Kansas Common Sense
Sep 21 2020
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Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer, tackling each challenge with passion, dedication and extraordinary intellect. She served her country with honor and had an historic impact on the court and the nation. Robba and I are praying for her family.
Justice Ginsburg will lie in repose at the Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday, and on Friday, she will be the first woman in history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
Enshrining Eisenhower – I Like Ike
This week was the dedication ceremony for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial honors the legacy of Kansas’ favorite son, Ike, and is situated near the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. The memorial features three bronze sculptures of Eisenhower that represent important phases of his life: his boyhood in Abilene, his time as the Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War II and his time as the 34thPresident of the United States.
This memorial and ceremony would not have been possible without the decades of work by Senator Pat Roberts and Senator Bob Dole. Thank you to both of them for their role as commissioners of Ike’s memorial, and thanks to the generosity of many members of the Greatest Generation for making its creation possible.
To listen to my remarks for this important day for Kansas, click here or below.
Voting on a Supreme Court Nominee
I support the decision to hold a vote on President Trump’s nominee and when the nominee is announced, I will review that person’s judicial career and commitment to upholding the Constitution and rule of law.
The Constitution is clear, and gives the Senate the power and the duty to vote on the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court when a vacancy occurs. There has been a Supreme Court vacancy in a presidential election year 29 times. Presidents have made nominations all 29 times. Nineteen of those times, the political parties were the same and 17 of these nominees were confirmed by the Senate during the election year. The voters who elected President Trump and a majority in the Senate expect us to do our job.
Commending President Trump for the Historic Abraham Accords Peace Agreement
On Tuesday afternoon, President Trump hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to sign the Abraham Accords. These historic agreements begin the process of normalizing relations between the two Gulf countries and the Jewish state. After seven decades of isolation in the region, the Abraham Accords signify Israel’s existence as finally being accepted by Arab countries, opening new prospects for greater economic, security and cultural cooperation to the benefit of all. Israel’s right to exist is unquestionable, and to refuse to recognize that is to deny the reality of their sovereignty. My Senate colleagues and I have worked to ensure Israel’s security and prosperity. With the possibility of more agreements in the future, we can hope for a region that is secure and prosperous. I commend President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and many others in this administration for facilitating this historic agreement and advancing the cause of peace and prosperity in this region.
To view my remarks on the Senate floor applauding the accords, click here or below.
Questioning Top Health Officials Regarding Ventilators, Senior Living and Testing
On Wednesday, I questioned U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials on a variety of topics surrounding their allocation of ventilators and funding throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, I questioned these top officials regarding the current status of ventilator supplies, laboratory needs and future actions of HHS and NIH, as well as previous and future distributions from the provider relief fund. This includes the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needs and testing needs of our institutions dedicated to caring for seniors—the most vulnerable segment of our population and the highest “at-risk” COVID-19 category. I encouraged these officials, including Dr. Robert Kadlec and Admiral Brett Giroir, to ensure that these institutions provide the necessary support for our health providers, as protective measures and up-to-date equipment are still necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I will continue to work with our health agencies to ensure our population is protected from another potential resurgence of the virus.
USDA Announces Additional Relief
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a second round of payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) for farmers and ranchers. Kansas agricultural producers continue to face challenges as a result of market disruptions caused by COVID-19. I have worked closely with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and administration officials throughout the pandemic to make certain producers receive necessary relief, including by using funds provided by Congress in the CARES Act to make this round of payments. Included in CFAP 2, I am pleased to see USDA work to address inequities in payments to cattle producers that occurred under the first round of payments, as well as including hard red winter wheat in the program. Producers are encouraged to visit their county Farm Service Agency office to sign up for the program from September 21, 2020 through December 11, 2020.
Meeting with Salina-area Law Enforcement
This week, I visited the Salina Regional Training Center and met with leaders and officers from the Salina Police Department and the Saline County Sheriff’s office. Both agencies received federal CESF grants to support their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic and it was important to hear how those funds helped their departments and officers. I also toured the facility to see their training areas, technology and equipment, and heard first-hand their efforts to keep the Salina community safe. Thank you to Chief of Police Brad Nelson for hosting me today and Saline County Sheriff Roger Soldan for joining the discussion.
Watch a recap of my visit by clicking here or below.
Urging HHS to Protect the 340B Program
This week, I joined a bipartisan group of my Senate colleagues in calling for a prompt response from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to address the recent actions of pharmaceutical companies across the country. These big pharma companies have continued to undermine the 340B Drug Pricing Program throughout the COVID-19 epidemic.
The 340B program requires drug companies to sell discounted prescription drugs to provide financial stability to hospitals, rural health facilities and other entities that provide care in underserved communities. Savings from the 340B program ensure that these “covered entities” are able to continue serving their patients and communities. However, drug manufacturers have recently announced new requirements and limitations on eligible entities within the 340B program. In the letter to Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, we urged the administration to take immediate enforcement action to halt these tactics and ensure that safety-net providers are able to continue providing life-saving mediations to patients across the country.
