Street justice or injustice? – Sen. Jack Hatch’s March 29 update

Dear Friend,

Unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman in Florida while walking home from the store because he allegedly posed a fear of death or serious bodily injury to a man almost twice his weight.

Sadly, incidents like this happen all over the country and those responsible for the death or injury are not held criminally or civilly liable for their actions because at least 15 states have a Stand Your Ground law on the books.

A few weeks ago, Iowa House Republicans introduced and passed House File 2215, which would add a Stand Your Ground law to the Iowa law books. House Republicans passed this legislation knowing that there was no bipartisan support and realizing that they were opening the way to an increase in “justifiable” crime. Contact Jack

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Stand Your Ground laws allow people to essentially commit a crime with no real justification and be exempt from liability by claiming self-defense. Under the law, individuals are allowed to use reasonable force against another individual if they fear that their life or the lives of those around them are in danger. They’re not required to retreat even if they have that alternative. Laws like this put policing in the hands of citizens, raising public safety concerns.

If HF 2215 becomes law, Iowans who commit these “self-defense” acts will be able to escape responsibility and punishment by claiming they feared for their lives. The bill expands the definition of where the use of reasonable and justifiable deadly force applies to include not only your home or workplace but any public or private place that an individual is lawfully allowed to be in.

Furthermore, it allows individuals to be wrong in their estimation of whether they are actually in danger of life and safety, as long as they believe there is a risk to their person. The law would not require individuals to retreat as a safer alternative but would allow them to stay and defend themselves against others.

Stand Your Ground is not going to be effective or good for Iowa. Families that lose loved ones to this law will cry injustice when the person that caused the death or serious injury is exempt from responsibility. How will law enforcement and the courts be able to clearly define what circumstances are significant enough to fall within this law? How many innocent lives will be lost before the Republicans realize that they had an error in judgment when they drafted and passed Stand Your Ground?

Under the Culver administration, a bill was signed into law that allows individuals who go through the proper channels and classes to apply for and acquire a license to conceal and carry, which I opposed. This law takes the conceal and carry law a step further by allowing individuals to attack others based on a reasonable belief of harm and claim self defense. What constitutes reasonable belief?

Traditional laws, such as the Castle Doctrine, allow self-defense claims for individuals in their home or workplace, where there is no real expectation that they should have to retreat. To take the same law and apply it to public places is excessive and unrealistic. A civilized society should not be subject to this type of individualized policing and injustice.

If the law passes in Iowa, how long will it be before another Trayvon Martin death occurs in our own backyard? We as a society don’t have time or lives to waste on careless and thoughtless legislation. There are too many other important issues on the table: affordable healthcare, our mental health system, education, job creation.

Stand Your Ground legislation is simply injustice, another way to excuse bad behavior and careless actions toward one another. Fortunately, with a Democratic Iowa Senate, this bill will not be debated. Senator Beall and I discussed health care reform with Jim Kersten, vice-president of Iowa Central Community College and a former legislator, and Hallie Maranchick of Boehringer Ingelheim.

Act now to keep Iowa’s economy growing

The recent report of rising state revenues is another sign that Iowa’s response to the national recession is working. Our economy is improving, and now’s the time to strengthen the foundations of a lasting recovery.

When the deep national recession hit, we reduced the annual state budget by hundreds of millions of dollars by reforming and downsizing state government and putting the focus on job creation and long-term growth.

We’ve made a good start, one that has put Iowa ahead of other states. Now is the time to invest in education, job creation and other opportunities to build a strong Iowa economy for the future.

Education reforms to prepare students for 21st century jobs

I share Governor Branstad’s education goals of raising academic standards, improving the effectiveness of educators and using innovation to enhance learning.

As we choose the best ways to reach these goals, my colleagues and I are listening to parents, teachers, students and concerned Iowans. Their suggestions are the basis of the education reforms contained in Senate File 2284. This legislation is still a work in progress but key elements include:

** Focusing on early reading and small class sizes in the younger grades so that teachers can help struggling students catch up.

** Helping students learn at their own pace to master the basics and advance more quickly in the subjects they love most.

