OGDEN — In dealing with illegal immigration, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney puts the focus on broadening a federal program to verify whether would-be employees have authority to work in the country.

If the program reveals the job applicant is undocumented and the company hires him or her anyway "then you sanction the employer, not just the employee," Romney said during a stop Tuesday in Ogden. "We're always going after people and rounding them up and shipping them off. No, go after the employer and say to the employer, 'You're hiring people you know who are illegal and you're going to get fined.'"

To address gun violence, he favors legislation put forward by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, that would expand background checks to "all commercial sales" of weapons. He'd like to see the final wording of any legislation "but the concept is something I fully support."

On another hot topic in the nation and Utah, Romney shared he doesn't favor legalizing recreational use of marijuana. But he's open to medicinal use of the drug, and would favor changing it from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug as classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration so its properties as a medicine can be properly studied.

Romney, a Republican who won his U.S. Senate post just last November, traveled to Northern Utah earlier Tuesday for a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Northrop Grumman facility at Hill Air Force Base. Later, he visited the Weber State University campus in Ogden for an hour-long town hall meeting, taking questions on a range of topics from a crowd that numbered around 160.

With nearly eight months in office, he launched with an upbeat assessment of relations between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, at least behind the scenes. "It's just people are very, very friendly. That's when the cameras are off," he said, noting his friendly interactions with Democratic Sens. Kristen Gillibrand and Pat Leahy of Vermont. "I'm encouraged by the collegiality and the civility among members."

But the questions from the audience, which remained largely civil throughout, occupied the bulk of his time.

On immigration, the first issue put forward by the audience, he said the "most effective" means to stop the entry of undocumented immigrations would be mandatory implementation of the federal E-Verify program, used by employers to verify the work status of new workers. Rigorously implemented, employers would be leery of hiring undocumented workers, discouraging illegal border crossings.

Beefing up the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, as sought by President Donald Trump, "will have some impact. I think E-Verify is even more impactful," he said.

In his view, there's no question the planet is warming and he doesn't know how it became a divisive, partisan issue.

"I think it's almost without controversy, in my own mind, but that the planet's getting warmer, a lot warmer, getting warmer even than the climate scientists had predicted," he said. "The effects of this are going to be — I take the word carefully — catastrophic."

Since the United States only accounts for 13% of greenhouse gas emissions, though, there's only so much that can be done within the country's borders. More broadly, he said he backs funding for more research and development to help find "technological breakthroughs" that lead to cleaner energy resources and cleaner air.

He's also open to considering a "carbon tax," emphasizing that he's still studying the notion. Energy firms would be taxed for the amount of carbon dioxide they put in the air, with the funds going back to consumers to offset the higher energy costs they'd likely face as a result. That, theoretically, would spur energy firms to get carbon dioxide out of the air, reducing the carbon taxes they pay and helping clean the environment.

In dealing with spiraling health care costs, he expressed at the townhall that he favors more even pricing of drugs globally, thus preventing spikes in the cost of certain drugs, say, in the U.S. market. He also favors a "federal-state partnership" in providing health care to those most in need, with federal funding being funneled to individual states and the states having increased leeway to come up with their own solutions.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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