by Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, August 21, United States Senator Chris Coons held a town hall meeting at the Carlisle Fire Company. The meeting, emceed by Eric Williams of Mispillion River Brewing, was an open forum allowing those in attendance to ask the senator questions regarding issues, problems or concerns they had that he may be able to address.
“I try to figure out a way to do the best job I can do for you,” Senator Coons told the audience before taking questions. “I realize not everyone likes me or agrees with me but I look at you as my boss. I have held several of these meetings and, at each one, I learn something. I learn from you and I work for you. I know that the media has spent a lot of time telling you that our two parties are at each other’s throats. The fact is, we are trying to work together and get things done. You can trust that we are working together to accomplish things.”
One question asked of Senator Coons was about violence and disrespect in society, pointing out that it is impossible to address gun violence without changing the attitude that “popping off” is acceptable behavior.
“There are more episodes of violence, including road rage, mass shootings, all of which reflect a deeper challenge,” Senator Coons said. “Some people simply have no respect for others. I use Thanksgiving dinner as an analogy. We all come from families that are big and complex. Although we sit down together on that day and have things to be grateful for, we have some people in our family that struggle to get along. I try to conduct myself in a way that teaches respect and, although I am not always successful, I do try to conduct myself that way. I do think it is possible to bring respect back and address the issue of violence in this country.”
Prescription drug prices were another concern expressed to Senator Coons. He pointed out that the United States is a world leader in development and manufacturing of drugs but people in this country pay higher drug costs than any other country. Drug companies claim that is the trade off for innovation. Senator Coons said that they are working on legislation that would limit how high a company could raise a drug price on a medication that is off-patent, like epinephrine or insulin.
“Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is sponsoring a few bills related to prescription drugs,” Senator Coons said. “One bill would cap out-of-pocket expenses for some types of medications. Another would require all off-patent medications, like epinephrine and insulin, to go before the FDA if there is a proposed increase of a certain percentage within one year. There is also legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. Another bill would not allow a drug company to charge more than the market average across several countries for a drug while another would require more price transparency. Both parties are addressing drug prices right now as many of the calls we get are from constituents who are mad about how much prescriptions cost.”
Senator Coons also said that this country needs to do a better job of addressing mental illness, providing better options for families who are dealing with a mentally ill member but have difficulty getting them help. He stated that there are privacy concerns when it comes to creating things like a mental health database. He state that makes it difficult to identify people who should not purchase a gun due to mental illness or prior criminal activity.
“One option is one that is currently used in Pennsylvania,” Senator Coons said. “When you fill out a form to purchase a firearm, there is a box you check if you have been convicted of a crime that prohibits you from having a gun. The guy takes the form, goes in the back and calls in the information. In most states, he then returns and says “Hey, you are a great guy, but you have this criminal charge that says you can’t have a gun.” You then leave the store with no consequences. In Pennsylvania, that form is sent to the State Police. If you checked “no” when you should have checked “yes,” you have committed a crime. Since the implementation of the law, 200 people have been arrested in Pennsylvania for trying to get a gun while prohibited.”
When asked about issues at the southern border, Senator Coons admitted that the border is out of control and that something needs to be done to address the situation.
“I want to make clear that I do not speak for every Democrat,” Senator Coons said. “Some of them want to abolish ICE and just let anyone into the country. I am not supportive of this idea and feel we need to protect the border in order to protect the country. However, there are currently 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. We cannot deport 12 million people and it is important to note that most of those here illegally came here by plane. They are students and visitors who simply didn’t leave when their visa expired. I believe we need to increase security at our border, improve ICE and find a process and pathway for those who want to stay here and are willing to work. I especially want to see a pathway for dreamers, for those who came here as children. These are people whose parents broke the law, but they were too young to understand that. They should have a way to citizenship that is simplified. Our immigration policy is broken and it is not getting better because the two parties keep pointing fingers.”
Several questions asked were related to individual issues that those in attendance were facing. Senator Coons identified the staff members with him that could help them those issues. In some cases, he told audience members that he did not have an answer for them but to get with his staff and he would get an answer for them as quickly as he could.
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