Senator confident country will remain strong

PUHI — Workers rights, human rights and ways to get involved in government were some of the topics Kauai residents had for U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz on Friday.

About 200 people attended a town hall meeting at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.

“Our government is in turmoil, and he’s an insider person who knows what’s happening,” said Judy Xenofos.

“I trust Brian. He cares about the same issues I do.”

Ruby Pap asked Schatz for an opinion on what’s next for the country, now that President Donald Trump pulled out of Paris Climate Accord.

That’s also why Kay Carlson was there.

“I wanted to hear what he had to say about yesterday’s debacle,” she said. “Everything is concerning today. It’s disheartening.”

Schatz said he had good news.

“The way the accord is structured, we cannot vacate it officially until Nov. 4, 2020, which happens to be the day after the next presidential election,” he said.

That issue will be key in the next presidential race, Schatz added

While Schatz said he was disappointed with the president’s decision, he’s not deterred.

“We’re going to continue on the clean-energy path. In the long run, clean energy is going to win,” he said.

Susan Storm asked Schatz about a telehealth bill.

“My husband died two years ago from complications to Parkinson’s disease. On this island, there is no specialist and only one neurologist. So we always had to fly somewhere to get treatment,” she said. “I’d like to know how you can help us get the specialists we need on the island.”

Telehealth is a way for people to get treatment they need quickly and efficiently. It also helps people pool their resources, Schatz said.

“We have good specialists if you aggregate them across the state of Hawaii and make sure they’re available on all the islands,” he said.

He said he is working on a bill which would expand telehealth services in Medicare, improve care outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their health care providers and cut costs for patients and providers.

“I believe so strongly in the future of telehealth,” he said. “When you’re talking about rural areas, when you’re talking about access to specialists, when you’re talking about dermatology and psychology, that can be done via a more secure version of Skype or Facetime.”

The problem is, Medicare doesn’t reimburse for telehealth, and that’s what Schatz is trying to change.

When it comes to human rights, Herman Ferreira asked about protection of gay rights.

“One of the many concerns of mine, with the conservative government we have, I’m concerned about the preservation of rights. I believe this country was formed on an expansion of rights and preservation of those rights,” he said. “Do you see anything that supports those rights?”

When it comes to rights, the gay community isn’t the No. 1 target, Schatz said.

“But they don’t mind doing each against all. They don’t mind saying ‘we’re going to leave the gay community alone and target the Muslim community.’ Or leaving the Muslims alone and targeting women,” he said. “So my own view is that we have to have a core conviction of equality of opportunity and equity for all.”

Raymond Katayama asked Schatz what he would do would to encourage the Legislature to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“I’m concerned about workers’ rights, wages, working conditions, sick leave, health care and the right to organize unions,” he said.

Schatz said he supports a $15 an hour wage and one-week sick leave for workers.

“But I generally avoid telling the Legislature what to do. That’s their kuleana, not mine,” he said.

While Schatz is critical of the Trump administration, he said he is hopeful for the future.

“I do remain confident that we will come through all of this. Our country is better than our president. Our country is of laws, not of people,” he said. “Our institutions are being challenged right now, but all of us together are going to make sure our republic survives and thrives.”


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