Editor’s note: This article is republished from MyVeronaNJ.com, with permission.
By Virginia Citrano
Questions ranged from SALT deductions to cannabis as Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) held her second town hall with constituents.
The crowd that gathered at Bloomfield Middle School was far smaller than Sherrill’s January town hall, which was the first in-person town hall in the 11th congressional district–the district that includes Greater Morristown–-since 2013.
But constituents in the building and online were no less determined to pin down their rookie representative on a wide range of issues.
Surprisingly, there were no questions on the Mueller Report or impeachment of President Trump, although one person asked what Congress was doing to prevent future Russian interference in U.S. elections.
Questioners focused instead on healthcare, taxes, immigration, affordable housing, gun reform and the possibility of war with Iran.
And near the end of the meeting, Sherrill gave a hint that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might be readying legislation about reproductive healthcare in the wake of anti-choice legislation passed in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Utah.
Sherrill opened the meeting with a recap of her accomplishments so far, including introduction of a bipartisan bill to raise the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap.
“We have been looking for any and every way to provide relief to our citizens,” she said.
The Trump administration’s 2017 tax changes limited the SALT deduction to $10,000, and capped the deduction for married couples filing jointly at the same $10,000 cap as individuals. The bipartisan plan would raise the cap to $12,000 for individual filers, $18,000 for heads of households and $24,000 for joint filers.
The congresswoman from Montclair also talked about her efforts to re-establish funding for infrastructure repairs in our area, including the Portal Bridge in Kearney and the Gateway Tunnel into New York’s Penn Station.
“If the president wants to move forward [on infrastructure],” she said, “he should just release the funding for the Portal Bridge.”
While $20 million in early stage work has been done on the bridge, the federal government has not released its share of funding for the next stage, which will cost about $1.5 billion.
The bridge regularly gets stuck in an open position, which delays train travel on the Northeast Corridor. Sherrill said she had sent administration officials a letter about the funding, but “the response was not helpful.”
On healthcare, Sherrill said she awaits a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the cost of Medicare-for-all. While many constituents like the healthcare they get from their employers, she said, some have stayed in bad jobs just for the coverage.
The challenge of healthcare reform, she said, is, “How can we take the best parts of our system and fix the rest?”
On immigration, Sherrill reiterated her calls for comprehensive immigration reform and her opposition to a wall on the southern border of the U.S. America must increase its aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, not for nation-building, but to reduce gang violence, she said.
“There is a reason why people are taking their families and going on an arduous journey to our border,” she said.
Sherrill also said she is fighting to get more money directed to drug interdiction efforts at the border and at ports, and told the audience she attended a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, who asked for immigration reform because farmers need more workers.
On the potential for war with Iran, the U.S. Navy veteran said that she is concerned. The lack of a fully staffed State Department and frayed relations with allies means the U.S. lacks the diplomatic channels it should have to resolve conflicts.
“I don’t think the president wants to go to war, but I don’t think we have the tools to walk it back,” Sherrill said.
Sherrill took a question on gun violence from Verona’s Christine McGrath, who is the local group co-leader of the gun reform group Moms Demand Action. But first, she congratulated McGrath on her recent election to the town council.
Reminding the audience that her first legislative co-sponsorship was H.R. 8, the bipartisan universal background check bill, Sherrill noted, ruefully, that although the bill passed the House, the Senate has not indicated when–or if–it will take action on it.
Sherrill said there is bipartisan support for the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which includes a provision banning those convicted in domestic abuse from acquiring a gun.
But much work remains. It should not fall to students to stop school shootings, said the mother of four.
“That is not a position that any of our children should be in.”