At least 200 area residents turned out to meet U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8) at a town hall meeting in Rockville on May 29.
Michael Byrne, homeland security director for the Washington DC area, joined Van Hollen for the meeting. Washington is the only region in the country which has its own homeland security director. “This region is different. It is special,” Byrne said.
While residents had questions about what would be done in the event of an attack, Byrne is still working on the answers. “Ninety percent of the time [shelter-in-place] is going to be the right answer,” Byrne said.
He noted that several studies of the capabilities of local first responders and options for the area in the event of an attack are underway and should be completed within a few weeks.
Van Hollen sits on the Education and Workforce Committee, and has recently introduced legislation which would compel the federal government to abide by its own 28-year-old regulation and provide special education funding to local jurisdictions.
According to Bill Parsons, a Van Hollen aide, funding for this year was just over $10 billion which amounts to 18 percent of necessary funding. The regulation passed 28 years ago called for the federal government to fund special education at the 40 percent level.
“It’s been 28 years and we haven’t gotten there,” Van Hollen said.
While Van Hollen wanted to discuss his education programs, and a recently introduced piece of legislation, some citizens seemed more interested in expressing their unhappiness about Iraq.
“We need to bring our people home,” said one of the five or six residents who spoke out about Iraq.
Several residents complained that federal funding is being sent to develop Iraq when it is needed at home. Van Hollen sympathized with residents and attacked the recently passed tax cut.
“The policy of deep tax cuts is making it difficult to meet other commitments,” he said. However, he seemed to indicate that he thinks the U.S. should remain in Iraq for a time.
“Having made that decision [to go to war] as a nation, we have no recourse now but to provide the humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people,” Van Hollen said. Van Hollen was not in congress at the time the vote authorizing use of force against Iraq passed, but he opposed the war, as did his predecessor U.S. Rep. Connie Morella (R).
Van Hollen said he would favor repealing a law prohibiting drug offenders from receiving federal student loans — the only group singled out for the prohibition. He also indicated opposition to school vouchers.
The congressman stated his opposition to the bulk of the Patriot Act, and expressed support only for the provision which allows the government to initiate a wire tap on an individual, not just a single phone line.
“I would vote to get rid of a lot of the Patriot act,” he said.