Kansas Common Sense
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. I was saddened to learn about the terror attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota over the weekend. These are very challenging times for national security in the United States and incidents like these remind us that we must remain vigilant.
Congress is back to work this week with the passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) by a vote of 95-3. This authorization bill includes port and waterway improvement projects, supports flood control projects that will protect millions of people and billions of dollars in infrastructure and includes relief for communities with drinking water emergencies.
Pressing the VA Secretary for Answers on Hiring, Firing Practices
During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing on Wednesday, I pressed VA Secretary Bob McDonald about how a former physician assistant at the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System who has been charged with sexually abusing veterans was not fired before resigning. I am frustrated that Secretary McDonald was unable to answer my questions as to how this individual was hired, and why, upon learning of his abuses, he was not immediately fired. The VA has a duty to protect and serve veterans – not to add to their wounds of war. I am horrified that this individual found their way into the VA in the first place and then used his position to harm those who have sacrificed for our nation.
Following the hearing, I introduced the Accountability to Safeguard Veterans from Violent Crimes Act of 2016 (S. 3330), which cuts pensions of VA providers who are convicted of a violent crime against a veteran. Those who violate the trust of our veterans must be held accountable. The notion that taxpayers would fund the benefits of individuals who have threatened or harmed our nation’s heroes is unacceptable. The VA has made excuses time and time again without firing those who have mistreated our veterans, and this legislation would make certain these individuals aren’t able to walk away with the same benefits as those who honorably served our veterans. Those who are on the frontlines of veteran care should be held to the highest of standards, and should not be allowed to keep their benefits if they are convicted of a violent crime against those they serve.
Administration Should Not Bypass Senate on Nuclear Testing Treaty
I joined U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and a group of 31 other senators this week in urging President Obama not to bypass the Senate in order to seek United Nations Security Council endorsement of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The latest news that North Korea last Friday conducted its fifth known nuclear test underscores the importance of this issue.
This administration’s ‘strategic patience’ approach has failed to rein in North Korea’s hostile nuclear weapons programs. The communist regime’s nuclear test on Friday – the fourth on the president’s watch – is just the latest example. North Korea and Iran are among the countries with nuclear programs that have not signed the CTBT and would not follow the same rules we do. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992, but permanently prohibiting future testing when it may be required for our nation’s safety is a debate that rightfully belongs to the Senate chosen by the American people. Click here to learn more.
Pressing DHS for Answers on Criminal History of Suspect in Johnson County Deputy’s Death
Members of the Johnson County community gathered in Olathe Thursday to honor the life and service of Master Deputy Sheriff Brandon Collins. I am deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life and am determined to reduce the chances of such a tragedy occurring again. Due to the many questions that remain unanswered about the suspect of this crime, I joined Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley in calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson to provide Congress with information about the suspect’s full criminal and immigration history. We also asked the Secretary to explain how someone with a criminal history was able to avoid detection and unlawfully remain in the United States for over a decade. To read the Kansas City Star’s story on our letter, click here.
Opposing the Obama Administration’s ICANN Transition Plan
On Friday, I joined a number of my Senate Republican colleagues to urge our Democratic counterparts to oppose the Obama administration’s proposed Internet oversight transition that is set to take place on October 1, 2016. The administration’s plan to unilaterally give away oversight of the root functions of the Internet without appropriate Congressional input is irresponsible and has raised more questions than it has answered. Concerns include, but are not limited to, the influence of authoritarian regimes in Internet governance, freedom of speech, impacts on national security and consumer protection issues. The administration has repeatedly said that getting the transition “right” is more important than getting it done “on time,” but the closer we get to the deadline, the more it seems that they have gotten that backwards. This deadline is arbitrary, and the transition should not move forward without congressional approval.
