Kansas Common Sense
May 24 2021
It's Time to Reopen the U.S. Capitol to Visitors
On Thursday, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and I urged Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to reopen the U.S. Capitol Complex to visitors. Since March 12, 2020, the Capitol Complex has been closed to Americans due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, COVID-19 is in retreat across the country thanks to widespread vaccination efforts and hard work by our medical professionals. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidance to reflect that Americans fully-vaccinated against COVID-19 are able to safely gather indoors and outdoors without masks.
The U.S. Capitol has long symbolized our American form of democracy and involvement from the citizens of this country is a key principle of our government. As COVID-19 subsides in America, it is important to remember why the U.S. Capitol was open to the people in the first place. American citizens’ involvement in government requires access to their members of Congress, making reopening the Capitol Complex an issue of great importance.
Our successes against this virus should be celebrated and reflected by welcoming Americans to the U.S. Capitol. The full letter can be found by clicking here.
Evaluating Flood Damage in Natoma
On Friday afternoon, I went to Natoma to see firsthand the damage caused by severe flash flooding. I met with members of the community to hear their concerns and the challenges they are facing as they begin repairing their homes and businesses.
I appreciate the hard work of the first responders and volunteers who have worked tirelessly over the past week to ensure everyone’s safety and provide hot meals or shelter for those in need. I want to thank everyone who took time to share their concerns with me. I will continue to work with local and state government officials over the coming weeks so Natoma has access to the resources it needs.
During the flash flooding in Natoma, the America Legion sadly lost many of the American flags they place at local cemeteries for Memorial Day. While I was in town, I had the opportunity to surprise the American Legion with 300 new flags to replace the ones that had been ruined. The American Legion continues to be a centerpiece of the Natoma community, and the legion will place the flags across eight cemeteries in the region ahead of the Memorial Day weekend to remember our nation’s veterans. I’d like to thank President Laah Tucker and Post Commander William Workman for their work ahead of Memorial Day and for all they do for the Natoma community.
Standing with Israel, Our Ally in the Middle East
On Wednesday, I joined my colleagues to call on President Biden to stand with Israel following the violence by Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. It is important to send a message to the President and my Democrat colleagues in Congress that standing with Israel is the morally correct thing to do and is in the best interest of the United States. Most importantly, we must be clear to Israel that the United States will be a trusted ally as Israel faces challenges from Hamas, a terrorist organization masquerading as a supporter and provider for the Palestinians. The United States must be seen around the world as a trusted ally that supports its friends. If the message to the rest of the world becomes that we are no longer trustworthy, we damage our own country’s credibility and our own people’s safety and security.
Working to Stem the Rising Costs of Lumber
During my conversations with Jerome Powell, Chair of the Federal Reserve System, and Gina Raimonda, Secretary of the Department of Commerce, I urged them to take action to stem rising costs of products, especially for lumber. Record-high lumber prices are putting the American dream of home ownership just out of reach for hundreds of thousands of potential home buyers.
I’ve also heard from Kansans who need to make home improvements but the high price of lumber has made it unaffordable. By eliminating tariffs on Canadian lumber, we can help relieve the burden on American families looking to build new homes and create new jobs in construction.
Boosting Kansas Farmers and Ranchers By Lifting Cuba’s Trade Embargo
This week, I introduced bipartisan legislation to lift the Cuba trade embargo to give farmers, ranchers and small businesses new export opportunities. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act would eliminate the barriers to Kansas producers selling into Cuba and pave the way for new economic opportunities by boosting U.S. exports and allowing Cubans greater access to American goods. Cuba imports the vast majority of its food, including wheat, soybean meal, corn and poultry. However, the unilateral trade embargo on Cuba blocks Kansas farmers, ranchers and manufacturers from selling into a market only 90 miles from our shoreline, while foreign competitors such as China benefit at our expense. This legislation will expand market opportunities for U.S. producers by allowing them to compete on a level playing field with other countries. Importantly, the bill does not repeal portions of law that address human rights or property claims against the Cuban government. I believe it is time to amend our own laws to give U.S. producers fair access to market to consumers in Cuba, and I will continue to advocate for Congress to pass the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act.
Read more here in the Kansas City Star.
Congress Combats COVID-19 Globally and Evaluates the CDC’s Budget Request
Sharing Excess COVID-19 Vaccines with Countries in Need
I joined Senator Tim Kaine to introduce a bipartisan amendment to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that urges the Secretary of State to immediately begin multilateral and bilateral talks to share excess COVID-19 vaccines with countries in need. Ending the global pandemic as quickly as possible should be a top priority for the United States. With millions of excess vaccines still available, it is vital that we save lives by providing the COVID-19 vaccine to countries suffering from this virus. America cannot afford to stand by as the pandemic continues while other countries, like China and Russia, gain influence by sharing their vaccines. Distributing excess vaccines will prevent new strains from forming, save American lives, open up the global economy and enhance America’s international standing. Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
Examining the CDC’s FY2022 Budget Request
This week, I welcomed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and CDC Principal Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat to a Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. The hearing focused on the FY2022 budget request for the CDC and examined the organization’s top priorities for the year, including fully recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and improving America’s health care systems. It is essential for the CDC to invest funding appropriated by Congress into research and prevention measures that will allow the country to better detect potential threats to human health, whether they stem domestically or overseas. The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan is a perfect example of a state-of-the-art facility building our understanding of preventing and containing zoonotic diseases in the future.
