Nunn: Efforts passed in 2019 for a stronger, safer, better Iowa

State Sen. Zach Nunn | Senate District 15 | Des Moines Register

The 2019 legislative session just ended, and with the help of Iowans in every county, we advanced policies to make Iowa stronger, safer, and better in the future. From a historic $19 billion commitment to school safety and infrastructure, $4.8 billion in property tax relief, to rural housing initiatives, mental health and more.

Here is a top-line rundown of the work we collaborated on passing:

Tougher drunk driving penalties: There’s never been a valid excuse for driving drunk, but in 2019 it has never been more avoidable. From ride hailing services in some Iowa cities to a simple text message to a friend, Iowans have plenty of ways to get around that don’t involve operating while intoxicated.

Zach Nunn

That’s why I was proud to champion tougher drunk driving legislation this year to crack down on habitual drunk drivers and mandate substance abuse treatment. Twenty percent of OWI deaths involve repeat offenders, which is totally unacceptable. No one should be arrested three, four, or more, times and still be able to get behind the wheel and kill responsible Iowans.

Opening up Iowa’s mental health system: If quantum computing and 3D organ printing are all in the realm of human possibility, then it shouldn’t be controversial to say that ending the stigma around mental illness in our state is also a very real possibility. This year, we made sound, bipartisan progress towards expanding Iowa’s mental health treatment access and options, especially in rural areas and for kids.

On the children’s mental health front, massive community support helped pass a bill that will support the 64,000 Iowa kids who currently need mental health services but don’t have an on-ramp into the system. There is always more work to be accomplished — but this is a historic milestone in creating Iowa’s first children’s mental health structure for the state.

Safer schools and property tax relief: The safety, technology, and infrastructure needs of Iowa’s schools are constantly changing. At the same time, Iowa property tax payers have seen outrageous increases of 103% over the past decade or so — totally unsustainable. SAVE is a response to both of these needs. We need safer, higher-tech schools and lower property taxes in Iowa. I was glad to advocate on extending the SAVE program as a road map for investing in our kids and communities for the next 20 years. The program provides $19 billion for school safety, technology, and infrastructure, plus $4.8 billion in property tax relief for Iowans.

At the same time, we also collaborated with city officials to find an acceptable policy to provide more transparency in local budgets, making sure that property taxes are held in check and citizens get their voices heard before local budgets increase.

Safety in Iowa:  Our nation’s constitution makes clear that the people have a “right to bear arms,” so it should be equally critical our Iowa constitution also ensures that right. This year, I was proud to work with law-abiding Iowans to pass “Right to Bear Arms” language for the Iowa Constitution that will go to the voters for approval.

Another aspect of Iowa safety is human trafficking, labor exploitation, and illegal immigration. As the co-sponsor of legislation for mandatory e-verify (a system to almost instantly check if an employee is authorized to work in the USA) , we are working to stop human trafficking and unfair business practices that harm good legal workers and good employers. This bill won’t become law in 2019 because the Iowa House failed to pass it, but going forward we’ll continue the effort.

Hemp for Ag and CBD for patients: Industrial hemp has a future in Iowa, especially now that the legislature has gotten out of the way of it. The crop is not the same as “marijuana” as commonly known; it has virtually no psychoactive components and is primarily used for things like rope, clothing, paper, and various biomass-based products. The industrial hemp plan passed by the legislature this year is responsible and will give those Iowans with a plow in the field a chance to innovate and diversify their crop portfolios in the future.

The Legislature also, separately, passed further CBD oil legislation to help Iowa patients. Our state has a long history of innovation and research, so allowing this critical line of treatment more room to develop will not only help Iowans with severe conditions, such as epilepsy or cancer, but also open the door a bit farther to potential future medical and scientific advancement.

Two areas where we’ll keep working: The push to make Iowa better, safer, and stronger always continues — and this year is no exception. Despite concerted efforts from great organizations like Tiffany Allison’s Soaring Hearts, we still have work to do to advance crime victims’ rights, especially those who’ve survived domestic abuse. Tiffany and I worked on two bills: one to eliminate automatic “good time” reduced sentencing for repeat violent offenders and another to proactively prevent violent situations from escalating. Next year, we’ll keep pushing for those and similar efforts to make Iowa safer.

Next year, we’ll also have to keep working to toughen penalties for companion animal abuse and mandate mental health evaluations for some companion animal abusers didn’t go forward. In Judiciary Committee, I advocated for the bill to advance and voted in support. While I was disappointed it didn’t happen in 2019, we’ll continue working on getting more stakeholders on board so Iowa can have fairer laws on this front.

STATE SEN. ZACH NUNN, R-Bondurant, represents Senate District 15, which includes most of Jasper County and parts of eastern Polk County, including Altoona, Bondurant, Mitchellville and Runnells.  He can be reached at 515-519-2246 or