Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, is shown inside the Iowa House Chamber on Tuesday, Janurary 13, 2015 at the Iowa State Capitol. Bennett is one of over a dozen freshman legislators. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)
The Daily Iowan asked some of the first-year representatives and new state senators to recap their first year as they work toward a final week in the Iowa Legislature.
From education-funding disputes and the state’s first gas-tax increase in nearly 30 years, Iowa’s bunch of new state lawmakers have made many headlines during the 2015 Iowa Legislature.
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The majority of the state’s new politicos have been free of misspoken remarks, controversial political sidesteps, or leisure activities that have hit some of their more-experienced peers this year, including the reading of a racy sex book during an education hearing and watching Netflix during discussions on state bullying.
Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-DeWitt
Beginning with the first day of session on Jan. 12, Mommsen said he was more than convinced he would be appointed to serve solely on an agriculture committee, given his agribusiness background.
Instead, much of his first-year tenure has focused on K-12 funding and allocating finances for the state’s regent universities.
Among his sponsored legislation included several bills on the possession of firearms, including one relating to the possession of gun ammunition, pistol, or revolver for children under 14 and one requiring honey packaged in the state be labeled if sold or offered to consumers.
“Everybody already is at full speed when you get here, but you need to get going as fast as you can,” Mommsen said about his initial reactions to working in the Capitol.
Rep. Charlie McConkey, D-Council Bluffs
For this legislator, whose district includes Council Bluffs and Carter Lake, adjusting to the Statehouse workload became a lot easier once he picked up on lawmaking abbreviations.
“At first I wasn’t quick with asking questions,” said McConkey, a 31-year steel manufacturing veteran. “Everything up here is abbreviations; it’s kind of funny that everybody likes to talk in code.”
In interviews with the DI, the majority of first-year lawmakers concluded that 2015 was a year full of legislative bipartisanship, going as far as to say it was the best one in recent memory.
Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake
“Grab a hold of somebody who knows what they’re doing.”
That’s the advice of Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, who, if he isn’t chatting at the Statehouse with senior leaders Rep. Brian Moore, R-Bellevue, or Rep. Jared Klein, R-Keota, probably could be found at the restaurants in the Holiday Inn-Downtown or nearby Jethro’s BBQ or Johnny’s Hall of Fame sports bar.
Wills was a no-go-vote on the gas tax, when, an hour before the vote, switched his view to prevent two counties in his district — Lyon and Osceola — from opting to fix failing roads and bridges with local taxpayer bonds.
As vice chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee, Wills said a major disappointment in the 2015 session came with the stopped movement of a bill that he says would’ve cut down Medicaid asset verification from several weeks to just 48 hours.
Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford
In five months, Kevin Kinney grew into one of the Legislature’s most optimistic Democratic new players.
In late February, the Oxford lawmaker aligned with Democratic Sens. Joe Bolkcom and Bob Dvorsky, key Democratic power brokers who have built reputations as minimum-wage backers and wage-theft battlers.
Ultimately, bills calling for the increase in the state’s minimum wage to $8 an hour and cracking down on wage theft failed to gain support.
RELATED: Minimum wage increase fails to make progress in Iowa House
But like bills that would make human trafficking an enforceable felony to expanding funding for law-enforcement academies, Kinney said those measures aren’t dead yet and have adequate support for passage in 2016.
As to adjusting this year to a new role as a lawmaker in Des Moines after having worked as a farmer and with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Kinney, the vice chairman of the agriculture & natural resources budget subcommittee, said:
“It seems like every day there’s a new procedure in which you’re dealing with. It takes a session just to learn the proper procedures. That first week, you learn where the bathrooms are.”