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.

Discussing Kansas Education Priorities with Secretary Duncan
I have believed for a long time that education works best as a local and state function, and that federal policy should allow local school districts to determine how to best use federal educational resources to effectively meet the unique needs of their students and communities. On Wednesday, I participated in a Senate Appropriations Health-Education-Labor Subcommittee hearing on the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request for the U.S. Department of Education. I am Ranking Member of this subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over funding for all accounts at the Department. Secretary Arne Duncan was the witness at this hearing.

As we strive to ensure all students have access to quality educational opportunities from early learning through Grade 12 and beyond, I believe we must do more than simply proposing new, unproven programs as the only solution, especially new competitive programs. I remain concerned with the Administration’s continued emphasis on competitive grant programs, which would receive new or increased funding in the Department’s FY2015 budget proposal. Of the Administration’s proposed $1.3 billion increase to the Department’s budget, no increase would be provided for Title I or Special Education grants that are distributed by formula to every state and are primary sources of federal education investments in Kansas. Students in Kansas and every state should benefit from any increase in funding for the Department, yet that is not what is supported by this budget request.

The President has directed the Department to develop and publish a new college rating system of higher education institutions. Performance information from this rating system could be used in the future to determine a student’s financial assistance eligibility at a higher education institution. I expressed concerns to Sec. Duncan that this proposal could create disincentives for colleges and universities to improve access to all students, especially disadvantaged students. While the process of determining the metrics for the college ratings system is still ongoing, it is important to recognize that many graduates do not base their future career decisions solely on the highest paying jobs. We must encourage graduates who choose rewarding careers, such as public service or faith-based mission work. 

Last year, President Obama announced the ConnectED initiative with the goal of providing high-speed Internet access to 99 percent of schools within five years. The FY2015 budget proposal includes $200 million for a new ConnectEDucators program that would provide grants for teacher professional development to improve use of technology in the classroom. Nearly 85 percent of this funding would be for competitive grants to school districts. While I am encouraged that we, as a nation, have set a goal to expand high-speed internet access to schools, rural and underserved school districts face significant challenges in competing for funding. I question why the Department would focus connectivity efforts on these schools, but then make them compete for funding to help teachers in their schools make use of technology. Click here to view my discussions with Sec. Duncan on these issues.

Keeping our Promise to Veterans 
There is no group of Americans I hold in higher regard than our nation’s veterans. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’m committed to making those who served our nation with duty and honor receive the health care and benefits they deserve.

Caring for America’s Heroes Act
On Thursday, the Caring for America’s Heroes Act was introduced to help military retirees and their families have more access to treatment that supports their mental health care needs. Currently, there are statutory caps on the number of days military dependents (such as a child or spouse) and military retirees with 20 years of service can receive inpatient mental health services under TRICARE. The legislation would remove inpatient day limits to promote access to appropriate mental health services. Military retirees and their families should not have to worry about the stigma associated with mental health services and should be treated in a manner through TRICARE similar to physical injuries. As we saw with the tragedy at Fort Hood last month, the invisible wounds of war have an impact on service members, both currently serving and retired. We must bring the treatment of mental health conditions more in line with the way our health care system treats other injuries and illnesses. As “National Mental Health Awareness Month” gets underway, I remain committed to those who served our nation with duty and honor. Click here to learn more.

Holding the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Accountable
All too often I hear from veterans in Kansas who think the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) is simply not living up to its duties. Many are forced to wait extended periods of time while their claims are caught up in a failing bureaucracy, or worse, veterans continue to suffer due to negligence or maltreatment. Veterans tell me they feel betrayed and are treated as though they are burden. It is our duty as a nation to care for our veterans, after their personal sacrifice and service to our nation. Unfortunately, VA leadership and accountability seem to be absent in carrying out this vow, creating a toxic environment whereby service to veterans continues to decline at a frightening rate. In an effort to change the VA, I am sponsoring the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, a bill that would give VA Secretary Eric Shinseki the authority to fire VA Senior Executive Service (SES) or senior equivalent employees who continue to undermine the mission of the VA and service to veterans. This bill will give the Secretary opportunities to put words into actions, to enforce change in those who stifle innovation, accept mediocrity and steadfastly refuse to consider new, innovative solutions to problems in our VA system. This VA Management Accountability Act of 2014 is an unfortunate necessity to deal with the rampant dysfunction and apathy that has taken a stronghold on the VA system. Our veterans deserve better, and this bill is a positive step in the right direction in providing veterans the care and treatment they earned.

