Kansas Common Sense
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” This week, I returned to Washington, D.C., as the Senate began the spring work period. On Tuesday, the Senate resumed debate on S. 1813, the Surface Transportation reauthorization bill, legislation that will authorize highway funding for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. While the amendment process has formally begun on this bill, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continue to negotiate a potential finite list of amendments. It is likely that the Senate will resume consideration of the bill next week. Thank you 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.
Touring Harveyville to View Tornado Damage
On Tuesday evening, an EF2 tornado ravaged the town of Harveyville as part of a severe storm system that affected at least 19 Kansas counties and spawned more than 15 twisters in seven states. My thoughts and prayers go out to the residents and their families who suffered great loss and devastation. I am especially saddened by the death of Rick Slade, who will be greatly missed. My heart goes out to his wife, Diane, and their sons, Brent and Matt, who – despite the passing of their father – are actively helping their friends and neighbors in a time of great need.
I traveled to Harveyville Friday morning to tour the damage and receive an update on relief efforts. I appreciated the chance to visit with local residents and folks from all over the state who have come to lend a hand to their fellow Kansans. Despite the hardship, there was a can-do spirit evident in the clean-up efforts. Many people are rallying to the cause like you so often see in Kansas – neighbors are coming to the rescue of their neighbors, and folks who don’t even know anyone in Harveyville are helping out. As of Friday, the Red Cross – in conjunction with Tysons foods and local caterers – had served 3,000 meals to residents, responders and volunteers in Harveyville.
Thank you to Mayor Dustin Kuntz, Topeka Highway Patrol Officer Mark Engholm, and Jackie Miller of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management for taking time to visit with me and show me around the damaged parts of town. I appreciate their leadership during these trying times and pledge to do whatever I can to support them. Click here to view photos from my visit.
Air Force Reverses Light Air Support Contract
This week the U.S. Air Force announced that it will take corrective action on the Light Air Support (LAS) contract that was originally awarded to Brazilian-based Embraer/Sierra Nevada. The LAS program will supply up to twenty AT-6 aircraft to the Afghan Air Force. For months, I have been demanding an explanation from the Air Force as to why the proven Hawker Beechcraft aircraft was excluded from the competition, and it appears the Air Force also has concerns. I am pleased that the Air Force recognizes the original award was flawed and needed to be corrected, and I will continue to work to see that Hawker Beechcraft gets fair treatment from the Air Force with the hope of more jobs for Kansas workers. Click here to read more.
New DHS Report Confirms Safety of NBAF
This week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a new risk assessment for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas. DHS updated the previous 2010 Site-Specific Risk Assessment for NBAF by incorporating recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences and the most recent design plans.
The safety of NBAF’s research is a top priority and this updated report confirms that the NBAF design is sound. DHS included recommendations for reducing risk, used the latest biocontainment technology, and brought in top experts to ensure NBAF will be the safest and most modern research facility in the world.
Without NBAF, our country remains at risk from foreign animal disease outbreaks. It is critical that construction of NBAF begins immediately to safeguard against these threats and the devastation they would cause. Click here to read more about the report.
Voting to Preserve Religious Liberty
Americans should not be forced to violate their religious beliefs or face penalties if they refuse to do so. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has exercised its authority under the health care reform law to require that most employer-provided health insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization and morning-after pills. This new mandate contains a “religious employer” exemption, but the exemption is so narrow that many religiously-affiliated hospitals, educational institutions and charities do not meet the requirements. After releasing this rule, HHS heard from hundreds of thousands of Americans who were opposed to the regulation and the narrow scope of its exemption.
Despite the concerns of so many, HHS announced on January 20, 2012, that it would not change the mandate for non-profit religious employers, but only extend to next year the deadline for compliance.
This new HHS mandate threatens Americans’ First Amendment right to exercise our religious beliefs freely. I believe the federal government should not be able to force religious institutions to provide or facilitate access to services and products that violate their fundamental beliefs. Under this regulation, these institutions will now be forced to violate their faiths or suffer penalties that could curtail or end services they provide to the neediest among us.
On Thursday, I voted for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act when it was brought to the Senate floor as an amendment to a transportation spending bill. The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is legislation introduced by Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri that would preserve the rights of employers and health care providers to administer health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions. This amendment vote failed.
The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act would preserve the conscience rights of employers and health care providers by extending the same conscience protections already in current law to the health care reform law. This legislation would have required HHS to ensure that a plan with a conscience exemption would be actuarially equivalent to the same plan without it—meaning no one would be able to use religion as a pretext to deny coverage for high-cost treatments.