** Expanding the core curriculum to include arts, music and technology.

** Expanding teacher-to-teacher collaboration and coaching.

** Using online learning to enhance and extend offerings in our local schools.

** Pilot projects to extend the school year and school day to measure the impact on student achievement.

** Parent liaisons for schools with struggling students.

I am passionately interested in creating world-class schools here in Iowa. I believe that by working together, we can take several steps forward this year to provide Iowa students with the best educational opportunities.

Please continue sharing your ideas as we build on what our schools do right and improve in areas where we can do better.

Community colleges can help strengthen Iowa’s economy

Iowa’s skilled worker shortage hurts our state’s economic growth. Governor Branstad and I agree on that point.

To solve the problem, we need to change direction. Specifically, we need to make it easier—not harder—for Iowa workers to improve their skills.

Since 1991, enrollment at community colleges has more than doubled to nearly 106,000. At the same time, a 21 percent drop in state investment has made getting an education more expensive for Iowa families by forcing sharp increases in tuition and fees.

We need to turn this trend around. Our community colleges already work closely with Iowa businesses to identify local and statewide needs. Our community colleges have shown they can help Iowans gain the skills to fill those job openings and earn industry-recognized certificates in welding, technology, direct care and other areas.

Given that record of success, it’s time to ask community colleges to do more. That means providing enough state funding to get the job done, without making tuition unaffordable.

As the 2012 session winds down, I’m working with my colleagues in the Legislature on the best ways to grow Iowa’s economy and create jobs. At the top of my list is more investment in Iowa’s community colleges. This is a win-win opportunity for Iowa businesses looking for employees and Iowa workers looking for jobs.

For a new report on how funding is impacting our community colleges, go to the Iowa Fiscal Partnership Web site at

Bipartisan effort restores help to unemployed Iowans

Unemployed Iowans will continue to get the help they need, thanks to an agreement by the Senate, the House and Governor Branstad to restore funding to Iowa Workforce Development and ensure all remaining field offices stay open through the end of the current fiscal year.

Senate File 517, approved with overwhelming, bipartisan support during the 2011 session, included specific funding to keep open dozens of local workforce offices. These offices help Iowans search for jobs, prepare for interviews and improve their skills, while helping businesses find the qualified employees they need.

Governor Branstad item-vetoed restrictions and conditions on appropriations in the legislation that would have kept all 55 workforce field offices open. Recently, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Governor’s veto was illegal, making all funding for the Department of Workforce Development void.

While the agreement to restore funding to Iowa Workforce Development cleans up the immediate mess created by the Governor’s illegal veto, it will be difficult to repair all the damage. For example, I am skeptical about the effectiveness of offering essential employment services through computer kiosks, and am looking at reopening some of the closed workforce offices where they are most critically needed.

Part of Iowa’s recovery from the national recession includes doing the best job possible to help unemployed Iowans find work.

Thanking our volunteer emergency workers

The Senate unanimously approved a tax credit on March 26 for our volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel. These Iowans often spend their own money to keep us safe when our volunteer departments don’t have enough resources to cover their costs.

Senate File 2322provides a nonrefundable individual income tax credit of $50 to certified volunteer emergency medical services personnel or volunteer firefighters who meet minimum training standards. If the individual was not a volunteer for the entire tax year, the amount of credit is prorated based on the months of volunteer service. The bill takes effect in 2013, and applies to tax years 2013 and later.

See a video of Senator Tom Hancock of Epworth, a volunteer firefighter for 43 years, urging the Senate to support SF 2322 at

April is National Donate Life Month

Iowa is consistently recognized as one of the most “donation friendly” states in the country when it comes to organ and tissue donation. Sixty-seven percent of adult Iowans are registered donors—much higher than the national average of only 33 percent.

Almost 113,000 Americans currently wait for a life-saving organ transplant. Over 630 of those people are Iowans. More than 100 people can benefit from one person’s decision to be an organ and tissue donor.

During National Donate Life Month, I encourage you to register as an organ, tissue and eye donor by marking “yes” to donation on your driver’s license or identification card. You can also register online at


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