Thanking Kansans Veterans During a WWII Honor Flight
On Thursday, I had the privilege to meet with World War II veterans who were escorted by a Kansas Honor Flight to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. These Kansans served our nation honorably and it was humbling to spend time with them as they visited their memorial in our nation’s capital. These veterans represent the best of America — a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. It is because they answered the call of duty that we enjoy the freedoms we have today. The Kansas Honor Flight, Inc., enables veterans to travel to Washington, D.C. to see the WWII Memorial created in their honor and I enjoy each opportunity to visit with them and express my gratitude for their service. 

Hearing on Research Innovation
On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing on innovations through federal research. Testifying at this hearing were the heads of the following organizations: the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This hearing highlighted the significant innovations made through federal support of research, innovations that save and improve lives, reduce health care costs, create jobs, and advance technologies, medicines, and treatments. As Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Health-Education-Labor Subcommittee, I believe these objectives are bipartisan goals that we must reach by responsibly prioritizing research through the annual appropriations process.

During this hearing, I discussed with Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, the significance of research that will take place at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan and the need for construction of NBAF to move forward as quickly as possible. . Additionally, I asked Dr. Francis Collins, Director of NIH, to explain how NIH prioritizes its budget and makes research decisions. Click here to watch these discussions.

I greatly appreciate Dr. Collins joining me in Kansas last month to visit with researchers and highlight biomedicine and bioscience initiatives in our state. As NIH Director, he oversees the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world.

Working to Save and Improve Lives Through Cancer Research
On Wednesday evening, I had the opportunity to speak to scientists and researchers at the 2014 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research Award Dinner hosted by the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR). NFCR supports numerous laboratories and scientists that have helped make possible many cancer treatments that are saving lives today. I was honored to be introduced at this event by Dr. Roy Jensen, Director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

In the field of cancer research, significant progress has been made over the past few decades and cancer mortality rates have steadily declined since 1990. As a direct result of our nation’s commitment to cancer research, we have come to understand more about the nature of various forms of cancer, their complexity, and the tools needed to fight these diseases effectively. In 1971, 1 in 69 Americans was a cancer survivor. Thanks to biomedical research, today, 1 in 23 Americans is a cancer survivor – or roughly 13 million Americans.

While statistics tell an improving story, the news of a cancer diagnosis remains a life-altering and frightening event. More than 1.6 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed this year with cancer. Cancer has become so prevalent that it is estimated that one out of every two people born today will develop cancer during their lifetime. In America, cancer is still one of the leading causes of death. But there is yet a reason to be hopeful. History demonstrates that with a strong commitment to medical research, we can continue to reduce the threat of cancer and improve the lives of patients and their families. 

I believe we must prioritize medical research that saves and improves lives and reduces health care costs. Thanks to NFCR for its continuing efforts to improve the lives of cancer patients across our country.

Judicial Nomination Votes in the Senate
The Senate this week moved on the judicial nominations of two Kansans. On Wednesday, Daniel Crabtree of Kansas City, Kansas, was unanimously confirmed to serve as judge for the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. Judge Crabtree is recognized as one of Kansas City’s finest lawyers with extensive experience in state and federal courts. Thursday, the Senate ended debate and scheduled a vote for Justice Nancy Moritz to the United States Circuit of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, based in Denver. Justice Moritz has spent most of her career as a public servant in the United States Attorney’s office in Kansas City and Topeka before being named to the Kansas Supreme Court in 2010. The Senate voted this afternoon to confirm her to the federal bench. I congratulate both on their new, important positions and thank them for their willingness to serve our country.

National Day of Prayer
Congress declared the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer in 1952. It serves as a reminder to set aside time to pray for our country and reflect on the importance of prayer. Whether in times of uncertainty, grief or joy, prayer has the power to comfort, and it is encouraging to know that so many individuals are praying for their elected officials, the state of Kansas and our country. I am honored by the number of Kansans, churches and Sunday school classes that tell me they are praying for me.

Atchison Kansas Listening Tour Stop
This weekend, I continued my Kansas Listening Tour in Atchison County where I spoke with nearly 30 area residents during a Kansas Listening Tour stop. They shared concerns about health care and overregulation by the federal government. Atchison is a great community that cares about its future. Thanks to all who came out to share a good dose of Kansas common sense and to Atchison Area Chamber President Jacque Pregont for helping to coordinate my visit. Check my website for upcoming Kansas Listening Tour stops.