Advocating for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief Continued Service
This week, the Senate Commerce Committee held a business meeting that included three nominations for the Amtrak Board of Directors: Chris Koos, Sarah Feinberg and Theodore Rokita. Upon passage of the three nominees out of the committee, I immediately placed a hold on both Ms. Feinberg and Mr. Rokita’s nominations. I had previously requested written confirmation of their commitment to long-distance passenger routes like the Southwest Chief from each of the nominees. Having received Mr. Koos’ written commitment to support our long-distance passenger routes, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 recovery process, I was comfortable advancing his nomination to the Senate Floor. I look forward to continue working with Ms. Feinberg and Mr. Rokita on their written commitments to support Amtrak and its crucial role connecting rural communities with the rest of the country through its long-distance passenger routes.
Highlighting Kansas’ Ability to Headquarter the U.S. Space Command
This week, I visited with General James Dickinson, the newly installed Commander of U.S. Space Command. We spoke about his priorities as commander, how Space Force compliments his command efforts and how Kansas is uniquely positioned to help Space Command in its pursuit of defending U.S. interests in space. We discussed the four Kansas communities that are competing to host the new Space Command headquarters, and I explained why Kansas is the best location for this facility. I expressed to the general that Kansans have always sought to lead in the aerospace industry, in keeping with our state’s motto: Ad Astra Per Aspera, or, “To the Stars Through Difficulties.” As a result, we have a highly skilled workforce, innovative industrial partners and elite academic institutions that make Kansas an excellent partner for space ventures. I also invited General Dickinson to join me in Kansas soon. General Dickinson is a talented commander, and I look forward to working with him and Space Command in the future.
Providing Benefits to Veterans
I was joined by my colleagues on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in introducing S. 4579, the annual Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). This bipartisan legislation will increase certain VA benefits including disability and dependent compensation, clothing allowances, as well as providing dependency and indemnity compensation to surviving spouses and children to reflect increases in the cost of living. The cost of living adjustment will be determined by the annual COLA to social security benefits, as determined by the Social Security Administration and would go into effect Dec. 1, 2020. The Social Security Administration bases their annual COLA adjustment on the Consumer Price Index, as determined each December by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This bill will ensure that veterans’ benefits align with inflation and annual rising costs of living across the country. As chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee (SVAC), I work to make sure that our veterans receive the best our country has to offer. My colleagues and I look forward to ensuring that this legislation swiftly reaches President Trump’s desk.
Promoting Congressional Army Fellow Lt. Col. Ryan
I had the honor of administering the oath of office to now Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Ryan during his U.S. Army promotion ceremony. Over the past year, Lt.-Col. Ryan has worked in my office to serve Kansans, servicemembers and veterans as a Congressional Army Fellow. As the third Army Fellow to join my team, he was a great addition and asset to the office; he will be missed. I hope you can join me in thanking Lt.-Col. Ryan for his service to our nation. He is truly deserving of this promotion.
Discussing Holton Community Hospital's Expansion Project
This week, I visited Holton’s Community Hospital to receive an update from CEO Carrie Saia and view the construction process of the expansion which began at the end of last year. The majority of Holton’s construction is set for completion sometime this winter. We also discussed the hospital’s ongoing response to COVID-19, and I learned more about how Holton’s doctors and nurses continue to adapt during this pandemic in order to treat their patients. Access to health care is extremely important to rural areas across Kansas, especially now, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that our hospitals have the tools they require to combat this pandemic, as well as the resources they need keep their doors open to patients across the state.
Special thanks to Sara for the tour and Kansas State Senator Dennis Pyle for joining me.
Discussing Mental Health Services at the Kelly Center
On Friday, while visiting Fort Hays State University (FHSU), I had the opportunity to tour the Kelly Center, Fort Hays’ facility for student health and counseling. This center provides numerous services for students including drug and alcohol counseling services, student accessibility issues through learning disability testing and accommodations, academic support and peer tutoring as well as faculty and staff resources. Recently, the Kelly Center was awarded the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA). This grant will allow the center to expand the resources available to students and address mental health issues among students and faculty, all while promoting help-seeking behavior and reducing negative public attitudes towards mental health. I commend FHSU on their efforts to provide mental health resources to their students.
Thank you to Kelly Center Director Gina Smith and FHSU President Dr. Tisa Mason for meeting with me and showcasing the services being offered on campus.
COVID-19 Safety at the KCK Amazon Fulfillment Center
This week, I visited the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Kansas City to tour their facility which recently doubled the number of people they employ. They currently employ 4,500 associates, including 2,700 full-time employees, making them one of the largest employers in our state. I appreciated the opportunity to tour their facility and see the number of COVID-19 precautions they have put in place to protect their employees, including designated monitors to make certain social distancing is meeting standards, protective screens and more. Thank you to General Manager Phil Edman for the tour.
