Kansas Common Sense

Kansas Common Sense - Congress Continues Work on Omnibus

Kansas Common Sense: Congress Continues Work on Omnibus


Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thank you for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.

Congress Continues Work on Omnibus
Before leaving town for the holiday state work period, Congress must complete work on an omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government through Fiscal Year 2016. Late this week, Congress passed a short-term extension providing an additional five days before funding expires Wednesday night. While senior negotiators and Congressional leadership continued work through the weekend and negotiations remain ongoing, Congress must act before Wednesday to avoid a government shutdown.

By law, the federal budget process relies on Congress passing 12 separate appropriations bills each year to fund government agencies. However, Congress has not successfully completed this process since 1994, and last month’s passage of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill was the first of any spending bills to pass the Senate since 2011.

Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind
On Wednesday, the Senate passed S. 1177, legislation known as the Every Student Succeeds Act to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Initially enacted in 1965, ESEA is the primary source of federal aid for K-12 education and was most recently amended and reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The House passed S. 1177 last week and President Obama signed it into law on Thursday. I opposed passage of NCLB in 2001 because I believe excessive federal intervention in education is not in the best interest of Kansas students and schools. The Every Student Succeeds Act does not go far enough in reducing the counterproductive federal mandates currently dictating K-12 education, including NCLB’s torrent of annual testing mandates. Federally mandated testing requirements have a significant impact on local school decision making. While the legislation passed this week is an improvement from NCLB, it still gives Washington bureaucrats too much say in curriculum development, school testing and assessment decisions – functions best handled by states and local school districts.

Congress Passes Moran-Jenkins Rural Health Legislation
On Tuesday evening the House passed S. 1461, legislation Congresswoman Jenkins and I led to extend through calendar year 2015 a prohibition preventing the federal government from enforcing an unreasonable direct supervision policy for outpatient therapeutic services. The Senate passed S. 1461 in September and, with House passage, the bill now heads to the president for his signature. My thanks to Congresswoman Jenkins who worked to successfully shepherd this bill through the House. Last year, we passed similar legislation into law to provide regulatory relief for 2014.

Making certain Kansans have access to quality health care remains one of my top priorities in Congress. Rural hospitals find the federal government’s direct supervision requirements impossible to meet, so I am pleased this legislation will soon become law to help preserve patients’ access to important therapy services in Kansas and across the country. This measure will also enable us to continue to advocate for passage of S. 257, the Protecting Access to Rural Therapy Services Act – the PARTS Act – bipartisan legislation I introduced to permanently address this outpatient therapy supervision issue.

In response to concerns raised by hospitals, myself, and other lawmakers representing rural areas, the federal government delayed enforcement of its direct supervision policy for Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) and small rural hospitals through 2013. Congress suspended enforcement of the regulation through 2014. The regulation is scheduled to go into effect in 2015, but if S. 1461 is signed into law, it will extend the temporary relief to allow additional time to advance the PARTS Act, which clarifies that general supervision of most outpatient therapeutic services by a physician or non-physician practitioner is sufficient for Medicare reimbursement for therapeutic hospital outpatient services. Click here to read more about this issue.

Commerce Committee Passes SAFE PIPES Act
I was pleased to see the Commerce Committee pass the SAFE PIPES Act (S. 2276) this week, which included a provision that instructs the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to develop standards to keep Kansans and Americans safe. Development of standards for natural gas storage facilities is long overdue. This provision is a positive step toward ensuring the integrity of our energy infrastructure system and is a common-sense way to add additional safety measures for Kansans and all Americans. I am thankful my colleagues on the Commerce Committee shared my concerns, and I look forward to advancing this bill in the full Senate. This is a major step toward achieving the stated goal of the legislation I introduced to ensure the safety of Kansans. When the new safety standards are drafted and ultimately adopted, I will work to make certain that qualified, experienced state regulators like the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) are able to inspect these interstate facilities that are currently under the sole jurisdiction of federal regulators. The safety of Kansans is critical, and creating a path for the KCC to lend their expertise in that cause is an important step. Click here to watch my remarks on this issue in the Commerce Committee.

