"This is our first amendment rights today. They are the richest form of the democratic process, when people can gather and hold their elected officials accountable."
This was how Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley opened the town hall meeting on May 30 in Gonzales. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) has been reaching out to Louisiana cities in the town hall style for the past few months with mixed results.
However, Cassidy spoke in the Parish Council chambers for nearly an hour to a standing-room only crowd that simply had questions regarding the future of healthcare and flood recovery.
Moreover, he hit on the main points of his co-sponsored bill with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), known simply as the Cassidy-Collins bill. This would take the place of the Affordable Care Act if passed.
"Right now [congress] is considering it," Cassidy said. "Mitch McConnell has said that he would like a healthcare bill voted on before August. There's about three weeks that the congressional budget office will need to evaluate it, and so we're speaking maybe as soon as the first week of July having something written. Now, I can't guarantee that because sometimes those timelines slip."
As one might imagine, healthcare legislation does not cease to be complex. But the goal of Cassidy's bill, also called the Patient Freedom Act is to help drive up the choice of care for the patient in order to drive down costs associated with different medical procedures.
Attendees posed real questions and concerns before Cassidy about pre-existing conditions and high premiums. Cassidy remained composed. Just one person abruptly hollered a question towards the end.
"This has been a good meeting," Cassidy said.
Cassidy also discussed flood insurance regulations, noting the importance of continuing to keep flood insurance affordable to people in the region. He stressed the importance for people who had insurance at the time of the flood to fill out the survey for federal assistance anyway. He said even though it is not currently available that it sends a clear message that more funding is needed.
Assistance applications were on hand from the Restore La. Task Force and the Louisiana Housing Corporation for everyone from renters to business owners.
Another growing concern for the Gulf Region is the Federal Government wanting to take away oil rig money from the states. This was done under Obama and now again it is being tried by Trump.
"People in Washington always want to keep money in Washington," Cassidy said. "They don't want to trust the states. But by our state's constitution we have to use that money for coastal restoration.As I told President Obama when he came to New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is that us receiving that money, allowing us to rebuild our coastline is what prevents another Hurricane Katrina.
"And it's in the order of hundreds of millions, which is important. Katrina cost our country $20 billion to rebuild the coastline. Wouldn't it be better if we rebuilt our wetlands to use those marshes to block the force of a big hurricane. That's the case we made. That's the case we'll continue to make. We think we'll be able to keep that money."