Discussing the Expansion of KC Streetcar Service
This week, I met with KC Streetcar Executive Director Tom Gerend, Board of Directors and members of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to get an update on the KC Streetcar line expansion. This project has been made possible by the recently awarded $50.8 million Federal Transit Authority grant I helped announce last month. As the largest transportation grant distributed in the region, this bipartisan, federal grant will fund a 3.5-mile extension for the streetcar line connecting Union Station to University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC), providing hundreds of jobs in the Kansas City-area, expanding access to businesses along the line and providing more efficient commute times for UMKC students. Thank you to Executive Director Gerend for the invitation and to all of the local leaders who attended the meeting, including Chairman of the Board Jeff Krum.
Meeting with Kansas City Southern Executives
This week, I had the opportunity to meet with Kansas City Southern and discuss important issues such as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and the company’s response to COVID-19. Kansas City Southern is one of the five major freight railroad companies in the United States, and it operates about 3,400 route miles in 10 states. Last January, I voted in favor of USMCA, which modernizes the previous trade agreement, NAFTA, with Canada and Mexico. The USMCA went into effect on July 1, and I have heard directly from Kansas City Southern on the expanding export of opportunities as a result of USMCA. As a cross-regional service, I recognize the STB's vital role in enforcing the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 and its important duty to decrease unnecessary, bureaucratic obstacles for freight rail companies operating across the United States.
In our meeting, Kansas City Southern assured me that the company remains focused on safeguarding the health and safety of its rail workforce while working tirelessly to maintain the flow of goods necessary to preserve public health and sustain families across the state and country.
Speaking to the Atchison Rotary Club
This week, I joined the Atchison Rotary Club for their weekly luncheon. I enjoyed visiting with community members regarding the importance of Atchison as a model for small-town America. As a Plainville native, the importance of protecting the integrity of small-town communities and their way of life continues to drive my work in Washington. Civic leadership and engagement are important aspects to small communities in Kansas. It is that engagement that brings Kansans together to solve the many challenges and issues our small towns face each day. In uncertain times, these communities are able to rely on each other through civic clubs like Atchison’s Rotary Club.
I want to extend my thanks to Travis Grossman, president of Atchison Rotary, for letting me join the meeting and Rep. John Eplie for being with us.
Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum
While in Atchison, I stopped by to visit the airport and the future home of the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum. This museum will educate, inspire and empower future generations in the pursuit of flight. The Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation acquired Muriel, the last remaining 1935 Lockheed Electra 10-E aircraft in the world, which is the same model aircraft Amelia flew. It will serve as the centerpiece for the museum. Thank you to Karen Seaberg for the tour and conversation.
Announcing Support for Pittsburg State
This week, the National Institute of Standards & Technology awarded a grant of $718,300 to Pittsburg State University (PSU). The grant will go toward the National Institute for Materials Advancement at PSU and will focus on developing and promoting new polymeric materials and plastics processing capabilities by leveraging the university’s 50 years of history in this material realm.
This grant follows an additional NIST award I announced last October to establish a recyclable plastics modeling and testing laboratory at Pittsburg State University.
Remembering Reggie Robinson
Robba and I were saddened to hear of Reggie Robinson’s passing this weekend, having both worked with him during his long career dedicated to Kansas’ higher education community, including as CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents. He continued serving Kansas in many roles, including the most recent as the President of the Kansas Health Foundation. Reggie was a tireless advocate for Kansas, KU and a good friend. We will miss him. Our prayers are with his wife, Jane, and their two daughters.
Read more about his life’s work here in the Lawrence Journal-World.
Opportunities for Students
Spring Internship Application Now Open
Applications for the Spring 2021 Intern Session are now available. Qualified undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in public service, the legislative process and serving Kansas are invited to apply by October 23rd.
Please visit my website to hear from past interns, find application link, and learn more about this opportunity.
U.S. Senate Page Program
My office is actively looking for a high school Kansan to participate in the Spring 2020 Senate Page Program. This program provides the unique opportunity to work in the Senate and learn about Congress and the legislative process while maintaining their regular coursework. The Sring Page eligibility is limited to juniors in high school who will be 16 or 17 years old on or before the date of appointment.
The Page Program is very competitive and a limited number of spots are available. Applicants are encouraged to apply early. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, but the preferred deadline is October 21st. For questions or more details, please call 202-224-6521 and request to speak with the page coordinator. Please visit my website to learn more about this opportunity.
Celebrating Constitution Day
Constitution Day was Thursday, marking a day to reaffirm our founding ideals as a nation and our commitment to continue striving towards a more perfect union. We also thank the millions of Americans who have taken a sworn oath to defend our Constitution and the rights and liberties protected within it.
Recognizing the Jewish New Year
To all those who celebrated Rosh Hashanah in Kansas and around the world this weekend - I wish health, happiness and clarity of mind in the new year and the High Holy Days. Shana Tova!
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.
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