Kansas Common Sense
Jul 19 2021
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.
Responding to the DOJ’s Report on the FBI’s Mishandling of the Larry Nassar Case
This week, I met with the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG), Michael Horowitz to be briefed on the report detailing the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) failure to act after they received reports of Larry Nassar’s abuse. In 2018, I led an 18-month long investigation into the systemic abuse of amateur and Olympic athletes, which confirmed several instances where the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University and the FBI failed to protect young athletes by not acting on credible claims of abuse by Nassar. The report revealed significant misconduct by at least two FBI agents in the Indianapolis field office who knew of Nassar’s abuse, failed to act and made false and misleading statements in documenting the case and describing their conduct to DOJ IG investigators. The DOJ IG made criminal referrals for these actions, which the Department of Justice declined to act on.
Following this meeting, Sen. Blumenthal and I—authors of the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athlete Act signed into law last year—released a statement in response to the DOJ’s findings: We are appalled by the FBI’s gross mishandling of the specific warnings its agents received about Larry Nassar’s horrific abuse years before he was finally arrested. How many athletes would have been spared unimaginable pain if the FBI had done its job? The Department of Justice now needs to decide if it is going to be yet another institution that fails survivors or if it is going to enforce some measure of accountability for these crimes. I will continue to work to ensure America’s athletes can pursue the sports they love without fear of abuse.
Standing with the People of Cuba
After 60 years of Communist rule, 11 million Cubans deserve better. They deserve freedom; they deserve dignity; they deserve hope. On Monday evening, I spoke on the Senate floor to voice my support for the Cuban people as they advocate for a government that can meet their basic needs of food, medicine and political rights. As demonstrations to enact change in Havana continue, I pray that they be peaceful and effective at bringing about a brighter tomorrow for Cuba. Click here or below to watch my remarks.
Following my floor speech, on Thursday I introduced a Senate resolution with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in support of the people of Cuba as they lead protests throughout the island against six decades of repression and tyranny from the Castro and Díaz-Canel regime.
I will continue to support their ongoing calls for freedom. The Cuban people ought to have a government that can meet their basic needs and this resolution recognizes the courage of the Cuban people who are risking their livelihoods – and possibly their lives – for freedoms they are currently being denied.
Securing Protections for Kansas Communities at Risk of Losing Vital Federal Resources
This week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) halted its plans to change the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) population threshold definitions from 50,000 to 100,000. This reversal comes after Senator Marshall and I urged the OMB to abandon this arbitrary, unfounded rule change which threatened to disqualify smaller communities from receiving critical federal funding. OMB’s proposal would have significantly impacted Lawrence, Manhattan and St. Joseph’s, MO/KS qualifications as Metropolitan Statistical Areas and in turn disqualified the cities from receiving vital federal funding from programs that rely on these definitions to determine if a city is qualified to receive funding.
OMB’s withdrawal of this proposal helps make certain that several Kansas communities will continue to qualify for critical federal funding, particularly as our economy recovers. I am pleased the Metropolitan Statistical Area definition will not be changed, and Kansas communities will not be adversely affected for unjustified reasons made in Washington.
Evaluating the USPS’ 10-Year Reform Plan
During a Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, I spoke with U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb about the USPS’ 10-year reform plan. While the “Delivering for America” plan is supposed to put the USPS back on a path toward financial sustainability, I asked IG Whitcomb if the USPS Office of Inspector General had accurate financial projections for the plan in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency funding assistance from Congress and potential postal reform legislation. These factors all ought to be taken into account as the USPS plans to raise postal rates, which will negatively impact small businesses and employers. I also requested that proper care be taken to ensure rural communities do not experience a disproportionate slowdown in service during implementation of the 10-year plan and as the USPS acquires its new electric vehicles and that geographic logistics be taken into account in determining the EVs locations.
Meeting with Kansas Leaders
Kansas Farm Bureau
This week, I met with Kansas Farm Bureau President Rich Felts and Ryan Flickner to discuss the priorities of Kansas farmers and ranchers. We discussed the strong concerns ranchers have with cattle markets and my efforts to expand small meat processing capacity in Kansas and across the country to give producers more markets to sell their livestock. We also spoke about the importance of broadband access for rural communities and businesses to help them grow and thrive. Agriculture is the backbone of Kansas’ economy, and ensuring that farmers and ranchers and their way of life is protected is vital to the success of Kansas. I look forward to continuing to work with Kansas Farm Bureau to make sure Kansas farmers’ and ranchers’ voices are heard in Washington, D.C.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Sarah Lopez
On Tuesday, I met with Sedgwick County Commissioner Sarah Lopez to discuss her priorities as commissioner and the issues important to the greater Wichita community. During our conversation, we talked about the importance of conserving groundwater and protecting Wichita’s water supply, the need for more investment in mental health resources, infrastructure negotiations and the importance of engaging and empowering local officials in making decisions in their communities. I thank Commissioner Lopez for meeting with me and for her work to better the Sedgwick County community.
