Norfolk Daily News: Immigration reform, renewable energy discussed at Fortenberry town hall

Aug 5, 2019
In The News

About a dozen Northeast Nebraskans raised topics including immigration reform, renewable energy and rights for those with disabilities at the Norfolk City Council chambers at a town hall meeting Friday hosted by U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.

The room was filled with more than 50 attendees, including Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning. At least two law enforcement officials were also on hand for security.

Fortenberry, the Republican from Lincoln who represents the 1st District, opened the discussion with a presentation on his recent congressional efforts, including work in the House Appropriations Committee and visits to the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso. He shared three anecdotes to “demonstrate the complexity” of the immigration issue, which is that there are many different kinds of situations that need to be addressed at the border, he said.

After his presentation, numerous attendees asked questions about his stance on immigration and the work he’s doing on related laws.

One man, who did not give his name, asked, “Are you for closing the borders so we can get our house in order?”

Fortenberry responded by saying, “You cannot have a good and just and generous immigration system when there is chaos and disorder at the border.” Fortenberry said he is for a more secure border, stopping employers who are employing undocumented immigrants and updating immigration and asylum laws.

Other attendees spoke up to advocate for those with disabilities.

Beth Plisek of Hoskins asked Fortenberry about his support of the Empower Care Act, which would extend the Money Follows the Person Demonstration Project through 2023. The law — which supports home care rather than institutional care — provides aid to people with physical or developmental disabilities, serious mental illnesses and seniors.

“(My daughter) has a rare genetic disease that’s autoimmune,” Plisek said. “If I put her in a group home at 18 or 19, the likelihood of her kidneys failing is pretty high, but I work a full-time job and my significant other does, too, so to be able to care from her from home and support us is hard without that act.”

Fortenberry said that this bill has been brought up in other town hall meetings, and while his team needs to look over it further, it seems to make “extraordinary sense” by providing “better outcomes and lower costs.”

The topic of renewable energy generated buzz among attendees after Barry Harper of Norfolk asked about the scientific-based conclusions regarding climate change.

Fortenberry said he’s consulted scientific experts who have been able to show more carbon intensity in the atmosphere now.

“We’ve been on this 150-year experiment with hydrocarbons and mass industry,” he said. “Does this have an environmental effect? Undoubtedly.”

He said a better debate than whether climate change exists is what he called a “sustainable energy future,” which he believes should be supplanted with public policy to build out wind and solar infrastructure.

A farmer who lives near Hoskins, who did not give his name, asked about the loss of property valuation on homes near where wind turbines are built, citing studies that showed property loss and voicing concern for neighbors’ homes. He asked if Fortenberry would introduce a bill offsetting costs for those who suffer property value losses.

Fortenberry responded saying action should be taken, but the brunt of costs should be borne by businesses.

“Forcing industry to have compensation so it’s embedded in costs of production is the idea,” he said. “That’s a real impact to you and it’s not fair.”

A man also asked about nuclear fusion as a resource option, to which Fortenberry said he has to “remain skeptical” about after being approached by people about it every year without any tangible results.

In response to another attendee question, Fortenberry said that solar is also an important factor in a “diverse portfolio” of renewable energy sources, especially since Nebraska is 13th in the nation in solar potential.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was also briefly discussed by a man who asked what Fortenberry could do to get his Democrat colleagues to support the trade deal that has been called the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We’re making good progress, but I’m very worried this will get caught up into fall politics, especially with the election cycle,” he said. “... That’s not right, we should do what’s in the best interest of the public good. So I’m worried about it.”

In comments to media representatives after the event, he said farmers have been “extraordinarily patient” with the trade deal, which has been ratified by Mexico as of June 19 and is pending ratification from Canada and the U.S.

He also responded to a media question about flood recovery efforts and said he was “proud to be a part of the movement of leading our nation to help local communities.” The appropriations committee contributed $650 million to flood recovery at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha and passed a $19 million bill for recovery response to flooding, hurricanes and wildfires.

A few people lingered to speak with Fortenberry one-on-one after the discussion.


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