OGDEN -- Weber State University students on Friday got a chance to ask questions of Utah Sen. Mike Lee after his scheduled speech in the Wildcat Theater.
Lee spoke for about 45 minutes, touching on topics including the value of small government, the power of neighbors looking after neighbors, and the limits of the welfare system in helping people better their lives. Lee, a Republican, was scheduled as the keynote speaker for WSU's Constitution Week, and a guest of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service.
A student who said her name was Avery approached the microphone. "You said that almost half of people in poverty will not leave poverty, but it's been proven that education will help eradicate poverty," she said. "I was just wondering if you could comment on the contradiction between government cutting social programs toward education, such as student loan and financial aid benefits, and the government's goal of eradicating poverty."
Lee said education is necessary for economic success.
"A country that wants to eradicate poverty, a country that wants to allow a lot of economic opportunity, needs to promote education in every way it can," he said. "The important part is to, No. 1, figure out what the policy is and No. 2, the appropriate level of government through which to do it. If we stop supporting education, whether it's primary and secondary education or it's higher education, not only is our GNP growth going to be stalled by that, but economic opportunity will also be stalled. So too would students loans, in that student loans would become unaffordable, and that would have a chilling effect on people deciding to go get a master's degree."
Lee said he will be introducing legislation this fall aimed at controlling the high cost of education through competition.
"Some universities, not Weber State, have figured out they can keep ratcheting up their tuition as high as they want, and students will continue to pay it," Lee said, adding that the federal government has been "... commandeering the market on student loans so as to thwart competition."
Lee said his legislation will be aimed at changing the accreditation process "... in order to expand the number and the overall quantity and quality of those able to provide academic degrees and other training programs.
"When we expand the providers, when we expand the supply, the increase is going to bring about cost moderation, and as a result of that, more people will be able to afford a quality education."
A student named Matt asked Lee what the government plans to do to curb suicides among veterans.
"It has risen to somewhat epidemic proportions, and we do pride ourselves in this country on taking good care of our veterans," Lee said. "We're always looking for ways to improve the care we provide to them."
Lee said he was unaware until recently that patients at veterans hospitals may see a different doctor or care provider every time they come in, or close to every time. Lee said a doctor friend recently told him that anti-depressants are lethal in high quantity, and that doctors need to monitor their patients and get them to agree to follow rules. Lee said verbal contracts with caring doctors may ease part of the problem.
"But we also need to figure out how to provide better care, particularly better emotional and psychiatric care, to our veterans," he said.
A student who introduced himself as Andrew asked Lee what was being done to preserve Fourth Amendment rights, prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures, in light of recent cases in which police used what he described as excessive force to conduct drug searches, among other things.
Lee said he believes that too much criminal law is being federalized, adding that in 1980, America had about 25,000 in prison, and now the number is more like 200,000, despite the fact "... the population has increased eightfold."
Lee said most of his attention, of late, has gone to legislation intended to close a federal loophole, created 27 years ago, that would allow government agencies to seize and read email without a warrant, "once it matures to the ripe old age of 180 days."
Lee said one federal agency has already considered taking advantage of the loophole.
"I won't tell you who it was but its initials are I, R and S, that recently said they might start looking at the emails of Americans. They might start going through the emails of taxpayers in connections with audits, to get information from them."
Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @S_ENancyVanV.