While summer is beginning to wind down for most Americans, for members of Congress, it’s just getting started.
The U.S. House of Representatives began its summer recess Monday and will return to Washington Sept. 9. In the Senate, lawmakers adjourn Friday and will reconvene Sept. 9 with the House.
Iowa’s three Democratic members of the House kept busy in the first half of 2019, churning out legislation to improve the lives of their constituents.
Here are some recent highlights:
Rep. Abby Finkenauer — 1st District
Helping Communities Invest in Rural Infrastructure Act: As vice-chair of the Highways and Transit subcommittee, Finkenauer works closely with other House members on infrastructure policy. The first-term congresswoman’s latest bill is aimed specifically at helping small cities and rural communities access federal infrastructure dollars. The bill increases funding for the Rural Project Initiative to provide loans “well below market interest rate” and waives funding application fees for local governments. It also expands outreach to rural communities so they are aware when federal funding is available and how best to apply.
Levee Rehabilitation Improvements Act: Introduced with an Illinois Republican, the bill requires the Army Corps of Engineers to “weigh navigational benefits when calculating whether a levee should be repaired,” thus allowing more river cities to receive federal rehabilitation funds for their levees. Overtopped levees proved dangerous this spring for barges navigating the swollen rivers, but because navigation benefits do not count toward federal funding, Finkenauer’s office explained, it was difficult for communities to obtain the money needed to rehabilitate their levees.
Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act: In June, Finkenauer spoke to the House Committee on Education and Labor about the need to protect the rights of public employees to collectively bargain, particularly in parts of the country “who have seen their rights eroded” in state legislatures. Finkenauer’s bill restores the rights Iowa’s public employees lost in 2017, including the ability to bargain over wages, hours and terms of employment. It also would rid unions of the requirement to hold re-certification elections, as mandated by Iowa Republicans’ bill.
Rep. Dave Loebsack — 2nd District
Renew America’s Schools Act: Loebsack, a seven-term congressman not seeking re-election in 2020, remains active in the House as he nears the end of his tenure. One of his latest bills proposes the creation of a federal grant program through the Department of Energy to provide $100 million annually for five years, so K-12 schools can make energy efficiency improvements and infrastructure upgrades.
Access to Genetic Counselor Services Act: Developed in consultation with the National Society of Genetic Counselors, Loebsack’s bill allows Medicare beneficiaries to access genetic counselors by requiring the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to reimburse genetic counselors for their consultations. Currently, physicians are limited in the referrals they can make for genetic counseling services, opening the door to “incorrect interpretation of genetic test results, failure to identify individuals’ genetic risk, and inaccurate risk assessments … ”
Connect America Act: Loebsack has long prioritized the effort to expand broadband access in America, including legislation this year to bring high-speed internet to more than 98% of the country. In authorizing a “reverse auction” by the Federal Communications Commission, the bill would help fund the accessibility of high-speed internet to the largest portion of Americans at the lowest cost. The legislation proposes allocating $40 billion so the FCC can help facilitate broadband access for all communities in the country.
Rep. Cindy Axne — 3rd District
Family Farmer Relief Act: Sponsored by Axne, also in the midst of her first term in Congress, the bipartisan legislation provides “a lifeline to Iowa farmers navigating a downturn in the farm economy.” The bill aims to help farmers struggling with debt by making more farms eligible to file for Chapter 12 bankruptcy. Iowa’s senior U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, is leading a version of the bill in the Senate. The legislation increases the debt cap covered under Chapter 12 from $3.2 million to $10 million, reflecting increases in land values and the average size of U.S. farming operations over time.
Child Care Protection Improvement Act: In response to a series of articles published this summer in the Des Moines Register about unsafe conditions at some Iowa daycares, Axne partnered with a Georgia lawmaker to “create a task force to assist states in the process of implementing background check requirements for child care workers.” The bill requires federal officials from the office administering the Child Care and Development Block Grant to work with those conducting background checks on child care workers, to ensure states are fulfilling federal safety requirements.
Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act: Early in July, the Democrat-controlled House passed Axne’s bill to “ensure rural entrepreneurs and small business owners have a seat at the table as federal policymakers consider new rules that govern investment and capital.” The legislation expands focus areas for the Office of the Advocate For Small Business Capital Formation so small businesses in rural communities are included.
By Elizabeth Meyer
Finkenauer and Axne photos by Julie Fleming