Freshman lawmakers prepare to introduce their first bills

Several freshman lawmakers are undergoing a rite of passage in Congress: introducing their first pieces of legislation.

The measures are a reflection of the members’ interests, either tied to their professions before they entered public office or dealing with an issue in their home states.

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Thus far in the 113th Congress, 2,070 bills have been introduced and only six have become law, according to the Office of the Clerk of the House.

One of those bills to have cleared all the legislative hurdles was from freshman Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), whose measure was attached to the continuing resolution to fund the government. It required the continuation of tuition assistance programs for members of the military for the rest of the fiscal year — money that had been cut by the sequester.

The lawmaker described it as “success story,” and noted he has several members of the armed forces in his district, which includes the El Paso area.

Of the 83 freshman House members sworn into office in January, 11 lawmakers have not introduced any bills yet, according to a search of Thomas.gov, an online archive of congressional activity. Of the 14 freshman senators, only three have not introduced legislation.

Most of these lawmakers have co-sponsored legislation, however.

Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) has not sponsored any solo legislation, for example, but he has co-sponsored 40 bills.

His office said he “carefully considers each piece of legislation he cosponsors, reviewing the bills with meticulous detail. His focus lies in quality not quantity and it is with that mentality that he will sponsor legislation in the future.”

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) also hasn’t sponsored any solo bills. But an aide points out Lowenthal has co-sponsored more than 96 bills.“Of these, he was an original co-sponsor on 42,” the aide said.“Since the start of his term, he has been developing relationships with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, learning the intricacies of his committee and subcommittee assignments, and at the same time, listening to his constituents to learn what legislation they are looking for at the federal level. He is currently working on several original bills.”

Reps. John Delaney (D-Md.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) are getting ready to introduce their first bills shortly, according to their offices.

Delaney is working on the Partnership to Build America Act, which would finance infrastructure projects. The freshman lawmaker, who has a business background, has also secured several Republican co-sponsors for the legislation, which his office said will be introduced in May.

“It seems to me somewhat pointless to pursue legislation that can’t get bipartisan support,” he told The Hill.

Delaney pointed out his bill might be “the largest-scale infrastructure financing mechanism ever proposed.” He said he picked this issue because “infrastructure investments create jobs in the short term and put a lot of people to work, but also lay the groundwork for a more competitive United States, which creates long-term job opportunities.”

Delaney added that he hasn’t “seen a lot of bipartisanship around economic policy,” and he wants to work on more of that.

Delaney’s push for bipartisan support could be key when it comes time for his bill to become law.

In the 112th Congress, which has been called one of the least productive in history, 10,339 bills were introduced, according to the Office of the Clerk of the House, and only 284 became law.

The first House freshman to introduce a bill this session was Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who’s been in Congress before and has experience with the legislative process.

He introduced a measure on Jan. 3, according to Thomas.gov, to audit the Federal Reserve. It has been referred to committee.

Stockman’s office said the Texas congressman campaigned on the issue and that his goal is “to bring transparency and accountability to our fiscal and monetary policies.”

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) introduced her first bill in April. It would offer a 30 percent tax credit to those who qualify in order to encourage green energy development.

Why that topic?

“I live in Arizona,” she told The Hill. “We’re No. 2 in the country for solar installations and we have over 300 days a year of direct sunlight.”

Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) recently introduced his first — and second — measures.

The Veterans’ Stem Education Program would give additional education funds to veterans seeking degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Veasey’s district is home to approximately 21,000 veterans.

The second bill is also close to Veasey’s heart; it would designate May as “Health and Fitness” month. His office notes the freshman lawmaker is committed to health and fitness and is doing several activities related to that topic around his district this month.

On the Senate side, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) recently introduced his first bill: the Troop Talent Act, which would help military personnel get civilian credentials for the technical skills they learn during their service.

“I’m really excited about it,” he told The Hill. Veterans have complained that skills they learn in the military often don’t translate into civilian certificates and licenses that would get them an equivalent job. 

Kaine, whose home state has a large military population, noted that “when military service was compulsive you could come out of the military and you could go to a place to get hired and say ‘I was gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps’ and somebody would understand what you did.“Now only 1 percent of adults serve in the military, so you go to a place and they say ‘I’m really glad you served’ but they don’t understand the technical skills or the leadership training you’ve received. So this is about being better able to translate the military training into terms civilian hiring officers can understand.”

Freshmen Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) have not introduced bills on their own yet, according to a search of Thomas.gov.

But with six-year terms, these lawmakers have plenty of time to introduce legislation.

King’s office points out he’s been a co-sponsor on a number of bills.

“Right now we are drafting bills in the areas of regulatory reform, on energy, environment, and national security. Senator King also developed an alternative budget proposal in advance of the budget deliberations of the Senate Budget Committee. After having been on the job for less than four months we have an ambitious agenda,” spokeswoman Crystal Canney said.

Heitkamp has co-sponsored 37 bills, while Baldwin has co-sponsored 20.