We are working together to solve problems

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2016

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

Is it really as bad as it seems? That is a question I get all the time. People want to know if the partisanship and gridlock in Washington is actually like what they see on television.

The short answer is no. The reality is Republicans and Democrats often work together on bipartisan legislation to address serious issues, but it just doesn’t always make the front page of the newspaper or the evening news because it isn’t “exciting” enough.

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It is an election year, and I know partisan politics are what take up most of the attention. But in Washington, bipartisan work is underway to address some important issues that have the potential to make a real difference for American families.

For example, just this past week, the House passed a significant overhaul of our nation’s mental health programs. My family has been personally impacted by mental illness as my grandfather was shot and killed by a mentally ill man, so this issue is personal to me.

For too long, we have failed to actually treat those who suffer from mental illness. Our bill makes clear that mental illness is not a crime but rather a true health issue that should be treated as such.

Addressing the mental health crisis will also help fight these terrible mass violence events that have struck our country in recent years. Many of the people who committed the crimes suffered from mental illness. Instead of pushing new gun laws, we should be focusing on the root cause of these acts, like mental health reform.

This is an issue that unites Republicans and Democrats, and I am pleased to report our mental health bill passed by a vote of 422-2.

Another great example of the bipartisan work being done in Congress is a bill to strengthen career and technical education programs.

As former chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, I have seen firsthand the amazing work done through career and technical education. These programs help connect people with the skills they need in order to meet workforce demands.

Our reform bill gives states more flexibility to use federal resources while also ensuring that we focus on employability skills and work-based learning opportunities. Just as important, our legislation gives parents, students, and stakeholders a voice in setting performance goals and evaluating the effectiveness of the programs.

I was pleased to support the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act when it passed the Education and the Workforce Committee by a vote of 37-0.

The House also passed a bill last week by a vote of 407-6 to address the opioid prescription drug crisis. The opioid crisis has impacted families from every corner of the United States, and our legislation will help ensure people have access to treatment they desperately need.

These are just three examples of bipartisan work being done in Congress to address actual challenges facing our country. I think this good news is especially important given the tragic events that recently impacted our country.

During times of tragedy, it is easy to become angry and allow the issues to drive us further apart, but we cannot fall victim to that temptation.

Instead, the answer is love for one another and compassion even for those with whom we may not always agree. Most importantly, the key is to focus on the things that unite us.

That is exactly what happened in the People’s House this past week, and I will continue looking for opportunities to support bills that unite us, instead of drive us further apart.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.