Pryor Conducts Town Hall Meeting at UACCM

The Koontz Room in the Business Technology Center on the campus of the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton was the site for a “town hall” meeting conducted on August 11 by U.S. Senator Mark Pryor. A crowd of over 50 individuals attended the meeting, which was scheduled as a way to for local residents to address their concerns and solutions for issues confronting the area and the nation.

Senator Pryor addresses the crowd
Pryor shared with the crowd what he is doing to represent Arkansas in the Senate on topics ranging from national defense to the State’s natural resources. Pryor said that Conway County has received approximately $522,000 in appropriations this year, including money for restoration of the historic post office, law enforcement technical support, and updates to the local airport.

Senator Pryor discusses fuel prices
Oil and energy concerns topped the list of issues discussed, which also included the Iraq war, rising gas prices, the cost of prescription drugs, and health care reform. He also answered questions from the audience about Veteran’s affairs, social security, education, and economic development. 
Pryor is a member of the G-10, or Group of 10, a bipartisan group of ten senators who have been working on a plan to pass legislation that addresses fuel conservation, new oil exploration, and market regulation.  The group has developed a comprehensive bipartisan proposal to reduce gas prices, lessen our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, and strengthen America’s economy.   Pryor said part of this effort will rely on the nation’s ability to focus on cleaner alternatives and new sources of energy, including renewable fuels.
The G-10 Group has drafted the comprehensive New Energy Reform Act of 2008 (the “New ERA”), which calls for a focused effort to transition the nation’s motor vehicle fleets to fuels other than gasoline and diesel. The group’s suggestions include expanding the use of compressed natural gas as a fuel source, continuing to award tax credits to people who purchase hybrid vehicles or who retrofit their vehicles into natural gas-burning engines, and making grants available to those who build electric vehicles.  
 The ultimate goal and impact of the ERA bill is to entirely free the U. S. of oil imports within 20 to 30 years. Pryor said until that time it is important to make sure the right tools are in place to keep the large oil companies from manipulating the market.  He categorized current oil prices as artificially high, saying the price is currently more than demand alone would dictate. 
Pryor stated that America is in dire need of health care reform and said he hopes the new President will have a health care initiative that will help solve the problems of soaring health care costs and the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs. He stated that health care costs play an issue in our economy and can lead manufacturers to relocate their plants abroad. The Senator said that U.S. firms may locate their operations overseas not only because of the lower labor costs but also the costs of health care packages offered to their employees. Pryor stated for this reason he supports tax credits for businesses that help employees obtain health coverage. He also extends his support for tax credits to individuals who purchase health coverage on their own. Approximately 500,000 Arkansans have no health care insurance, which equates to almost one out of every five people living in the State. Pryor said rising health care costs are particularly hard on rural families and that Congress needs to “make sure rural America in not left behind.”
Pryor called a commitment to education one of the “best long-term economic investments we can make.” He stressed the importance of higher education in today’s global economy and said that financial limitations are the biggest obstacle for many who wish to obtain a college degree.   Pryor supported the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, which provides the largest increase in student financial aid since the G.I. Bill. This higher education bill, awaiting the President’s signature, increases Pell grant awards, creates new scholarships for veterans, and puts stricter restrictions on student loan lenders.
 Pryor said building the economy and creating new jobs are critical issues for the nation’s future. He said rather than looking for quick fixes such as a “gas tax holiday” or a second economic stimulus package, “we need to look at long-term solutions that actually stimulate the economy.” He said the country needs to “get back on track with manufacturing and focus on domestic policies that will create economic development.” 
The Senator said Veteran’s Affairs is also at the top of his list of concerns and that he has a full-time staff member in Little Rock who handles VA matters.  He urged those in attendance as well as all his constituents to contact his office with questions or concerns they have about a variety of issues. At the conclusion of his visit to Morrilton, Pryor was scheduled to continue on to Russellville and Van Buren for additional town hall meetings later in the day.


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