USTR Challenges China’s Excessive Price Support Programs
I welcomed the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announcement this week that the U.S. will challenge China’s excessive price support programs for wheat, corn and rice at the World Trade Organization (WTO). While attention is often on the negotiation of new trade agreements, we need to be more aggressive in enforcing the current rules to protect American workers, farmers and small businesses. China’s support programs inflate their domestic production and decrease global crop prices – it’s estimated the programs cost U.S. wheat farmers between $650 to $700 million annually. The level of support violates commitments made by the Chinese when they joined the WTO and it is time they be held accountable for the unfair trading practices. With low prices and falling revenues, the United States ought to do all we can to make certain Kansas farmers are competing on a level playing field. I applaud the USTR for working with agriculture producers and defending American agriculture by pursuing the case.
Working to Protect Kansans from Unfair, Deceptive BOTS Software
As Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, I held a hearing Tuesday afternoon to evaluate legislation I introduced the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act of 2016. This legislation would protect Kansans from the unfair and deceptive practices of “bots,” or software employed by individuals to “cut the line” in purchasing online tickets to live events while surpassing control mechanisms that limit the number of tickets purchased per individual. These “bots” buy hundreds or thousands of tickets for a live event, like a concert, play or sporting event, and resell them at exponentially higher prices than the original purchase. As a result, consumers are left with extremely limited and expensive ticket options when they want to attend the next Garth Brooks concert in Wichita or the University of Kansas basketball game in Lawrence. My legislation would prohibit the use of these troublesome bots by giving state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission the legal authority to bring civil action against individuals employing them.
During the hearing, the subcommittee heard a variety of perspectives on this critical issue including testimony Commissioner Bob Bowlsby from the Big 12 Conference; Tony Award-winner Jeffrey Seller, the producer of Hamilton: An American Musical, and representatives from the primary and secondary online ticket markets. All of the witnesses expressed support for the BOTS Act and its beneficial impact on consumers’ ability to enjoy live entertainment. Click here to view the hearing.
Fighting to Keep Terrorists at GITMO
This week brought disturbing news in a report from the United States Director of National Intelligence revealing that two more released Guantanamo Bay (GITMO) detainees have returned to engaging in terrorist activities. Since the president announced his plan to close GITMO, we’ve seen a rush to transfer detainee terrorists out of the facility. This administration’s willingness to endanger American lives in order to fulfill a campaign promise is unacceptable, especially given the clear evidence showing that former detainees continue to return to the battlefield. I will continue fighting to keep the remaining detainees at the facility where they cannot engage in terrorist acts against the United States or our allies. For more information about my work to prevent transfers, click here.
Keeping the Voice of Rural America Alive
I penned a column this week about the importance of community journalism. Growing up in rural Kansas, newspapers are where I not only learned about the rest of the world, but also who won Friday night at the football game, who was getting married, who received a blue ribbon at the county fair and which new businesses were opening in town. As Kansans, we care about our neighbors and the local paper is a big part of how we connect to them. We may no longer settle in with a print edition and our morning coffee at the kitchen table, or get to know our paperboy, but we can demonstrate our desire to keep community journalism alive by investing in online subscriptions, calling newsrooms with tips about upcoming events, and sharing articles with our neighbors. We can and must help slow the decline of newspaper readership – our communities depend on them just as much as they depend on us. Click here to read the full column.
NFIB Small Business Guardian Award
On Thursday, I was honored to receive the Small Business Guardian Award from National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) President Juanita Duggan. NFIB is the leading advocate for small businesses across the nation. Small businesses are the backbone of Kansas’ economy, and data from the Kauffman Foundation proves that companies less than five years old account for nearly all net new job creation in the United States. From agriculture to health care, we rely on small businesses to meet the needs of Kansas so that we can continue to prosper.
Celebrating National Aerospace Week
This week was National Aerospace Week, and I was pleased to join the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) to recognize the vital contributions of the aerospace industry to our economy and our national defense. The Aerospace Industry is where the priorities of a strong national defense and a strong economy converge, and I am proud that so many Kansans working in Wichita, the “Air Capitol of the World,” are able to contribute to those priorities. As Co-Chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus, I had the honor of addressing a number of members of the aerospace industry on Wednesday evening, where we discussed the importance of undergoing the appropriations process each year to provide certainty in such a critical industry.