If the government can compel an individual or group to violate their religious beliefs or moral convictions, then I am concerned there is no limit to government power. All of our constitutional rights could be subject to the whims of the federal government and those in power. One group’s beliefs are being trampled today; another’s might be tomorrow. Click here to read an editorial I wrote last month on the importance of religious liberty.
Getting Veterans the Care They Deserve
On Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to discuss the VA’s proposed budget. I used the opportunity to ask him and other VA officials about efforts to improve access to high quality health care for our rural veterans. I am concerned about the distances veterans have to travel to reach a VA health facility, and I asked for an update on the implementation of a program I fought to create which would reduce the burden of traveling long distances. Now known as Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home), I look forward to hearing more on this program’s progress.
I also made clear to Secretary Shinseki that I am an ally in the effort to staff the VA’s rural health facilities. I understand the difficulties for rural areas attracting and keeping talented health care professionals, but I am committed to working with VA officials to find solutions to this problem. I will continue to look for ways to provide services and care our veterans deserve.
Interest in Startup Legislation Grows
Also on Wednesday, House and Senate leaders from both parties met with President Obama to discuss job creation and ways to strengthen America’s economy. If the President and Congress want to create jobs, we need to pass bipartisan legislation that helps entrepreneurs and strengthens the ability of startups to grow. Research has shown that almost all of the new jobs that are created in our country are created by new companies. In fact, new businesses create an average of 3 million jobs each year.
In December, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and I introduced legislation called the Startup Act that recognizes the important role startups play. Our legislation creates tax incentives that will spur investment in startups, reduces regulatory barriers that make it harder for startups to grow, and helps win the global battle for talent by keeping highly-skilled, American-educated workers here in the United States where their talents and new ideas can fuel economic growth.
The provisions of the Startup Act are supported by entrepreneurs and backed by research that confirms the importance of startups to the nation’s economy. Many of the provisions in the Startup Act have the support of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and the President himself outlined his support for much of the Startup Act in his State of the Union address last month. Several other Senators from both parties have introduced legislation that would also help entrepreneurs start companies and create jobs.
I am encouraged that more members of Congress are coming to the realization that in order to create jobs, we need to help entrepreneurs and strengthen the ability of startups to grow. I believe there is a small window of opportunity in which Congress can come together to get something done to jump-start the economy and create jobs. Support is growing and I am hopeful pro-startup legislation will pass this year.
USPS Central Repair Facility to Remain In Topeka, Expand
The United States Postal Service (USPS) announced this week that its Central Repair Facility (CRF) will remain in Topeka, Kansas. The current contract for CRF, as well as the Texas Repair Facility located in Grand Prairie, Texas, will expire on December 31, 2012. The Postal Service will then move to consolidate repair operations into one central repair facility which will be located in Topeka. I am pleased to hear that Topeka’s Central Repair Facility will not only remain open, but will expand and jobs will be created. This announcement is great news for Topeka.
Touring Overland Park Regional Medical Center
When returning to Kansas at the end of the week I stopped at Overland Park Regional Medical Center (OPRMC) for a tour. I had the opportunity to visit with staff on the orthopedic floor and in the emergency room. The City Council recently approved OPRMC, a Level II Trauma Center, for expansion. The project will triple the size of the emergency room, offer all private patient rooms, and provide additional updates throughout the facility. During my tour I learned that OPRMC will add a trail along the property for staff, visitors and neighbors to use. I visited with several staff members about the needs they see in health care. Brandy Conner, who will be a doctor in a few short weeks, discussed the financial needs of those studying medicine. Dr. Scarborough discussed Medicare and Medicaid funding and its effect on hospitals and doctors. It was great to meet Damond Boatwright, the hospital’s new CEO. Special thanks to him and to Chris Hamele, VP of Marketing, for the invitation to visit and the informative tour.
While at OPRMC I had the opportunity to visit Congresswoman Jan Meyers in the hospital, who is recuperating from surgery after she fell and broke her leg. In true form, Jan was upbeat and her spirits were high. As the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Kansas, Jan is an inspiration to many and spent decades serving Kansans in a variety of roles. She will be in our thoughts and prayers as she continues to make a full recovery.
Burlingame Rotary Club
Communities across our state are strengthened by Kansans who participate in civic clubs. On Friday I had the privilege of joining fellow Rotarians at the local club meeting in Burlingame. It has been a couple of years since I attended Rotary in Burlingame, and it was great to be back - same friendly folks and the same delicious homemade lunch. It was also great to visit with Kansas Rep. Willie Prescott at the meeting, who had just arrived from Topeka. Thanks again to the Burlingame Rotarians for making me feel welcome.
Cheering on the Wildcats
I was in Manhattan on Saturday for the Kansas State University basketball game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Bramlage Coliseum. It was a terrific game, and ended with what we all hoped for – a Wildcat victory with the score of 77 to 58. Thanks to President Kirk and Dr. Noel Schulz for their hospitality. Click here to view a photo from the game.