Kansas Superintendents Association
On Wednesday, I met with members of the Kansas Superintendents Association, where we discussed the many challenges COVID-19 has posed for our students, teachers and communities. We were able to discuss how Kansas school districts have utilized federal coronavirus relief dollars, such as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, to meet their individual needs, and how to best support our students and teachers as we continue to recover from the impact of the pandemic. We also discussed the importance of improved broadband access, especially in rural areas, for the education of all Kansas students. Additionally, the Kansas Association of Superintendents shared their first-hand experience on how the current teacher shortage hamstrings local communities and overall educational opportunities in Kansas. Teachers are well positioned to make a monumental impact in the lives of young people to set them on a course for success, and I thank the members of the Kansas Superintendents Association for visiting my Washington, D.C. office this week.
Working to Bolster Veteran Care
Modernizing VA Health Records and the Path Ahead
During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, we discussed the VA’s investment in the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Modernization program as it currently stands at a critical crossroads. I am alarmed by three recent Office of Inspector General reports regarding the VA’s failure to report billions of dollars of costs, continued misrepresentations provided to Congress regarding inaccurate cost estimates, and the gross inadequacy of employee training on the new electronic health record system. I commend Secretary McDonough for pausing the EHR Modernization program to attempt to solve the severe problems that have been identified and expect Secretary McDonough to make the changes required to create a culture of accountability and get this important program back on track. I support the modernization of health care at the VA, and I appreciate the dedication of the VA workforce to get this right as we look ahead. Click here to watch the full hearing.
Attending Lenexa’s New CBOC VA Clinic Ribbon Cutting
On Friday morning, I spoke at the ribbon cutting for Lenexa’s Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) which will provide ample space for multiple Primary Care and Specialty Services. This CBOC will be a vital resource to local veterans as it will allow them to receive care in the comfort of their community so they do not have to travel to Kansas City, Leavenworth or Topeka. The 23,000 square foot clinic will support the nearly 16,000 veterans throughout Johnson County through its expanded mental health, physical therapy, x-ray, prosthetic, audiology and optometry services, as well as an on-site optical shop. As of Thursday, KCVA has started offering vaccines at all KCVA Community Outpatient Clinics throughout Lenexa, Shawnee and Paola, and the facility has plans to add general surgery capabilities in the future.
Kansas is home to more than a dozen community-based clinics, and I will continue to work with the VA to bring more resources to Kansas and increase access to veteran care. Thank you to Mayor Mike Bohem for the warm welcome and to KCVA Acting Medical Center Director Paula Roychaudhuri, KCVA Deputy Chief of Staff Dr. Vicki Callahan, Chief of Primary Care Dr. Jackie Schenkelberg and the 70+ VA team members who have worked to get this facility up and running.
Discussing Artificial Intelligence with DataRobot
On Wednesday, I also met with Dan Wright, CEO of DataRobot, to discuss their artificial intelligence (AI) business. AI technology can be used in many situations to assist businesses and other organizations in making better data-intensive decisions. Given the wide breadth of applications for AI and its importance for future innovation, it is essential for the U.S. to develop this technology quickly and responsibly, utilizing our private sector and universities. Last year, Wichita State University was named a founding member of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning, an effort to boost AI research. This is part of a five-year investment by the NSF in the advancement of artificial intelligence research and workforce development. As the lead Republican on the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NSF, I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues and private companies like DataRobot to ensure the U.S. remains a leader in critical research areas.
Opposing President Biden’s ATF Nominee
On Thursday, I released a statement regarding David Chipman, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
Mr. Chipman has an extensive track record of pushing a radical agenda as a paid lobbyist and making inflammatory public statements about law-abiding gun owners. Additionally, his anti-gun agenda would undermine congressional authority and infringe on Kansans’ Second Amendment rights. Mr. Chipman’s ability to objectively lead the agency charged with regulating firearms has been questioned at every turn. He is the wrong choice to lead the ATF for Americans, and I will firmly oppose his nomination.
Discussing the DEA’s Priorities with Administrator Milgram
This week, I met with the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Anne Milgram to discuss the DEA’s critical mission. They play a vital role in protecting our southern border, fighting crime and cracking down on illegal drug trafficking. We discussed rising violent crime rates in cities across the country, including cities in our own state like Wichita and Kansas City, and how partnerships between local law enforcement and federal law enforcement agencies, like the DEA, can help curb the rise of the illicit drug trade and violent crime in our cities. We also spoke about the technological and personnel needs of the DEA in order for them to accomplish their mission. As Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies that appropriates funds to the DEA, I will work with Administrator Milgram to make sure our law enforcement agents have the tools they need to keep us safe.