Participating in Emporia State President Allison Garrett’s Inauguration Ceremony
As Kansans, we place a high priority on education and we’re fortunate to have such excellent universities, community colleges and technical colleges in our state. Emporia State has been an integral piece of that puzzle for more than 150 years now. It was a pleasure to be at Emporia State on Friday afternoon for the inauguration of President Allison Garrett. With students back on campus and the school year in full swing, the sense of excitement was palpable. I wish Dr. Garrett well as she continues to build on that impression – that excitement. Hopefully her vision, charisma and experience will lead to many future successes and achievements. Welcome, President Garrett.
Emporia High School
Emporia High School (EHS) Principal Britton Hart paid my office in Washington, D.C., a visit this week after he was named Kansas Principal of the Year – a well-deserved honor given for making a difference in the lives of Kansas students. I figured I would return the favor and pay his high school a visit Friday morning where I met Principal Hart, Superintendent Kevin Case and student leaders Carlos Flores, Damon Good, Kelsey Gordon, Hailey Horn and Alessa Torres for a tour of the school. It was good to hear from the students about what issues impact them in their lives and their futures hopes and aspirations. I appreciated the warm reception and commend Principal Hart and the faculty at EHS for their commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of their students and, by extension, our state.
Meeting Kansans at the State Fair
More than a century ago, a group of Hutchinson business leaders formed the Reno County Agricultural Society and hosted a fair in a small wooden livery stable behind the town’s only bank. In the years since, the Kansas State Fair has grown to become our state’s largest single event, attracting more than 365,000 attendees. I visited the State Fair this weekend and had the opportunity to meet with a number of Kansans who traveled there to enjoy the rides, food, exhibit halls, livestock barns and countless educational opportunities. Thank you to the Kansas State Fair Board Members and staff who put in hours of planning to make our fair a fun and educational event for all. Below is a photo of the future of agriculture at the fair! (Carston, age 5)
Mercy Hospital in Moundridge
I visited Mercy Hospital in Moundridge this week. While touring the facilities, we visited about how federal policies affect facilities like this one to continue to provide quality services to Kansans – now and in the future. Thanks to Hospital Administrator Doyle Johnson for hosting me on a Saturday morning.
Participating in FHSU Tigers Football Pre-Game Celebration
I joined the Fort Hays State University (FHSU) Tiger Family for a football pre-game celebration over the weekend. I enjoyed visiting with a number of students, faculty, administration, alumni and community supporters in attendance. Thanks to FHSU President Mirta Martin for the invitation to join and to FHSU General Counsel Kerry Wasinger for hosting the celebration.
Kansans in the Office
William Meyer of Overland Park
Paul Winter of Salina
Linda Winter of Salina
Doug Mergen of Salina
Susan Mergen of Salina
Jack Kline of Louisburg
Nancy Hart-Kline of Louisburg
Dan & Nina Palmgren of Satanta
Ann Gaschler of Hays
Carla Tomlin Great Bend
Brian and Kelli Nelson of Shawnee
Sharron Neimann of Goddard
Kyle Nevills of Scott City
Bill Barloon of Overland Park
American College of Rheumatology
Kent Huston of Leawood
Kansas Farmers Union Member
Sean Gatewood of Topeka
Donn Teske of Wheaton
Bonnie Siegel of Leawood
Peter Levi of Leawood
American Academy of Dermatology Association
Holly Fritch of Leawood
Bob Doust of Topeka
Kansas Principal of the Year
Britton Hart of Emporia
William Neinstedt of Hartford
American Cancer Society
Judith Calhoun of Lawrence
Gay Garrett of Merriam
Sue Jirkovsky-Landers of Tecumseh
Jerry Seiver of Wichita
Meghan Urwin of Sublette
Jordan Rickabaugh of Lawrence
Southwest Power Pool
Mike Morley of Hays
Phil Wages of Topeka
Clare Gustin of Hays
International Franchise Association
Dutch Tyron of Topeka
Jacqui Tyron of Topeka
Lori Dusterhut of Olathe
Tom Dusterhut of Olathe
James Bull of Topeka
National Association of Wheat Growers
David Schemm of Sharon Springs
The Clay Group
Frank Clay of Overland Park
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,
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