Congressman Pallone Discusses Stance On Pot, Gambling and Power Lines

first_imgStory and photo by John BurtonKEYPORT – U.S. Representative Frank Pallone Jr. believes the national media paint an inaccurate portrait of work he and his colleagues – on both sides of the political aisle – accomplish.He supports legalizing recreational marijuana, believes sports betting is a way to provide help for struggling Monmouth Park racetrack here, and steadfastly opposes the controversial JCP&L energy transmission line project.Pallone, 64, the Democrat who has been serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for 28 years and is running for re-election this year, talked about these issues at one of his occasional meetings with reporters on Monday.In a casual, nearly two-hour freewheeling forum this week that Pallone and a couple of staffers conducted at the International House of Pancakes on Route 36 for a half-dozen reporters covering Monmouth and Middlesex counties, the veteran Democratic congressman fielded a wide range of questions on areas he’s been working on this two-year term, and issues for his district.“You don’t hear about that in the national media. All you hear about is the fights,” Pallone said of major news outlets’ characterization of the work being done inside the beltway.Pallone said the House is not as paralyzed as portrayed. “Inherently, when you have divided government,” as is often the case, with the president of one political party and one or both chambers of Congress controlled by the opposing party, “you have to work together or nothing gets passed.”And a good 80-to-90 percent of the work the House of Representatives does is through the committee process, not regularly covered by reporters or noticed by the public, Pallone said.Pallone is the ranking Democrat on the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee, which, he explained, deals with about 60 percent of bills the House addresses – and which representatives handle in a largely bipartisan “not terribly interesting” fashion.Regarding the legalization of marijuana, Pallone said, “At one time I was opposed, but not anymore.” Pallone’s views have evolved on that subject and he does support permitting its recreational as well as medicinal use. “Let the state tax and regulate it,” he said.Locally, Pallone said he believes sports gambling would offer some help to Monmouth Park in Oceanport, which is in his district. The racetrack has been waging a so-far unsuccessful federal legal battle to allow sports betting – opposed by the National Football League and National Basketball Association. To that end, the congressman has co-sponsored a bill that would permit it in New Jersey and other states where it’s currently prohibited. Unfortunately, the bill has not had any traction, but Pallone plans to work with its other sponsors to help move it along, he said.Monmouth Park operators continue to advocate for alternative gaming as a way to keep the track viable, given the competition from neighboring states.He hasn’t taken a position, however, on the voter referendum on the November ballot that would permit casinos in North Jersey, other than to say, “I would have liked to see the referendum include Monmouth County,” allowing alternative gaming at Monmouth Park. The referendum would prevent any casinos within a 72-mile radius of Atlantic City, with some local elected officials balking that it offers no help for the county or racetrack.Pallone said he would continue to oppose Jersey Central Power and Light’s proposal to install what the energy company is calling a reliability power line along 10 miles of NJ Transit commuter railway track, from Red Bank to Aberdeen. Residents in close proximity to the rail line, as well as local elected officials, and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican representing the 4th Congressional District, along with Pallone, have voiced objections to the project, citing health and other concerns. When the proposal has hearings before the state Board of Public Utilities, Pallone said he would attend and again oppose it.Pallone was supportive of a collection of bills, passed this summer and which had bipartisan support, aimed at addressing the opioid addiction epidemic. His only objection, he added, was it offered insufficient funding, with Pallone slinging a partisan barb at Republicans for failing to financially support programs. “I’m being partisan now,” he said. “The big difference between Democrats and Republicans is funding,” with Pallone stressing it would have been money well spent to address a serious and growing problem. The abuse of painkillers has contributed to the rise in heroine use, he said.Recently some Energy and Commerce Committee members, Pallone included, had requested information regarding Mylan Pharmaceutical’s widely criticized price increase for its EpiPen auto-injector needed by those suffering severe allergies and asthma, seeking to hold public hearings on the price hike. However, in another instance of failure to reach across the aisle, “There are things that are difficult to get Republicans – who hold the Congressional majority – to agree with,” including taking on the pharmaceutical company, he charged. As for whether Republicans will hold hearings, Pallone said, “I doubt they’ll do it.”last_img

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