Kansans in the Office

National Association of Secondary School Principals
G.A. Buie of Eudora

Association of Energy Service Companies
Dick Schremmer of Haysville

Naturopathic Physicians
Audrey Schenewerk of Lawrence

Edgerton City Council
Beth Linn of Edgerton
Donald Roberts of Edgerton
Cindy Crooks of Edgerton

City of Topeka and Shawnee County Representatives
Jim Ogle of Topeka
Karen Hiller of Topeka
Allan Towle of Topeka
Doug Kinsinger of Topeka

Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters
Dan Soliday of Wichita
Mary Shannon of Wichita

American Council of Engineering Companies of Kansas
Scott Heidner of Lawrence
Kevin Honomichl of De Soto
David Harwood of Olathe
Carrie Sherer of Overland Park
Kenzil Lynn of Salina
Tim Ross of Roeland Park
Nicki Davis of Overland Park
Tiffany Arnold of Lenexa

National Hydropower Association
Sarah Hill-Nelson of Lawrence

Kansas Optometric Association
Todd Fleischer of Topeka
Jason Eubank of Wichita
Chad Thompson of Beloit
Wayne Hemphill of Olathe
Dawn Williams of Garden City
Wayne Gilmore of Parsons

Central Plains Area Agency on Aging
Anette Graham of Wichita
Julie Grovert Walter of Manhattan

American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Matt Schulte of Overland Park

Kansas Wholesale Beer Association
Bob Bush of Hutchinson
Bill Goodlatte of Wichita
Kevin O’Malley of Lawrence
Steve Mos of Kansas City
Casey Musatto of Osage City
Steve Beykirch of Frontenac

Kansas Radiology Society
John Lohnes of Wichita
Shaun Gonda of Wichita
Rob Gibbs of Parsons
Jimi Obembe of Lawrence

Community Bankers Association of Kansas
Paul Boeding of Seneca
Marilyn Boeding of Seneca
Roger Brown of Cheney
Calvin Coady of Wichita
Dan Coup of Hope
Trent Grissom of Overland Park
Steven Handke of Everest  
Blake Heid of Paola
Tanner Johnson of Courtland
Jay Kennedy of Frankfort
Patrick Kerschen of Harper
Gregg Lewis of Osawatomie
Irv Mitchell of Wilson
Galen Pelton of Ulysses
Frank Sullentrop of Wichita
Brad Yaeger of Wichita
Stuart Little of Topeka

Military Impacted School Association
Keith Mispagel of Fort Leavenworth

National Restaurant Association
Ron Oberg of Wichita
Adam Mills of Wichita
Damian Farris of Kansas City
Scott Redler of Wichita

Fraternal Government Relations Coalition
Eli Schooley of Manhattan
Margaret Young of Lawrence
Tim Hadachek of Kansas City

Portland Cement Association
Walter Wulf of Humboldt
David Howard of Topeka

Land O'Lakes
Stan Stark of Haviland

National Teachers Hall of Fame
Carol Strickland of Emporia

University of Kansas
Melinda Lewis of Lawrence

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas
Sunee Mickle of Lawrence

National Association of Chemical Distributors
David Richards of El Dorado
Debbie Richards of El Dorado

National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology
Finn Bullers of Prairie Village
Scott Wells of Overland Park
Scott Lopez of Olathe

Food Marketing Institute
Jimmy Holland of Kansas City
Jeff Pederson of Kansas City
Jon McCormick of Lenexa

Pharmaceutical Care Management Association
Sara Guidry of Shawnee

American Beverage Association
Todd Roberts of Lenexa

PKD Foundation
Nicole Harr of Overland Park

Kansas National Education Association 
Kim Howard of Wichita
Bob Thesman of Kansas City

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Brad Daily of Salina
Charles Craig of Newton
Bradley Dart of Wichita
Gary Caruthers of Topeka
Neal Linticum of Lawrence
Jennifer Ale-Ebrahim of Wichita 

American Academy of Pediatrics
Dennis Cooley of Topeka
Pam Shaw of Kansas City 

Capitol Tour
William Sanderson of Salina
Lucille Sanderson of Salina
Kenneth Leander of Assaria
Linda Leander of Assaria
Clinton Robinson of Overland Park
Britton Robinson of Overland Park
Karryn Robinson of Overland Park
Isabel Lopez of Lenexa
Beth Chun of Olathe
Uanne Chun of Olathe
Cordelia Staab of Kansas City
Jayme Barnes of Merriam
Caitlin Butler of Parsons
Francis Creeden Jr. of Olathe
Ruth Creeden of Olathe
Robert Price of Lawrence
Rachel Price of Lawrence
Savannah Price of Lawrence
Katherine Price of Lawrence

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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