Town hall topics last Tuesday ranged from forest health to election security and more

JASON CHANEY - U.S. Rep. Greg Walden

When U.S. Rep. Greg Walden stopped by Powell Butte early last week, he touched on a variety of subjects, and forest management received a lot of attention.

He kicked off the hour-long forum Tuesday, July 2 by telling the roughly 60 people in attendance about provisions in the federal Farm Bill and other legislation that is intended to decrease the amount of and severity of wildfires in Oregon.

"In the last Farm Bill, we were able to get some new provisions in that provide 3,000-acre categorical exclusions for disease and insect treatment," Walden said. He went on to explain that categorical exclusions enable onerous forest studies to be applied to adjacent forestland if those lands are under consideration for disease or insect treatment.

"That speeds up the process and they can go ahead and do that work," he remarked.

Walden went on to highlight the Resilient Federal Forest Act that he and other colleagues are working to pass.

"First and foremost, we should have an expedited authority to go in where appropriate and remove the burned, dead trees while they still have value and replant the new green forests for the next generation," he said. "

He went on to note that the bill would eliminate the 21-inch diameter maximum for harvesting trees forests.

"It has no basis in terms of managing these forests so we should get rid of that," he said.

Robo-calls is another concern Walden said he is working on in Congress. He noted that 47.8 billion automated calls from out of the country were placed to Americans last year. In Oregon, he said, 12.8 million were placed to phone numbers in the 541 area code in May alone.

"Two years ago, I wrote and we passed the reauthorization of the Federal Communication Commission's Ray Baum's Act," he said, "and it provided new authorities to the Federal Communication Commission to go after these overseas scammers and shut them down. They are using that, but it's not enough."

So Walden has worked on a bipartisan effort to launch the Stop Bad Robo-calls Act, which he said would authorize and require cellular service carriers like Verizon or AT&T to use their technology to weed out robo-calls and stop them from occurring.

Walden went on to discuss some health care concerns that he is trying address, namely surprise billing by emergency rooms and the high cost of prescription drugs. Regarding surprise billing, he noted that about 20 percent of Americans will receive an unexpected and often high-cost bill after an emergency room visit because their insurance plan unknowingly failed to cover a certain procedure or test.

"This is a problem around the country," he said, adding that Oregon has stepped up and found a way to deal with it. So he and other Congress members are hoping to apply that model throughout the rest of the country.

To address high prescription drug costs, Walden is employing multiple tactics to give makers of generic medications a place in a market that is often dominated and controlled by name-brand medication producers.

"I believe if you get these generics in competition with brand names in the market, prices will come down," he said.

About two-thirds of the town hall was opened to audience questions. One question was raised about the Cap and Trade bill in the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown's plans to move it forward by executive authority. While Walden could not address Brown's authority to take such action, he did say that the state legislation would "have really detrimental effects, especially in the ag and resource sectors."

"If she wanted to do something in Oregon about pollution," Walden added, "I wish she would team up with me and help us do something about our forests." Later, a local resident with a farm in Indiana asked Walden if he supported the tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump. In response, he said that he is not a big tariff advocate because in the end, the consumers pay for it.

"I support trade agreements and I wish they had been enforced better," he continued. "On China, I know the president's view is to give him a little bit of space to negotiate a deal. My view is the clock is running." The southern border humanitarian crisis was raised by another audience member and in response Walden highlighted the quantity of work the system faces in processing immigrants who cross the border. He noted that 144,000 crossed the border in May alone, adding that in the past year, 1 million immigrants were processed legally.

"This is what we are tasking our federal employees to deal with," he said.

He went on to point out that $1.1 billion was recently approved for processing, to get more people to the border to help out, and nearly $3 billion more was provided for humanitarian aid.

The session concluded with a concern raised about election security. Walden started off by saying that elections should not be handled at the federal level, but should continue to be managed by individual states. "If it was all federalized, we wouldn't have vote-by-mail in Oregon today," he said.

He went on to say that he has supported efforts to fund the task force that the FBI runs to intercede with cybersecurity and other issues in partnership with elected officials, "so they are aware of any cyber-type attacks on voting equipment and other infiltration tactics our adversaries use."

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