US Senator Al Franken came to speak with Providence locals and students this past Friday at Thayer Street’s Blue State Coffee Shop. The Democrat-affiliated senator from Minnesota answered questions about his Appropriations Bill, student loans, and the controversy surrounding the NSA.
Al Franken – born Alan Stuart Franken in 1951 – may be the only US senator to have not just one, but seven Emmy nominations and three Emmy wins under his belt. Franken, who was raised by middle-class parents in Minnesota, was a writer and performer for the hit show Saturday Night Live from its inception in 1975 to 1980, and then again in 1985 through 1995. He began his Q+A by telling the large crowd at Blue State, “being a senator is not as fun as working at SNL, but it’s a great job.”
One of the most poignant topics covered in the hour-long chat was Senator Franken’s Mental Health in Schools Act, which would ensure that schools provide access to critical mental health treatment for kids who need these services. Senator Franken explained that after the Sandy Hook tragedy, it is crucial that we examine the roots of the problem and not just focus on gun control. He visited several school districts where all employees – bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, etc. – were trained to recognize the signs of mental illness, which in turn allows students and their families to have access to community mental health services. Senator Franken’s bill, as described on the Senator’s web site, “would authorize funding for grants to schools and community mental health centers to work with community-based organizations to expand access to mental health services for students.” The bill would eventually include a gun amendment, which “didn’t go anywhere,” but the Senator was pleased to report that in the process of re-authorization, the bill did receive money. He described the bill’s success as “kind of a victory.”
Midway through the Q+A, Senator Franken’s inner comedian shone through when a group of Blue State patrons entered through the front door, unaware of the event being held. “Surprise!” the Senator cried: “It was your birthday a while back and strangers got together to wish you a surprise, belated happy birthday.”