McConnell 931st Air Refueling Wing Designation
I was pleased to learn this week that the 931st Air Refueling Group – the Air Force Reserve unit stationed at McConnell Air Force Base will officially be designated as the 931st Air Refueling Wing as early as January 2016. Along with the active-duty 22nd Air Refueling Wing, the 931st plays a critical role in our nation’s air mobility with thousands of hours deployed around the world. This well-deserved Wing designation will make certain the 931st receives the resources and manpower necessary to meet the air refueling demands of our Armed Forces for years to come, and is especially important with the upcoming arrival of the KC-46A refueling tankers at McConnell.

I have long advocated for the transition of the 931st to Wing status, and this is a testament to the excellence of the airmen of the 931st that this designation has come ahead of schedule. In April, I had the opportunity to ask Air Force Reserve Chief Lieutenant General James Jackson about the Wing designation during a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing, and at that time, he projected the Wing classification for the 931st would take place in 2017 or 2018. I am pleased that the growing responsibilities of the 931st are being recognized, and I will continue to work to make certain they have the resources necessary to carry out their important missions at home and abroad.

Increasing Accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee unanimously passed the Increasing VA Accountability to Veterans Act of 2015 (S. 290) this week, legislation I introduced to make certain the VA holds corrupt VA executives accountable for their actions. The legislation would reduce the pensions of executives convicted of a felony, limit the amount of paid administrative leave for VA senior executive service (SES) employees to only 14 days, and reform the department’s management training program and performance appraisal system for senior executives.

In the wake of wrongdoing – from VA facilities maintaining secret waitlists to VA executives abusing relocation programs to create positions for themselves where they did less work but kept their previous salaries – the VA has failed to demonstrate a willingness to eliminate corruption by holding individuals responsible for fraudulent behavior. While the television cameras may have turned their focus elsewhere, I have not, and I remain committed to trying to change the culture that allows incompetence to run rampant. There are many good, hardworking employees at the VA, and the department’s refusal to hold the bad actors within their ranks accountable is an insult to those who work hard to serve our nation’s heroes. This critical legislation will help make certain VA senior executives who violate the sacred trust of our nation’s veterans will not be rewarded with unjustly guaranteed benefits or linger on administrative leave at taxpayer expense. Our veterans deserve the best our nation has to offer, not a system that rewards mediocrity and failure. I am pleased to see legislation pass the committee and head to the U.S. Senate floor. Click here to read more.

Legislation to Protect Pilots and Promote General Aviation
On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed S. 571, the Pilots Bill of Rights 2, common-sense legislation that will provide important protections to pilots and aircraft operators. Over the past 10 years, 60,000 pilots have left the general aviation industry. Meanwhile, the cost of aircraft has risen dramatically and shipments are near an all-time low. General Aviation is vital to our national economy and the future of rural communities. In order for it to grow and prosper, we must reverse this troubling trend.

Pilots across Kansas tell me the current process of obtaining a Third Class Medical Certificate has become burdensome and expensive, while providing very little benefit to the industry. No other form of recreational transportation requires a medical certificate in addition to a license. The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 would provide relief by expanding the Third Class Medical exemption for recreational pilots while also improving safety and health awareness for pilots beyond current FAA requirements.

In addition, S. 571 represents a significant improvement in the due process rights and liability protections for volunteer pilots by ensuring certificate holders have the right to appeal FAA decisions through a new, merit-based trial in Federal Court. With a current veto-proof total of 69 Senate cosponsors, this bipartisan legislation is one of the most widely supported bills in Congress. Wednesday’s passage out of committee is an important step toward a brighter future for general aviation.

Senate Passes Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act
On Thursday, my Senate colleagues and I unanimously passed legislation to improve our criminal justice system. The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act (S. 993) will enable law enforcement to better respond to people with mental health conditions, reduce costly inefficiencies in the criminal justice system, and ultimately help vulnerable members of our communities. The legislation supports training programs for federal law enforcement officers to appropriately respond to situations involving someone with a mental health condition. Also supported are state and local efforts to identify individuals with mental health conditions throughout the criminal justice process to appropriately direct them to mental health services, providing assistance before criminal behavior might occur or recur.