Discussing Infrastructure with the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce
On Thursday morning, I joined the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce for their Good Morning Manhattan event to discuss the progress of the ongoing infrastructure talks in the Senate. We discussed what different provisions of the infrastructure package would mean for the Manhattan area including broadband for schools and telehealth as well as hard infrastructure investments in roads and bridges. Continued investment in Fort Riley and the benefit of COVID-19 relief funds for the Manhattan Regional Airport were also discussed. Thank you to Jason Smith and the members of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce for inviting me join them for their Good Morning Manhattan event.
Expanding Markets for Biofuels Year-Round
This week, I introduced the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act with my Senate colleagues. The bill would extend the Reid vapor pressure (RVP) volatility waiver to ethanol blends above 10 percent. This would increase market access and continue to allow retailers across the country to sell E15 and other higher-ethanol fuel blends year-round, eliminating confusion at the pump. Higher blends of ethanol burn cleaner, providing a way for more Americans to be part of the climate solution.
Diversifying the energy market, particularly our fuel supply, is beneficial for our country. Allowing E15 and other higher ethanol blends to be sold year-round will provide farmers and ethanol producers with new market opportunities to sell biofuels made from corn and sorghum, while providing consumers with more options at the pump.
Urging FWS to Extend Public Comment Period on Lesser Prairie-Chicken Listing
This week, I joined Sen. Marshall and Congressman Tracey Mann in urging Deputy Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Martha Williams to extend the comment deadline on the FWS’s proposed listing of the lesser prairie-chicken (LPC) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
A listing will impose burdensome regulations on farmers and ranchers, oil and gas production, wind and solar projects, energy transmission, homebuilders, transportation and other sectors and activities across Kansas. An extended comment period will allow stakeholders to provide more thorough feedback to FWS on the effects a listing will have across the five-state range. In May, the FWS announced its proposal to list two population segments of the LPC as endangered and threatened under the ESA. Click here to read the full letter.
Recognizing the Hutchinson Blue Dragons’ Championship Victory
On Monday, Sen. Marshall and I introduced a resolution to recognize the Hutchinson Community College Blue Dragons football team for winning the 2021 National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship. I also had the opportunity to call Hutchinson Community College President Dr. Carter File and Head Coach Drew Dallas to congratulate them on this achievement. Congratulations to the Hutchinson Community College football team on winning their first national title in program history. This significant achievement is a result of talent, hard work and perseverance, and I’m pleased to recognize these dedicated student athletes, coaches and staff in the United States Senate. Go Blue Dragons!
Heartland Health Center
On Friday, I visited Heartland Health Center while I was in Lawrence. The center is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that is currently in the process of completing their capital campaign, raising $3 million for an addition to the center’s facilities, with plans to open this fall. I thank Heartland Health Center for their work to provide quality and compassionate health care to Lawrence and the Douglas County region, and I appreciated seeing the progress of the building’s construction while I was in town.
Thank you to acting CEO Julie Boden Schmitt, Co-Chair Marilyn Dobski, Parish Priest Father Mick Mulvaney, Debbie Kohzem, Rachel Hartford, Board President Brad Koehler, Gale Lantis and Chris Nichols of Mar Lan, and Dustin Baker of Alcove Property for your time on Friday.
Presenting Kansas Flag to the Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas
Following my visit to Heartland Health Center, I had the chance to visit the Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas (SACK) to present the Kansas flag that was flown on the National Mall’s “Field of Flags” during the Inauguration. SACK is a statewide non-profit organization made up of Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities who self-advocate for their own interests, as well as for those throughout Kansas' disability community. This program encourages its members to speak up for themselves so they can live as independently as possible, and I was pleased to be able to meet this group on Friday.
Thank you to Aging & I/DD Specialist Kathy Lobb, Plain Language Specialist Kelly Smith, Legislative Liaison Colin Olenick, Self Advocate Trainer Phillip McGruder, Self Advocate Trainer Lisa Barcus, Advocacy Coordinator Stephanie Sanford, Programming Coordinator Jaclyn Anderson, Support Staff Andrea McMurry and Douglas County Board Member Sean Swindler for their dedicated work, and to self-advocates Lisa Barcus, Colin Olenick, Phillip McGruder, Brad Linnenkamp, Kathy Lobb and Kelly Smith for allowing me to join you on Friday.
Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grant Still Accepting Applications
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is still accepting applications to help small and midsized meat processors increase market opportunities through the Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grant (MPIRG) program. This program was created by my legislation, the Requiring Assistance to Meat Processers for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act, and provides $55.2 million in grants for small and midsized meatpacking plants to make the necessary investments to become federally inspected. Currently, meatpacking facilities can only make sales across state lines if they are federally inspected.
MPIRG applications must be submitted electronically through www.grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday, August 2, 2021. For more information about grant eligibility and program requirements, visit the MPIRG webpage, or contact email@example.com.
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.
Newsletter Sign-up Form
Note: Fields marked with an * are required.