Stefanik connects with her constituents over the phone

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (Photo provided — Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times)

Northern New York’s Congresswoman Elise Stefanik held a call-in telephone town hall Thursday evening, talking with constituents, explaining her recent votes and hearing ideas callers had for policy changes.

The town hall featured around a dozen callers and several poll questions, both addressing local and national issues Stefanik is facing in Congress.

The event began with Stefanik listing some of her accomplishments and actions in the past year, including supporting broadband expansion in New York’s 21st District, establishing career and education programs to fill skill-specific jobs as well as several bills benefiting veterans and their families. The 21st District is home to more veterans than any other New York district, according to Stefanik.

Every caller had something nice to say about Stefanik’s efforts for veterans, small businesses or the second amendment, and several also included criticism of topics like climate change and the Republican tax bill.

While most questions were answered without further questioning by the callers, Stefanik spent several minutes talking back and forth with Evelyn from Ogdensburg, a woman who said her son died two years ago of a heroin and fentanyl overdose. Evelyn shared her story and continued to ask questions, pointing out problems such as overmedication of veterans and the lowering of treatment time from 28 days to 21.

“You can’t arrest your way out of this,” said Stefanik, who sits on the House Heroin Task Force. “We need to ensure that people who are struggling with addiction get the care and the treatment that they need.”

A caller named Bernice said though Stefanik sits on the Climate Solutions Caucus, she wanted more action protecting what she believes are the most precious resources — water, trees and wildlife.

“I don’t think that’s enough,” Bernice said. “I think some of these things need to be stopped with very strong action.”

Stefanik said she has voted against several measures, including stripping scientific advisers from the Environmental Protection Agency and President Donald Trump’s budget, which would gut the EPA, and she said she did not support Trump’s decision to deviate from the rest of the world in leaving the Paris Climate Accord.

She said she also fought to reject an amendment to the a defense bill that did not allow for Fort Drum to be fueled by a biomass facility.

“I will continue to have an independent record when it comes to that issue,” Stefanik said.

Several callers disagreed with Stefanik’s choice to vote against the Republican tax bill, which passed Dec. 15. They said the plan would help businesses and wanted to know why she opposed it.

Stefanik said though she supports several parts of the bill — doubling the standard deduction, simplifying the tax code, keeping the medical expense deduction and lowering overall corporate tax rates for international competitiveness — she was worried that since New York is one of highest taxed states in the nation, the removal of the state and local tax deduction would damage the district’s middle class.

She pointed toward unfunded mandates from the state that small governments pay for as a problem aggravated by the bill.

A later caller suggested disbursing mandated expenses among all wage earners, instead of just property owners.

When asked, Stefanik said she supports Trump’s Supreme Court appointments as well as his views on second amendment, military cuts and focus on economic growth.