The legislation also authorizes investments in veteran’s treatment courts, which serve arrested veterans who suffer from mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance addiction. Support for the legislation ranges from law enforcement, civil rights groups, mental health advocates and veterans’ services organizations (VSOs) such as the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Legion, and AMVETS.

Visiting Olathe Family YMCA
I had the opportunity to visit the Olathe Family YMCA this week and learn about the many health, wellness, and social support programs it offers in support of youth and families in Olathe and the region. One in five Kansans – including one in four Kansas children – benefit from programs and services offered by their community YMCA. Some of these include chronic disease prevention programs, academic support programs, and child care services. Thanks to Scott Clark of the Olathe Family YMCA for hosting me, and to John Mikos and Jennifer Bruning of the Kansas State Alliance of YMCAs for coordinating my visit.

Overland Park Chamber of Commerce Annual Chairman’s Reception
I attended the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce Annual Chairman’s Reception at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) this week. During the gathering, outgoing Chamber Board Chairman Marga Spangler was recognized for the chamber’s accomplishments in 2015. Brad Stratton will chair the chamber board in 2016. I appreciated the opportunity to visit with chamber members about how we can work together to foster job creation and improve the quality of life enjoyed in Overland Park and Kansas. Congratulations to the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce on its achievements throughout the year, and best wishes for a successful 2016. Thanks to Chairman Marga Spangler for hosting me, and thanks to JCCC President Joe Sopcich (pictured below) for welcoming me on campus. Here, I'm pictured with Overland Park Chamber of Commerce President Tracey Osborne.

Visiting Hope High School
I enjoyed meeting with students and educators at Hope High School on Friday. I visited with students, teachers and administrators about the work taking place to prepare Kansans children for their future. Tours like these help me understand the challenges facing schools across Kansas. Thanks to School Board President Jim Barten for the invitation to visit and to Principal Mike Teeter for hosting my visit. Here, I’m pictured with juniors Jaryth Barten and Trace Hostetter.

Visiting Herington Municipal Hospital
On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit Herington Municipal Hospital (HMH) and meet with its new Administrator/CFO Alan Meisinger as well as hospital staff. Serving North Central Kansas, HMH is a 25-bed Critical Access Hospital (CAHs) that serves the needs of southern Dickinson County. Our discussion focused on implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare cuts, sequestration and its negative impact on CAHs. The special way of life we live in rural towns would not be possible without access to quality health care, and federal policies must enable Herington Municipal Hospital and other rural health facilities reasonable flexibility to sufficiently serve their unique communities. I also appreciated the opportunity to visit with HMH Chief of Staff Dr. John Mosier. A native of Herington, Dr. Mosier chose to return to his home town after getting his medical degree. Practicing rural medicine in a small community gives him the opportunity to develop strong personal relationships with his patients. Thanks again to CEO Meisinger for hosting me.

Kansans in the Office

Tonya Sudduth of Wichita

Kansas Governor’s Military Council
Mike Denning of Lawrence
Mike Shilling of Manhattan
Rufus Forrest of Wichita
John Armbrust of Manhattan

Intellectual Ventures
Mike Dennina of Lawrence
Mike Shilling of Manhattan
Rufus Forrot of Wichita
John Armbrusy of Manhattan

American Trucking Associations
Mike Kelley of Overland Park

Community Bankers Association of Kansas
Shawn Mitchell of Topeka

Kansas Bankers Association
Gary Yager of Topeka
Bob Leftwich of Wellington
Kelly Mason of Pratt

National Conference of State Legislatures
Sen. Forrest Knox of Altoona
Rep. Keith Esau of Olathe

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas
Sunee Mickle of Lawrence

Fairpoint Communications
Pat Morse of Dodge City

Capitol Tour
William Witbrod of Overland Park
Shirley Storck of Derby
Leland Cox of Basehor
Tamara Cox of Basehor

Michael Snidger of Kansas City
Keith Esan of Olathe

Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.

Please let me know how I can be of assistance. You can contact me by email by clicking here. You can also click here to contact me through one of my Kansas offices or my Washington, D.C., office.

Very truly yours,


Newsletter Sign-up Form

Note: Fields marked with an * are required.