Congressman Greg Walden (R-Hood River) wants robo calls to go the way of the rotary telephone.

Walden has introduced a bill in Congress aimed at reducing interruptions from automated calls, legislation he discussed at a town hall at the Elgin Community Center Monday morning. The number of robo calls people receive is astounding, the congressman said.

“Oregonians received 12.8 million robo calls in May,” Walden said.

Describing robo calls as extremely annoying, Walden added that Americans received a total of 47.8 billion in 2018.

The legislation Walden introduced would give phone companies the ability to filter out these unwanted calls.

“Carriers could crack down on robo callers,” Walden said.

Walden’s bill, HR 3375, is now in the House’s Committee on Energy and Commerce. The legislation is in the committee’s subcommittee on Communication and Technology, which Walden chairs.

The 10-term congressman also discussed health care legislation he is preparing to introduce that would protect patients from surprise medical bills that are shockingly high.

To illustrate the need for such legislation, Walden cited the recent experience of a woman in the United States who was receiving a check-up from her doctor after being successfully treated for an illness. At the end of the appointment, her physician ordered a urine test to confirm that her recovery was complete.

Later, the patient, who had health insurance, was shocked to receive a bill of $17,850 for the urine test.

“A doctor told me it should have cost just $100,” Walden said.

The reason for the exorbitant bill is that the woman’s health care provider sent the urine sample to a lab outside the network covered by her insurance. Walden said there are many other examples of such surprise bills. Many involve patients who received urgent life-saving care.

Walden did not specifically explain how his “No Surprise” bill would work, but a news release from his office said the legislation would limit patients’ bills to their in-network cost sharing amount in emergency situations. He said this only makes sense when a patient has little to no control over who gives them life-saving care and can “hardly be expected to make sure everyone is in-network.”

Walden also talked about the need to address the increasing number of devastating forest fires in the West.

“Fifty-six percent of the Forest Service’s budget is spent on fighting fires. It was not that long ago that it was just 16%,” he said.

The increase in catastrophic wildfires is having a detrimental impact on summer air quality, one exacting a terrible health toll. Walden said that according to research from Colorado State University, up to 25,000 people are dying prematurely each year in the United States because of wildfire smoke.

Walden said he has introduced the Federal Forests Resiliency Act, which would reduce the likelihood of catastrophic fires in part by downscaling environmental restrictions now in place for the removal of trees weakened by insects and disease. This will lessen the build-up of fuels for fires.

Walden was criticized by some at Monday’s town hall for his support of the Equality Act of 2019, which the House passed in May and now is in the Senate. The legislation, if it becomes law, would amend the Civil Rights Act so that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity would be banned.

Walden defended his vote by stating he opposes exclusion.

“I don’t support discrimination. I believe Americans should live their lives as they want to,” he said.

Walden said he does not believe the Equality Act of 2019 will be approved.

“If it gives you any comfort, I do not believe the Senate will take it up,” he told an audience member who opposes the legislation.

The Equality Act of 2019 is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee where it has not been voted on, according to www.GovTrack.us.

Walden was also asked about the recent walkout by the 12 Republicans in the Oregon Senate to stop a vote on House Bill 2020, the controversial piece of climate change legislation. Many of the Republican senators left the state to avoid the Oregon State Police, who Gov. Kate Brown had sent after them in an effort to induce them to return. The Republican lawmakers succeeded in stopping the Senate from having the quorum needed to conduct a vote on HB 2020.

Walden said he is upset that the Republican senators had to resort to such an extreme measure.

“(The Republican senators) shouldn’t have to leave the state to be heard. That is not the Oregon way,” he said.

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