Kansas Common Sense
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks 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.
I treated Robba to Mother’s Day lunch at a local Kansas restaurant yesterday. (This is where she wanted to go, I promise!) Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
I believe that Congress and the American people deserve more information about the circumstances of FBI Director Comey’s dismissal, a chance to understand which of his actions required his dismissal and why at this particular time. Understanding the reasoning behind Director Comey’s dismissal is important. The next director must be independent, fully committed to justice, and dedicated to carrying out the Bureau’s critical mission of protecting the United States and its citizens.
Hearing on Importance of U.S. Democracy Assistance
The State/Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on Tuesday regarding the importance of democracy around the world and how its spread makes our nation safer. I asked a panel, including former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, about ways food aid helps to prevent the need for military intervention and how we can approach nations that are not receptive to our country’s desire to provide assistance. Democracy cannot easily flourish where people are going hungry. The FY2017 appropriations bill included significant wins for critical global food aid programs – as Senate Hunger Caucus Co-Chair, I’m committed to building on that progress to the benefit of Kansas farmers and global peace.
Discussing Veterans Community Care with Secretary Shulkin
Though the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee was unable to convene a hearing on Wednesday, I convened a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs on Thursday with VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin and Deputy Undersecretary for Care in the Community Dr. Baligh Yehia. Secretary Shulkin and Dr. Yehia shared the VA’s plan for reforming the Choice program and what community care needs to look like moving forward.
I am encouraged by the secretary’s ideas for what the VA healthcare system ought to be one that puts the needs of the veteran ahead of the needs of the department. No veteran should be forced to drive long distances or wait several months to receive the care they have earned, and Secretary Shulkin and Dr. Yehia were clear that in the new system acting in the best interests of veterans will be the priority. The VA must work to regain the trust of the veterans it serves.
I am grateful for the time that the Secretary spent, both testifying at the hearing and visiting in my office, beginning a solid conversation on how VA healthcare must adapt for the future and the role that community partnerships with local providers will play in getting veterans timely access to high-quality healthcare. I look forward to working with him and am eager to hear his testimony in front of my subcommittee next month on the VA’s budget request.
Working to Increase Accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs
I joined a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues in introducing the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act (S. 1094) on Thursday. This legislation would reform the VA by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees and ensure due process protections for whistleblowers. I was pleased to hear Secretary Shulkin’s support for my legislation during the subcommittee hearing. For far too long, the department has been unable to remove those employees who either harm veterans or fail in their duties to serve our nation’s heroes. This bill will make certain that the VA has the authority to terminate employees and protect whistleblowers. Additionally, this bill holds bad actors accountable by ensuring they do not receive the same benefits as the vast majority of honest, hardworking VA employees if they are found guilty of a felony related to their employment. Click here to learn more.
Supporting Legislation to Study Veteran Suicide
The number of veterans who take their own lives each year remains alarmingly high despite the efforts of many at the VA, community providers and nonprofit groups working to care for those who have served our nation. We must do everything we can to put a stop to this disturbing trend, which is why I joined Senators John McCain of Arizona and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin to introduce the Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act (S. 992). This legislation would permit the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct an independent study on the deaths of all veterans being treated at the VA who died by suicide or from a drug overdose in the last five years. This would help make certain the VA has accurate information about the relationship between veteran suicides and prescriptive medication. S. 992 would also direct the VA to perform a more comprehensive review of its behavioral health workforce with a focus on mental health counselors in an effort to address workforce shortages. Click here to learn more.
Trade with Mexico and Canada
I spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday about how trade relations with Mexico and Canada, Kansas’ two largest export markets, are critical to the success of American agriculture and the Kansas economy. Almost half of the wheat grown in Kansas is exported to foreign markets. Without export markets, production and prices would fall for farmers and ranchers, and rural communities supported by agriculture would disappear. Strengthening our trade relationships and expanding market access for exports abroad creates greater economic opportunity here at home – it’s the way we can truly put America first. If our goal is American strength and prosperity, we ought to continue to focus on improving our nation’s economy. Trade, including our ability to sell the food and fiber we grow in Kansas, is a key part of driving the economy forward. The Senate confirmed the U.S. Trade Representative, Mr. Robert Lighthizer, on Thursday and I look forward to working with him to make certain that Kansas farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and other small businesses continue to have strong economic relations with Mexico and Canada.
