Congressman James Comer is using some of his August recess to visit with constituents in the 35 counties he represents, and Tuesday he made a stop in Columbia.
Comer held a town hall at the judicial center, where he spoke and answered questions for more than an hour.
He talked about several pieces of legislation he has supported, including amending the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.
“You would be surprised and sad at the numbers of child abuse and neglect we have in America, even in parts of Kentucky. The main thing this legislation does is follow the path of what we did with school safety last session,” Comer said.
Marshall County, where a school shooting took place in January 2018, is in Comer’s district. Comer said they have learned from a shooting in Parkland, Fla. that there are often clues that someone has plans to carry out a shooting.
They learned in the Florida incident that law enforcement agencies were not coordinating efforts to follow up on potential threats. Now they have created a system to do just that.
“We’ve created a system, where if a kid makes a comment to his peers or if a kid puts something on Instagram that implies they are thinking about doing a school shooting, everyone is alerted and someone goes and is talking to that kid within a few hours,” Comer said.
They have tried to set up the same type of system to identify potential cases of child abuse or neglect, Comer said.
“Teachers for example are on the front line of abuse and neglect. They see it before anyone in a classroom,” Comer said.
The 2018 amendment to the law provides immunity to people who make good-faith reports or who provide assistance or intervention in connection with a report of child abuse or neglect.
Comer also commented on the farm bill passed last year and said he believes farmers are for the most part pleased with the bill. While the nation is enjoying a strong economy, Comer said two things are causing challenges, and those are the trade war and a shortage of workers.
“I believe with all my heart, if we want to enhance and revitalize these rural communities, we’ve got to do it through manufacturing jobs,” Comer said. He related to a company in Monroe County when he was growing up that offered good wages along with health care and retirement benefits.
“When NAFTA passed…they had no choice but to go to Mexico. All those jobs were lost and they have never been replaced,” Comer said.
While suburban areas were able to recover and even benefitted from NAFTA, rural communities suffered, he noted.
Now, trade problems come from China, he said. China cheats, such as devaluing their currency to boost exports, Comer said. They also steal intellectual property from the U.S. They don’t have child labor laws or environmental regulations, he noted.
“Every president for the four presidents have all complained about China…but nobody has really done anything about it,” Comer said. “Trump gets elected, and he says we are going to do something about it. We can’t continue to lose ground to China. He has drawn the line in the sand, and there are people hurting from it.”
Despite the harm caused to farmers and others, Comer said he believes the trade war is necessary.
“If we don’t make things in the United States, if we outsource everything to China, there’s not going to be much left of the United States, and the rural communities have suffered the most,” Comer said. “If we can have a level playing field with China, I think we can have a renaissance in rural America, and that renaissance would be a renaissance of manufacturing.”
While cautioning that he doesn’t believe the trade war will end soon, Comer said, “I think we are going to have short term pain, but the goal is to have long term prosperity.”
COMER RESPONDS TO QUESTIONS
Comer fielded several questions from the audience, with a main focus on the costs of health care and medications.
Comer has co-sponsored “no surprise billing” legislation, but it’s something he said has become difficult to develop. He said they expect to have prescription drug reform, which would punish companies that gouge customers.
While Comer noted that the nation’s health care structure has failed, he said he believes the best approach is to address a piece at a time and try to make improvements.
Comer said he believes medical marijuana will be addressed on a state level within the next couple of years and agrees that there needs to be a better way to treat pain than through opioid prescriptions.
He touched on the media coverage received by four Democrats considered the far left-wing of the party and referred to as “the squad.” Comer, a Republican, said he is on an oversight subcommittee that has gotten no media coverage in the past.
“I don’t ever remember a tv camera being in the committee meeting, ever,” he said.
Then Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan became new members of the committee. Now, he said, members of the press are lying on the floor waiting for the two women to enter the meetings, which they usually do toward the end when the meeting is open for questions.
“When they walk in, those reporters will pop up and start taking pictures. For 15 minutes, they are taking pictures of them,” he said.
“I don’t know why they get so much attention. They’ve not passed any legislation. They have filed amendments. They don’t even get them passed through the House; they sure aren’t going to get them passed through the Senate,” Comer said. “I can tell you with 100 percent confidence they are not a threat to pass anything, like the Green New Deal, none of that stuff will pass anytime soon.”
By Sharon Burton