Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

UPDATE: Want bipartisan support for a bill? Make it about veterans

Freshman Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside), left, had his first bills passed in the House, but their fate is uncertain in the Senate.
Freshman Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside), left, had his first bills passed in the House, but their fate is uncertain in the Senate.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

The House of Representatives passed the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act on Monday night. The bill contains two bills introduced by a freshman Democrat from Riverside. 

Congressman Mark Takano's contribution to the final package includes the Vets Success Bill, extending the period of time for injured vets to qualify for training programs, and the Work Study for Student Veterans Act, which restores a program that allows vets attending college to work part-time at various jobs, including helping other vets understand how to access their benefits.

Takano is not the only California House freshman to get legislation passed in their first term. Republican Doug LaMalfa's bill HR 1038, which involves "equal treatment for utility special entities using utility operations-related swaps," had two California Democrats as co-sponsors. 

And L.A. Democrat Tony Cardenas managed to get a food safety amendment included in the House Farm Bill. It would expand food safety education to include farmworkers, so that food contamination could be cut off as close to the source as possible.

But for freshmen in the minority party, the least powerful group in Congress, one theme seems to be emerging as a harbinger of success when it comes to moving legislation: the military. 

Freshman Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod of Montclair introduced four bills; three went nowhere. The language from her fourth was incorporated into a GOP bill that creates a task force to evaluate the backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

Long Beach freshman Alan Lowenthal introduced a trio of bills, one resolution, and three amendments. Only one of his amendments, to protect a K-12 education program, passed. It is funded through the Defense Department.

Elk Grove freshman Ami Bera also got a veterans provision through the House as part of the Defense bill. The 21st Century Health Care for Heroes Act pushes the VA to move to electronic health records.

Chula Vista Democrat Juan Vargas also got his bill attached to the Defense bill. The “Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range Transfer Act of 2013" transfers admistration of the land from the Bureau of Land Management to the U.S. Navy. Vargas says it ""preserves the environmental integrity of the land and supports our national security.”

Freshman Republican Paul Cook of Big Bear also had good luck with veterans amendments. His "Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program reauthorizes grants to organizations that assist homeless veterans with job training and placement. And his "Prioritizing Urgent Claims for Veterans Act" requires the Department of Veterans' Affairs to give priority status to veterans over age 70 or homeless or Medal of Honor winners. 

And Palm Springs freshman Raul Ruiz just introduced the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act. This legislation provides a free lifetime pass to national parks for disabled veterans.

Takano says it's not surprising to find bipartisan support for the military. He cites the recent State of the Union address:  "Whenever the President mentioned veterans, both sides of the aisle stood up and clapped vigorously." 

Freshmen and those in the minority party aren't the only ones to sponsor bills for vets. Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a bill to authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to lease agreements two buildings at the West LA Veterans Administration Medical Campus to house homeless veterans.

As to the fate of his own bill, Takano says there's support for a measure with similar language that awaits a vote in the Senate. But he says there are "other partisan conflicts" that could keep the legislation from getting to the floor. He says Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has a long list of bills to tackle and "may not have floor time" for the measure.