I met with U.S. Trade Representative Nominee Robert Lighthizer a couple weeks ago and stressed the importance of trade with Mexico and Canada. Mr. Lighthizer recalled his tenure working for the Senate Finance Committee under the leadership of Senator Bob Dole, and I was pleased to hear that he continues to value his strong ties to the state of Kansas.
Open Up China to U.S. Beef
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a breakthrough in negotiations this week between the U.S. and China on resolving technical barriers that continue to block U.S. beef exports to China, paving the way for U.S. beef to be sold in China by July of 2017. China is the second largest beef importer in the world, buying about $2.6 billion of beef annually. However, since 2003, China has banned beef produced in the U.S. from being sold in its markets. Given the importance of expanding beef exports to Kansas producers, I signed a letter to President Trump urging him to work with China to resolve the issue so that our farmers and ranchers have access to this key market. The agreement also directs the Chinese government to review pending U.S. crop seed technologies that could provide further access to the Chinese market for Kansas farmers. Our farmers and ranchers depend on the ability to market the food and fiber we grow to countries around the world. I’ll continue to make certain Secretary Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer and other trade officials understand the impact exports have on our state’s economy, as well as monitor the enforcement of this agreement to make sure that China maintains their commitment to U.S. agriculture producers.
Meetings with Kansas Healthcare Providers
The Kansas Hospital Association, Delta Dental of Kansas, Children’s Mercy Hospital and the American College of Surgeons were in my office this week to discuss the impact of ongoing efforts to reform our healthcare system for Kansans. It is essential that Congress finds real solutions to improve our system and provide real choice for individuals and families. I appreciate having the chance to listen to these groups of Kansans share their feedback and I look forward to continuing these discussions in Washington and at home as the Senate works on our own healthcare improvement bill.
Introducing Legislation to Expand Broadband Deployment
I joined a bipartisan group of my Senate colleagues on Thursday to introduce the Rural Wireless Access Act of 2017, which would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to standardize its methods of collecting mobile broadband coverage data. Comprehensive and consistent data is required to expand broadband deployment effectively, especially to target unserved and underserved rural communities. Millions of rural Americans in Kansas and many other states depend on the promise of mobile broadband buildout efforts, and this legislation seeks to improve that process. As we work to close the broadband gap, our providers must have standardized, clear data so they can plan out ways to reach communities most in need of access.
Visiting the Hays CBOC
On Friday, I toured the Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Hays. The facility offers primary care, behavioral health, personal care, laboratory and prescriptions services providing Hays-area veterans expanded access to the care they earned in service to our nation. I appreciated Dr. Calvin and the staff taking the time to meet with me to discuss how they serve veterans in the area, especially as we work to determine the future of VA community care.
McPherson Hosts the All Schools Day Parade
I joined area residents on Friday for the 104th Annual McPherson All Schools Day Parade on Friday. The tradition began in 1914 as a way to celebrate 8th grade graduates. Since then, it has grown into a week-long annual Kansas event honoring graduates from eighth grade, high school and college with hundreds of participants. A special thanks to Scott Werth for driving me in the parade, Anna Ruxlow who helped arrange my visit, and the 2017 Parade Chairperson Anne Hassler Heidel. Anne and her committee did a great job organizing this longstanding community event. Before the parade, I walked the route and visited with many area residents.
Small Business Council of America’s 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award
I had the honor of joining two Wichitans visiting Washington, D.C., this week to receive the Small Business Council of America's 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award for their work at the Fundamental Learning Center (FLC), a nonprofit education organization serving dyslexic children. When Gretchen Andeel and Jeanine Phillips founded FLC in 2000, our state's education system did not recognize dyslexia – but since then, thousands of Kansas children have benefitted from the services and educational training the center provides. I am thankful for the service of Kansans like Gretchen and Jeanine who have dedicated so much of their time to helping young people in our state.
Honoring Prudential Spirit of Community Award Winners
I met with Grace McGowan of Overland Park and Sydney Smith of Hiawatha this week who represented Kansans receiving the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards this week. The awards were created in 1995 by Prudential in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals to honor middle and high school students at the local, state and national level for outstanding service to others. Grace has conducted fundraisers and collection drives over the past five years that have raised more than $33,000, 650 jars of peanut butter, and 834 books to help feed and educate kids in Haitian orphanages. Sydney who has had Type 1 diabetes since she was 16 months old raised nearly $1,800 for diabetes research by soliciting donations and selling homemade crafts in conjunction with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation annual fundraising walk in Kansas City.
