Gun control, immigration and health care were among the hottest topics when U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross held his first forum for his local constituents.
Ross spent an hour fielding questions and sharing his opinions to a standing-room only crowd Thursday at City Hall. Due to redistricting, the Lakeland Republican represents the entire Plant City area for the first time.
Gun control drew some of the most impassioned debate from within the crowd, including from about 10 people who wore T-shirts or carried signs relating to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newton, Conn. Matt Riegel, a Tampa resident, was among those calling for tighter controls on guns.
Ross said he is a gun owner and struggles with what to do about gun violence. “We need to do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have one,” he said.
However, he wonders if there’s a law that could be passed that would ensure an end to mass killings.
A number of people were at the meeting to urge immigration reform. Daniel Stove, a disability specialist with Redlands Christian Migrant Association, said farm workers are essential to the area’s harvests yet many live in fear of deportation.
“The crops of this area wouldn’t be harvested without the hard work that they do,” Stove said.
Ross agreed that something needs to be done to help.
“We are a nation that was built by immigrants and for us to do nothing is wrong,” he said.
The issue “beat us (the Republicans) in the last election,” he said.
One woman told the congressman of her struggles with helping an adult daughter pay for unexpected and expensive medicals bills. Ross said health care is a problem, and he offered the help of his aides.
Not everyone was at the meeting with a complaint.
Shirley Barber thanked Ross for his staff’s help in restoring Veterans Administration benefits to her father, Dathon Howell, a Plant City resident and Navy veteran. Barber, who also lives in Plant City, said she wanted to thank Ross in person for the help.
Until January, Ross represented the eastern half of Plant City and downtown, and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis represented the rest. Ross, who is in his second term, will periodically have public forums in Plant City.