U.S. Rep. Bill Owens talks about gun control measures with area citizens at a public forum held Tuesday March 26 in Glens Falls. Owens said job creation and bipartisan cooperation were currently two of his top objectives.
Gun control, job creation, economic prosperity and legislative cooperation were the chief topics at a public forum featuring U.S. Rep. Bill Owens held downtown Tuesday March 26.
About 80 area citizens attended the forum, held in Crandall Library and sponsored jointly by the Glens Falls Economic Group and the Adirondack Gateway Council.
Wayne Underwood, a hydroponic farmer from Shushan, confronted Owens on his support for raising the minimum wage.
“If the higher minimum wage is put in place, some of my employees are going to lose their jobs,” he said, citing rising costs in his business.
Owens responded that he was in favor of establishing offsetting tax incentives for business owners, so they’d not experience an overall increase in payroll expenses.
Noting that the national economy is based primarily on consumer spending, he said that a boost in the minimum wage would spur prosperity as well as boosting the quality of life for those with entry-level jobs.
“Balance is needed,” he said. “My objective is to work both ends.”
Renny Devine of Queensbury complained about $50 billion of taxpayers’ dollars being spent overseas, while various persistent problems remained domestically.
Owens responded that while he didn’t necessarily approve of all the individual foreign aid allocations, that the money was spent chiefly to maintain order internationally.
“These expenditures represent an attempt to stabilize countries so we don’t get into more conflict or put us into national-security jeopardy,” he said.
Alan Hall Sr. of Warrensburg complained about how New York State’s new gun law was passed without public input or proper review from state legislators — and that he’d fight any government-mandated surrender of his weapons.
“It’ll be a cold day in Hades before I vote for another Democrat,” he said, noting he possessed three guns that were now categorized as assault weapons.
Owens responded that he was not a state legislator and did not vote for the measure. Owens also said he supported more stringent background checks and stiffer penalties of gun-runners and other provisions of the gun safety legislation proposed by Sen Kirsten Gillibrand. He continued that he believed in preventing criminals and people with mental illnesses from gaining access to guns.
A Salem resident stood up and said he appreciated comprehensive gun control measures.
“I don’t see any reason why we need assault weapons,” he said, citing the Sandy Hook massacre. A citizen from Wilton stood up and said he agreed with controls on weapons, noting that his brother-in-law was shot four times and killed by a gunman.
Citing that the situation was tragic, Owens said legislation was needed to help prevent such incidences.
“Clearly, we need to move in the direction of laws that protect the public,” he said.
Owens noted that one of his top priorities was to curb gridlock in Washington D.C. and work on a bipartisan approach on pressing issues.
Hearing that Owens had been named one of the top 10 moderate legislators in Washington by a national journal, Kevin O’Dell thanked Owens for efforts of bipartisan cooperation.
Debbie Liddle of Queensbury asked about what could be done about a local Veterans’ Administration office taking 600 days to process claims.
Owens said that he’d talked with VA officials, and they were aware of the backlog, and were now working to reduce or eliminate it.
“The VA has an enormous number of cases and a difficult bureaucracy,” he said, adding that he supported not only speeding up service, but decentralizing health clinics so veterans could be treated closer to home.
Owens also said that the so-called legislative “sequester” now pending imposed arbitrary cuts that were harmful, citing manpower reductions in border security.
“Across the board cuts don’t work,” he said.
Owens also said his top priority was job creation, emphasizing he supported more efforts in training people for high-technology jobs, whether they were computer-related or machinists’ positions that are now going unfilled.
“There are job opportunities out there, but we’re not now putting the pieces together,” he said.
Owens added that while there’s an effort underway to allow more people from overseas into the U.S. to be trained with technologically advanced skills, the legislative priority should be on training U.S. citizens.
”We need to make sure we press forward on this,” he said. It’s critically important in filling jobs.”