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Senator talks filibuster, drought at town hall

FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2018 file photo Sen Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., poses for a photo in his office. (AP Photo/Andrew Selskey,File)

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said he’s in favor of removing the filibuster and expanding mental health intervention when he met with Jackson County residents Wednesday in a virtual town hall.

An Ashland resident with the first name Karen used the first question to ask about the CAHOOTS Act, which allows state Medicaid programs to cover some community-based mobile crisis intervention services for individuals experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder crisis, and what Jackson County residents can expect to receive.

The CAHOOTS program has been used in Eugene when non-emergency calls come into the area’s 911 center, dispatchers assess whether to send out a CAHOOTS team. If the situation is life-threatening, involves violence or a serious crime, dispatchers send out police, paramedics or firefighters instead.

Merkley said that this will most likely be a part of the American Family Plans which he hopes will be combined with the American Jobs Plan to pass through the Senate through budget reconciliation.

“Mental health is coming up in every context,” he said. “... We’ve got a lot of mental health issues to deal with and the CAHOOTS model is very interesting. I’m very supportive.”

J.C. from Ashland asked the senator for his position on the filibuster, a process in the Senate that prevents a vote on a bill unless there are 60 votes.

“Our founders said ‘don’t require a supermajority for legislation, ’” Merkley said. “They were writing the U.S. Constitution under the Confederation Congress and they were paralyzed. They couldn’t respond to the issue they needed to respond to. And here we are, with a supermajority preventing us from responding to the issues we need to respond to.”

Merkley said he is on board with removing the filibuster altogether, but he understands why there is opposition.

“It’s valuable to have this ethic of not running over the top of the minority,” he said. “It means everyone’s heard. It means in a polarized system you have an incentive to talk to each other. It means an opportunity to compromise, but in the end you have to have the majority to take a vote.”

An Ashland man named Dylan asked if the Senator supported carbon pricing.

“We don’t only need a long-term solution, we need a really bold fast action. We don’t have time to wait,” Merkley said.

Merkley said he wants to transition away from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy and electric vehicles like cars, trucks and tractors.

Merkley said part of the equation in preventing wildfires is better forest management, thinning out forests and returning it to a more natural cycle, but the other half is thinking about the materials we build our communities with.

“Does it make a difference to have concrete siding rather than vinyl? What about roof shingles? What about other ways to create separation in terms of shrubs, bushes and nearby trees?” he said.

A grape and pear grower asked if Congress is working on providing any relief for farmers feeling the effects of the drought.

Merkley said that drought relief funds are on the forefront of many congress people's minds, but the form it will take, aside from already established avenues, is still being discussed.

Merkley said he hopes the next town hall in Jackson County will be in person.

“It’s an unexpected honor in life to be able to fight for all of you in Washington, D.C. in the Senate,” Merkley said. “I try to do all I can to help us build a better world.”