January 17, 2021

NUNN: Small communities, businesses need pandemic assistance

Economic development still a priority, but SD15 representative also wants main street businesses to thrive

Editor’s note: This is the second of four articles detailing the points of interest and goals of local legislators representing Jasper County as they move into the 89th Iowa General Assembly. The 2021 legislative session officially begins Jan. 11.

Providing monetary assistance and other forms of relief to those affected affected by the pandemic is important to Iowa State Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, as he heads into the next legislative session. The local lawmaker also wants to bolster economic development and lead conversations about comprehensive tax reform.

Representing Iowa Senate District 15, Nunn is chair of the International Relations Committee and vice-chair of the Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee. Nunn also serves the Iowa Innovation Council and is a member of the commerce, judiciary, labor and business relations and ways and means committees in the Iowa Legislature.

Last year, Nunn prioritized economic development in rural Iowa, citing the Amazon fulfillment center in Bondurant and the $32 million softball complex in Newton as strong examples. He also told Newton News about his goals to keep big politics out of local elections for city councils and school boards.

In the past, Nunn also strived for judicial reform, which did see some progress.

“We’re very happy with our judicial reform package that went through I think this helped save not only the state money but gives folks who are first-time, non-violent drug offenders back into the community in a meaningful way,” Nunn said. “That’s good for business owners, that’s good for families. It’s good for Iowa.”

Much like other lawmakers across the state, Nunn sought to progress the state’s rural broadband infrastructure last year. It will take even more work in 2021 to move that idea and its subsequent projects forward. Nunn said Iowa is one of the first states to receive a 5G broadband upgrade, further highlighting progress.

“That’s good if you’re a student trying to learn or you’re a work-from-home mom who is selling stuff online,” Nunn said.

PANDEMIC ASSISTANCE

Communities like those in Jasper County — where there is a blend of urban and rural settings — need COVID-19 assistance, Nunn said. The legislator wants to know how the state best support those communities and disperse its stock of vaccines, particularly in rural areas.

Nunn wants to support the emergency relief effort that’s going on with first responders and essential workers, and he also wants to see the state prioritize certain facilities for early vaccinations. For example, medical clinics and assisted living facilities in Jasper County should be given first dibs.

“In tandem with that, I’ve got a bill that I’m currently working on to support out first responders,” Nunn said. “We’re looking specifically at law enforcement and the volunteer fire fighters and EMS. Huge in this aspect is these are the guys on the frontline every day.”

These workers, Nunn added, should be supported with access to the vaccine and also be provided some level of relief, monetary or otherwise. Nunn said first responders and volunteers are working double or triple shifts and are constantly running the risk for exposure; which is why they should be first in line.

“A lot of these folks have seen their call volume skyrocket, so they’re taking time away from their civilian job or their primary job and family to be able to help those in the community,” Nunn said of the volunteers. “And we really want to see additional levels of relief for our volunteers, as well as our first responders.”

One of the bills being proposed, Nunn said, will prevent volunteers or first responders who are working overtime from being taxed during those hours worked. Lawmakers are also looking to make sure their training and certifications — mostly paid out of pocket — are covered by the state.

“We depend on them to make sure our communities are safe,” Nunn said.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Iowa continues to be “very fortunate” with its low unemployment numbers, Nunn said. But one of the things he wants to see coming into the New Year is helping main street business that have been impacted significantly by the pandemic and the ensuing closures.

“Everything from restaurants to bars to the town square shopping — that needs to have type of an economic relief package so these guys can either open their doors again or get to a point where they can reconstitute,” Nunn said.

It comes as no surprise that the pandemic has altered what lawmakers will be tackling this next legislative session. Nunn believes there’s going to be “broad, bipartisan consensus” to pass a relief package bill that would specifically target vaccine assistance and relief for small and medium businesses, too.

Larger economic development projects will continue to be a priority, too. Nunn said these projects help grow “everything else we need to do as a state,” meaning better schools, a better standard of living and a better standard of care for retirees. The Amazon fulfillment center is projected to bring 1,000 jobs.

“We’re already in talks about building a secondary facility in the district that is going to be a similar distribution facility,” Nunn said. “That’s going to bring in several more jobs. We’re excited about that. We’re going to see the full announcement here in probably 2021.”

Nunn sees the construction of a second warehouse as an example of Iowa “building on success.” Iowa also wants to diversity its economic growth “across things like softball complex” and the hotels and restaurants that are expected to accompany that project in Newton. Still, existing businesses need love, too.

“How do we make our main street bars and restaurants thrive post-COVID? How do we help our main street merchants leverage? It’s great we got an Amazon distribution center (but) I want to make sure that people who are working from home … still have access to be able to deliver their goods to customers.”

Supporting growth through low property taxes for brick-and-mortar stores is a good start, Nunn added. Creating a broadband infrastructure benefits virtual merchants, too, to sell and engage with their customers.

TAX REFORM

Nunn complimented the state for properly managing its budget, touting the surplus as a positive takeaway. Now is the time for comprehensive tax reform, Nunn said, so that lawmakers can help families get back on their feet and “do what they do best” — grow Iowa’s economy.

When it comes to property taxes for homeowners and farmers, Nunn said there needs to be a “cleaner, transparent property tax appeals process.” For example, Nunn said a home improvement to one house drives up the property valuation of an entire neighborhood. This can hurt people living on fixed income.

“That’s not the way we should be doing business,” Nunn said. “We should be doing it on a very tailored aspect so that people have a property tax which is realistic for their home, particularly for those people living in those homes. Same is true for (agriculture).”

Another aspect of comprehensive tax reform Nunn wants to see addressed is getting rid of all carve-outs and having sunsets on the ones currently existing. This would allow tax reform for people who make an income in Iowa “actually see their taxes go down.” Overall, Nunn wants transparency in the state’s tax code.

Nunn added, “I want the government to get out of the business of picking winners and losers and just have a very transparent tax schedule. We made some headway in that last year. COVID cut our session short. So this year I think we can come in very strong on that. We have a strong budget for it.”

ELECTION REFORM

This year Nunn was happy that the Iowa Legislature worked across party lines on helping people vote at the ballot box, the auditor’s office or absentee. Prompted by the measures taken by one candidate in the race for Iowa’s Second Congressional District, Nunn also wants to see some level of election reform.

“Iowa had the closest congressional race in the nation with six votes separating the winner, (Mariannette) Miller-Meeks, from the loser, Rita Hart,” Nunn said. “Something that would make that much better is if we could have our absentees turned in 10 days prior to Election Day.”

If Iowa doesn’t reform its elections, there’s a chance the U.S. Congress decides state elections, Nunn said, referring to Hart’s decision to petition the state canvass board’s results. Hart recently claimed 22 legally cast votes were unlawfully excluded from the certified results.

Iowans need to know on Election Day that all the votes are in, Nunn added, and that there won’t be ballots showing up after that. Jasper County was at the epicenter of the contested Miller-Meeks/Hart race when a clerical data entry error swayed the election in Hart’s favor.

However, other reporting errors were found and swung the election toward Miller-Meeks once more.

“We were ground zero for something that could echo around the country, and I think that’s really important that we be the voice on leading (the message) that when Iowa votes, Iowans decide,” Nunn said.

HOW TO CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATOR

Nunn can be reached by email at zach.nunn@legis.iowa.gov or by calling his capitol phone 515-281-3371. The Iowa Legislature website also includes his cellphone 515-519-2246.

“I’m very open from now through February,” Nunn said. “If people have recommendations for bills they’d like, please email me or call me directly.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com