Rep. Lee Zeldin at a candidates forum in Riverhead in October 2016. File photo: Denise Civiletti

In the first part of this two-part op-ed, I discussed efforts to safeguard our national security, spur economic growth and combat our nation’s crippling heroin and opioid abuse epidemic. In this second op-ed, I will focus on some of the unique challenges facing New York’s First Congressional District.

On Long Island and throughout our country, we have all witnessed the rise of the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic. These are our children. We must work across the aisle and use whatever means necessary to quell this epidemic that has already claimed too many young people’s lives. I was proud to cosponsor the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which is now law, and together we must all do everything in our power inside our government, and out, to secure the necessary treatment, education, enforcement and prevention.

The rise of gang violence is a major challenge we face as a nation, but for Long Islanders it is especially personal. From the vicious machete attack of four young men in Central Islip, to the childhood best friends brutally murdered by MS-13 in Brentwood, our community has witnessed the indiscriminate brutality of MS-13 firsthand. Every level of government has a role to play in combating the rise of MS-13 and other gangs, and we must crackdown on the aspects of our nation’s broken immigration system and other policies that have allowed MS-13 and other gangs to take hold in our communities and stay there. Last week, as one of many new initiatives to help the cause, I introduced legislation to revoke naturalization for individuals involved in gang activity prior to or within 10 years of becoming naturalized. United States naturalization is a privilege, and those who have had this privilege bestowed upon them must respect and uphold the laws of our land.

For hardworking Long Islanders, the high cost of living is affecting so many young people’s ability to raise their families here and seniors’ ability to stay in the communities they love. Promoting an economic environment that encourages growth and good paying jobs is so important to Long Islanders struggling to keep up. It is critical that we allow entrepreneurs, small business owners, and innovators to create and attain the American dream, right here, in New York. Serving on the Financial Services Committee, I am committed to pursuing solutions on a bipartisan basis that help grow our middle class and improve the business climate on Long Island, by cutting the job killing Washington red tape that has smothered so many businesses’ ability to grow and stay local and create more good paying jobs for the hardworking families in our community.

Since our nation’s founding, the agriculture industry has been such an important part of our life, economy and culture on Long Island. In 2018, Congress will have the opportunity to re-authorize a critical package of key federal agricultural programs as part of the Farm Bill. The agriculture conversation in our nation’s capital, usually dominated by big corporate farms, fails to ensure centuries old family farms, vineyards and specialty farms stay in business. From lavender farms to oyster farms and everything in between, the East End of Long Island has so much to offer and is crucial to our agritourism economy. We especially have a responsibility to support the next generation of Long Island farmers. That’s why I cosponsored the Support Young Farmers Act, which helps Long Island farmers by fostering market and economic growth and breaking down barriers that hinder the next generation of famers’ ability to feed our nation.

In a district almost completely surrounded by water, we have a unique responsibility to safeguard our local environment, the hundreds of industries and businesses that rely on it and our way of life. The Long Island Sound alone supports tens of billions of dollars in economic value per year. On Long Island, our coastal economy in many respects is our economy. In Congress, I serve as co-chair of the Long Island Sound Caucus and am a member of the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, Shellfish Caucus, and other efforts that understand that every American should have access to clean air and clean water. That’s why I will continue to fight for critical funding for organizations like Sea Grant, the National Estuary Program, the Long Island Sound Program and more. I will alsocontinue to promote coastal resiliency in the next phase of the Fire Island to Montauk Project (FIMP), as well as other Army Corps of Engineers projects. This beach restoration and coastal project is essential to our communities’ local economy and environment.

Since coming to Congress, I have been a stalwart advocate of Long Island fishermen, working to preserve our natural resources while reforming the flawed and outdated data used to justify regulations and quotas that are putting local fishermen out of business and killing jobs. These antiquated quotas are raising costs for fishermen, and therefore the small businesses and restaurants that depend on their reliable catch. We must leverage the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization to get the reforms that are so desperately needed.

Hand and hand with safeguarding our environment, we must preserve the state-of-the-art research facility on Plum Island, preserving this island’s natural beauty, diverse wildlife and ecosystem, as it continues to provide important economic and environmental benefits for Long Island. The House of Representatives has once again passed my legislation to save Plum Island. We need this bill to pass the Senate in order to become law. We must also support the local science community, including Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University and other local facilities that serve as some of the largest employers within our district. Securing funding to continue their unparalleled research greatly serves our communities and local economy.

Suffolk County has one of the highest veterans populations in the entire country. As the only full-service Veterans Affairs Hospital on Long Island, so many of these veterans rely on the services, care, and medical expertise provided at the Northport site. While I believe strongly that a veteran should be able to take their veterans benefit to any provider that they wish, many rely upon the services of Northport and its satellite offices. We must provide all veterans with the highest quality care they have earned. From infrastructure upgrades to telemedicine, it is long past time to modernize the delivery of healthcare to best serve our heroic veterans.

These are just a few of the many important priorities for our great island. It is my utmost honor to be able to represent New York’s First Congressional District. It is a privilege to fight for my constituents, friends and neighbors, while serving in our nation’s capital. We will always have a lot of critical work still ahead and successes to pursue and achieve for the amazing place we all call home.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) represents the First Congressional District of New York, serving on both the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

Editor’s note: The “In My Opinion” column is open to anyone who wants to submit a viewpoint on any topic. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the point of view of RiverheadLOCAL’s publishers. We welcome submissions. Be sure to include your email address and daytime phone number. Click here to submit your opinion.

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Lee Zeldin represents the First Congressional District of New York, serving on both the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.