Before the game, I attended the K-State Proud brunch hosted by a number of student leaders. K-State Proud is a fundraising campaign created by students for students. The student organization raises money to help other students who have an unforeseen financial crises stay in school. It was impressive to see the difference they have made in the lives of many of their fellow Wildcats. A special thanks to Cox Communications who has contributed significantly to the program. I'm proud of K-State Proud. Click here to see a photo from the K-State Proud brunch.
In the Office
This week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below.
Kansas State Fraternal Order of Police
Kenny Gorman of Topeka
James Morton of Dodge City
Mark Bundy of Kansas City
Hans Asmussen of Wichita
UAW Local 31
Keith Crowell of Kansas City
Tracy Smith of Olathe
Deb Crowl of Emporia
Kansas City Public Television
Kliff Kuehl of Kansas City
KPTS - Channel 8 (Wichita)
Michele Gors of Wichita
Tom Zwemke of Wichita
Linda Sheedy of Overland Park
Jim McNerney of Wichita
Bev McNerney of Wichita
National Court Reporters
Jennifer Olsen of Topeka
Kansas County Treasurers
Cheryl Remington of Gove
Nancy Weeks of Sublette
Eileen King of Manhattan
Doug King of Manhattan
Joe Grisolano of Girard
Pat Sharp of Dighton
Diane Gentry of Tribune
New York Life Insurance Company Agent
Brandon Paulseen of Wichita
Kansas Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Michael Byington of Topeka
Corporation for National & Community Service Senior Corps Programs
Connie Stewart of Topeka
Charlotte Melson of Kansas City
Connie Stewart of Topeka
Jolene Niernberger of Hays
Kansas Veterans Home
Steve Dunkin of Winfield
Carlos Urquilla-Diaz of Fort Dodge
Disable American Vets
James Price of Salina
Michael Dreiling of Victoria
Terry Young of Great Bend
Franklin Bergquist of Wichita
Veronica Berquist of Wichita
David Brader of Parsons
Kerin Brader of Parsons
Ellen Price of Salina
David Thompson of Wichita
Cliff Dillard of Wichita
Ardith Dillard of Wichita
Bama Kizaar of Chase
Shelby Reynolds of Wichita
Bob Rogers of Plainville
Irene Rogers of Plainville
Curtis Smith of Wichita
Mrs. Smith of Wichita
American Legion of Kansas
Dale Allen of Chanute
Margaret Allen of Chanute
Charles Yunker of Tecumseh
Dave Thomas of Leavenworth
Dave Warnken of Hutchinson
Elgin Wahlborg of Arkansas City
Emery McKimmy of Overland Park
Ida Meyeres of Bazine
Kathy Langton of Topeka
Laveta Miller of Great Bend
Kansas Association of Community Action Programs
Tawny Stottlemire of Topeka
Steve Lohr of Pittsburg
Linda Broyles of Pittsburg
Becky Gray of Girard
Richard Jackson of Ottawa
Kristina Zhikina of Lawrence
Jacob Howard of Pomona
Jeanette Collier of Horton
Thor Brown of Holton
Rita Adams of Kansas City
Chanelle McKinnley of Kansas City
Phyllis Marmon of Topeka
Kansas Wing Civil Air Patrol
Regina Aye of Salina
Fort Leavenworth School District
Keith Mispagel of Fort Leavenworth
Chris Tuck of Topeka
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Makeba Williams of Overland Park
USD 475 Geary County Schools
Ronald Walker of Junction City
Janet Christian of Junction City
Bob Henderson of Junction City
Kansas Aviation Museum
Lon Smith of Wichita
National Council on Independent Living
Lou Ann Kibbee of Hays
Kansas State University Division of Biology
John Blair of Manhattan
Kansas Association for the Education of Young Children
Holly Turner of Lawrence
Deb Crowl of Emporia
Parkinson's Action Network
Mary Kellerman of Milford
Jerry Kellerman of Milford
Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics
Randall O’Donnell of Kansas City
Sandra Lawrence of Kansas City
Genny Nicholas of Kansas City
Dallas Polen of Kansas City
Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation
Patrick Terick of Wichita
Patrick Jonas of Wichita
National Down Syndrome Society
Jawanda Mast of Olathe
Rachel Mast of Olathe
Rebecca McCaulley of Wichita
Anita Raghaven of Wichita
Charlotte Smith of Wichita
Many Kansans stopped by to take a tour of the U.S. Capitol this week including: John and Teresa Hartter of Sabetha.
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Please let me know how I can be of assistance. To send me an email, click 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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