year that will allow for GPS tracking of violent criminals after release on good time earned to detect early warning signs of re-offending such as stalking and harassment.
“We have to look at a way in the re-entry phase where they’re monitored, there’s parole and we have strict guidelines for these folks,” Nunn said.
Felon voting rights
Following the 2018 midterm election, Gov. Kim Reynolds hinted she might be in favor of automatic restoration of voting rights for convicted felons once their debt to society is paid. This comes on the heels of Florida voters passing Amendment 4, restoring the right for felons who have completed their sentence or go on probation. A similar law in Iowa would affect more than 52,000 convicted felons.
Iowa and Kentucky are now the only two states in the nation that do not automatically restore voting rights for felons after they’ve paid their debt to society.
Nunn agrees with the governor that felons should have voting rights automatically reinstated once they’ve paid their debt to society. But where the debate in the legislature and governor’s office will occur is what a bill reinstating a felon’s voting rights defines as “time served.”
“Where I would differ, is to say is your time served if (you) only served 15 percent of your sentence due to ‘good time?’ Do you automatically get your voting rights re-instated or is it the original sentence? ... That would be my concern,” Nunn said. It has to be in line with what the original judge said was your time served, so you don’t get ‘good time’ for your voting rights.”
Contact Mike Mendenhall at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or email@example.com