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Congressman Lou Barletta touted some of the numerous accomplishments from his near eight-year tenure representing the 11th congressional district and also looked ahead to some of the priorities remaining for the current Congress in the few remaining months until the new Congress is seating in January. The U.S. Rep. made his remarks to members of the Columbia Montour Chamber and Columbia Montour Visitors Bureau as part of an annual breakfast program, sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities, on Friday, Sept. 21 at the Greenly Center in Bloomsburg. This marked the final time that Barletta will address the Chamber in his current capacity at a U.S. Representative, which he has done each year since he was first elected to his current office in 2010, as he is running for a U.S. Senate seat this year.
Barletta reminded attendees that the government has eliminated over 20 federal regulations for every new regulation under the Trump Administration, which has greatly reduced the regulatory burden on small businesses and business in general. This, along with last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, has helped stimulate the economy to record highs. The recent economic growth, which was 4.2% in the last quarter, has led to a demand for workers, and there are now currently more jobs available in the country than workers to fill them, which has led to a greater need for skilled job training, needs that several local organizations such as Chamber members Pennsylvania College of Technology, Columbia Montour Area Vocational-Technical School and others are working to address.
In light of the recent flooding locally, as well as Hurricane Florence, which devastated several areas on and near the North and South Carolina coasts with wind and flood damage, Barletta spoke about the need to be proactive in making improvements to structures to prevent or minimize the damage caused by natural disasters. For example, instead of just rebuilding old structures that are located in flood zones and have been damaged by floods one or numerous times, Congress has and should continue to provide grant funding for flood mitigation. A local example of this is the flood wall built to protect Autoneum and the former Windsor Foods facility, which was funded in part by a federal grant. Additional federal money will be spent in the coming years to help extend that flood wall for a large portion of the rest of Bloomsburg that is located in the flood plane. Barletta mentioned that each $1 spent to mitigate damage caused by natural disasters saves anywhere between $4-8 in disaster recovery funds.
School safety was also a topic, and Barletta relayed his disappointment that Congress has not acted on any legislation to give secondary schools any additional funding or guidelines to deal with school security after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. earlier this year. He compared with how Congress reacted following the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice in the summer of 2017, which took nine days for Congress to pass legislation that addressed some of the security shortcomings that were identified as a result of that incident, with what Congress has yet to do following the Florida incident. Referencing the hashtag the he started, #kidsbeforecongress, he said that legislation must be passed giving states and local school districts the resources and knowledge that they need to provide better school security. It will not be a one-size-fits-all solution, as different schools will require different security protocols, but the federal government must provide resources that will protect schools in the same way as federal buildings and critical infrastructure.
Prior to Barletta’s remarks, Tracie Witter, regional affairs director at event sponsor PPL Electric Utilities, gave an update on some of the initiatives that PPL has contributed to via the PPL Foundation. It has contributed to several local nonprofits, including Camp Victory and others, and through its Foundation, aims to make the communities in which it operates and its employees live, better places. PPL has also given back more than $300 million to its customers as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law last December.