In Ellsworth on Friday, it was great to get feedback from folks around town. I stopped by the courthouse, Chamber of Commerce, Seitz Drug, Farm Bureau Financial Services, the post office, the Law Enforcement Center, Knights of Columbus Insurance, F&M Health Mart, the Kwik Shop and Citizens State Bank & Trust. Each Friday at the bank is “Popcorn Friday.” It was a pleasure to meet Tracy – a client at Mosaic Life Care who was running the popcorn machine. Tracy and other Mosaic clients are paid for their time, and their earnings are their own personal funds to use at their discretion. The unique partnership with Citizens State Bank honors the bank’s longstanding Friday tradition and gives the clients work experiences they may not otherwise have. Thanks also to Machelle Van Trump, the bank’s executive vice president and chief lending officer, for the fresh popcorn and conversation.
Accepting Applications for Fall Internships – Deadline: June 2
My own interest in public service was sparked by an internship for Kansas First District Congressman Keith Sebelius in 1974. As an intern, I had the chance to learn firsthand how a Congressional office operates and how the legislative process works. I am proud to be able to offer this same opportunity in my Senate office today where I have interns year-round who have a unique opportunity to work closely with my staff on behalf of Kansans. Applications are already being accepted for internships in my Washington, D.C., and Kansas offices for the fall 2017 term. The deadline for the fall is Friday, June 2. Congressional internships are open to qualified undergraduate and graduate students who have an interest in public service and have achieved academic excellence. Click here for more information.
Kansans in the Office
Kelly Fritz of Spring Hill
Ash Grove/Portland Cement Association
Jackie Clark of Overland Park
Curtis Lesslie of Overland Park
Kent Webber of Chanute
Kansas Department of Revenue
Nathan Hoeppner of Lawrence
Randall O’Donnell of Leawood
Dallas Polen of Overland Park
American Feed Industry
Eric Arnold of Overland Park
National Brain Tumor Society
Victoria Carpenter of Merriam
Annie Kotich of Lenexa
Linda Kotich of Topeka
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards Honorees
Grace McGowan of Overland Park
Michelle McGowan of Overland Park
Brian McGowan of Overland Park
Sydney Smith of Hiawatha
Sara Smith of Hiawatha
American Association of Bovine Practitioners Committee
Mike Apley of Manhattan
Geni Wren of Overland Park
American College of Surgeons
Scott Coates of Chanute
Tyler Hughes of McPherson
Joshua Mammen of Leawood
Aaron Nihas of Wichita
Kyle Vincent of Wichita
Denise Lantz of Topeka
Josh Brughammer of Fairway
Kansas Hospital Association
Chad Austin of Topeka
Tom Bell of Topeka
Dennis Franks of Chanute
Val Gleason of Newton
John Hart of Fredonia
Audrey Hill of Kansas City
George Stover of Lyons
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
Shaun Junkins of Wichita
Gary Hall of Wichita
Amber Junkins of Wichita
Stan Chapman of Goddard
Susan Hiebert of Augusta
Tony Spicer of Wichita
John Pierce of El Dorado
American College of Rheumatology
Kwas Huston of Leawood
Robert Moody of Hays
D.C. Capitol Tour
Robert Southall of Shawnee
Candess Southall of Shawnee
Michael Forristal of Salina
Joan Forristal of Salina
Linda Bergner of Sedgwick
Aaron Pauls of Manhattan
Ashley Pauls of Manhattan
Jonathan Flores of Salina
Shelly Flores of Salina
Todd Anderson of Manhattan
Shelby Quackenbush of Salina
Gustavo Vergara of Stilwell
Yvonne Vergara of Stilwell
Gary Hauptli of Milford
Tutti Hauptli of Milford
Daniel Quigley of Manhattan
Kathy Quigley of Manhattan
Ronnie DeWeese of Wichita
Christine DeWeese of Wichita
William Hickert of Russell
Kathleen Hickert of Russell
Mingming Liu of Hays
Shu Ma of Hays
Jiajia Wang of Hays
Jinjia Wang of Hays
Ryan Vickery of Fairway
Lindsey Vickery of Fairway
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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