Sen. Doug Jones held an open town hall meeting at Northeast Alabama Community College on Wednesday.
Jones’ stop on campus was just one of several the senator is holding since the legislative session ended at the beginning of last month.
“The main thing is to hear from you because this is as much a listening session and I get as much out of your questions as I do if you just want to stand up and make a comment,” Jones said. “We have both and you should feel free to. Anything goes. I’ve got a couple topics I will talk about, but at the same time, anytime after that, I want to make sure that you have time to talk and ask questions.”
Jones focused his discussion portion of the event on two topics: the military and healthcare.
This year, Jones was appointed to the Banking and Housing Committee and the Health, Education and Labor Pensions Committee and the Armed Services Committee.
Jones said a modernization to our military is vital in keeping the US’s equipment up-to-date and staying in front of terrorist threats.
“A strong national defense is something that is so important and it’s important for the country but also for Alabama,” he said. “Alabama does a lot for our nation’s security.”
Jones said Alabama is ninth in the US for receiving federal funding for military operations.
Along with the military itself, Jones also spoke on several ways the Senate is hoping to pass legislation that will help military spouses and families.
“One of my emphasis has also been on families,” he said. “It’s easy for us sometimes to talk about things like research and development like hydro sonics, vertical lift or the hardware like ships, submarines, missiles, but at the core of our national security is our people.”
A 3.1 percent pay raise was secured for members of the armed forces, the largest raise received in a decade, he said.
Funding for military spouses and children support has also been obtained, he said.
Defense-wise, Jones said the Space Force that the Department of Defense has proposed will need to become a reality and will, hopefully, bring positions to Hunstville.
Healthcare was the second thing Jones focused on, saying statistically, Alabama is one of the least healthy states and has seen seven rural hospitals close since 2011. One factor of this is due to Alabama voting not to expand Medicaid when the Affordable Care Act was passed.
“Think about what would happen if you lost your hospital here,” he said. “You couldn’t survive. A community has a hard time surviving [without a hospital.] You certainly can’t attract new jobs and industry and your education system will start to go if they don’t have good healthcare.”
Jones primarily discussed maternal health and the effects of not having adequate care for expecting and new mothers and newborns. These acts included, The Maternal Care Act, The Healthy MOM Act, The Maternal Accountability Act of 2017 and The Rural Moms Act.
Next, Jones opened the floor for comments and questions, first hearing from Bob Loshuertos who traveled from Madison, Alabama to meet with Jones. Loshuertos brought up the care of veterans in Alabama, Russian influence over American elections and the State Democratic Committee.
“First of all, I want to thank you for not being afraid to have an open, public meeting and having this time for us,” Loshuertos said.
Jones also heard several more questions from residents concerning dividing disagreements between political parties, the separation of immigrant families at the border between the US and Mexico, student loan debt, healthcare, rural broadband and the farming industry.
NACC President David Campbell ended the night by asking Jones his opinion on the role that community college’s have on training the future workforce for the US.
“I think it’s going to be potentially one of the most important pieces of our training programs in the future. I really do believe that,” he said. “We are a manufacturing state but we can't find the folks to fill the jobs. Everywhere I go, I see expansions of the automobile plants. Everyone is worried about getting people on the floor. I think the community colleges have an incredible opportunity.”
Jones said it will take industries working with their colleges to see a trained workforce come about to fill those jobs.
“When I talk to businesses and manufacturers, I make sure they know to talk to their local community colleges and try to do everything we can in partnership,” he said. “I think more and more businesses are also going to be looking to you guys to partner and it will help each other financially.”
To close, Jones said the most important thing he wanted to stress that evening is his appreciation for the citizens of Alabama to allow him to be their U.S. senator.