Getting Kansans Back to Work
This week, I joined the Kansas GOP Congressional delegation in calling on Kansas Governor Laura Kelly to help get Kansans back to work by halting the increased federal unemployment benefits. This decision follows the release of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) report showing an uptick in the unemployment rate, creating a situation where many Americans are better compensated for staying unemployed rather than returning to work. I have heard from employers across Kansas who are struggling to meet surging demand for their services due to a shortage of workers—we cannot afford to have our state’s economic recovery stunted because employers have to compete with what was supposed to be emergency government aid.
Attending the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner
On Thursday evening, I joined the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner where I enjoyed seeing many familiar faces. Chamber President Blake Benson and his team work diligently to support local businesses, especially over this past year, and I’m thankful for their hard work.
There are also many dedicated business leaders and locals in Pittsburg that work day in and day out to make this community special for the people that choose to live in southeast Kansas. They have worked hard to make this a hub of economic activity, and good things continue to happen in Pittsburg as a result.
I also had the opportunity to surprise a member of my senior staff, Pam Henderson, with the Spirit of Pittsburg award. Presented each year by the chamber, this award is meant to recognize an individual that goes above and beyond, often working behind the scenes for events, boards and organizations in the effort to better the community. After a decade of working for Kansans on my team, it is clear to me every time I visit southeast Kansas how much she cares about making good things happen here. Congratulations, Pam! I’m thankful to have you on my team.
Read more here in the Pittsburg Morning Sun.
Before the event began, I also appreciated meeting with the US-69 Highway Committee members Ken Brock, Kevin Mitchelson and Blake Benson. The US-69 highway has been expanded south in all but two counties – Crawford and Cherokee – and I appreciated the update on their conversations with the Kansas Department of Transportation on the next phase of the project.
Infrastructure Investments Must Be Inclusive of Rural Communities
During Thursday’s Senate Banking Committee hearing on infrastructure investments, I raised concerns with Secretary Pete Buttigieg about transitioning our nation’s public transit to lower emission fuels while maintaining their effectiveness and reliability without political favoritism for certain fuel technologies. This transition must be inclusive of both rural and urban communities, and I will continue working with my colleagues to prioritize the needs of all Kansans. Watch the full hearing here.
VA Nominees Testify Before the Senate VA Committee
On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing to take testimony from four nominees for key leadership positions within the Department of Veterans Affairs. Each nominee expressed their interest and commitment to service and the mission of supporting our nation’s veterans, including Donald Remy, nominee for Deputy Secretary, Maryanne Donaghy, nominee for Assistant Secretary for the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, Patricia Ross, nominee for Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs and General Matthew Quinn, nominee for Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs. The committee will review their testimony and written responses to questions from committee members and determine whether to report their nominations to the full Senate for approval. Watch the full hearing by clicking here.
Meeting with Military, Defense, Space and Technology Leaders in D.C.
General James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army
This week, I met with General James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army to discuss the Army’s priorities this year. Most importantly, we spoke about bringing new opportunities to Fort Riley and its growing prominence within the Army. We also discussed our mutual admiration for some of the Army’s modernization programs that will prepare the service and its equipment for a 21st-century conflict. The General and I spoke at length about the Future Vertical Lift program that is developing new helicopters for the Army that are faster, stronger and more efficient. Kansas manufacturers have a major presence on some of these helicopters, so I am eager to work with the Army as it develops them. We also spoke about General McConville’s effort to prioritize the men and women who make up our nation’s Army. Putting “People First” ensures our Army will continue to thrive and win our nation’s wars.
General Jay Raymond, Chief of the Space Force
Following my meeting with General McConville, I met with General Jay Raymond, the Chief of the Space Force. We spoke about his priorities to develop the Space Force and grow it into the world’s premier space defense organization. General Raymond and I agree that we should leverage our private sector space talent and the academic community – like those in Wichita – to maintain dominance in space. As the co-chair of the Space Force Caucus, I am eager to continue working with General Raymond to support our nation’s newest military branch and ensure its success.
Dr. Richard Spinrad, NOAA Nominee
This week, I also met with Dr. Richard Spinrad, nominee to be Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. NOAA provides critical weather information to Kansans, and those across the nation, and I was glad for the opportunity to finally meet in person. Dr. Spinrad was previously Chief Scientist at NOAA and has held ocean leadership positions in the U.S. Navy. I look forward to supporting Dr. Spinrad through his confirmation process, and continuing to work with NOAA through my role as Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee.
Brian Weaver of Torch.AI
On Wednesday, I met with Brian Weaver, CEO of Torch.AI, and other representatives from his company. Torch.AI is based in Leawood and produces artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. They recently announced that they will be expanding their footprint in Leawood with 500 additional well-paying jobs. They currently specialize in background checks and fraud protection and are working to modernize the National Background Investigation Service for the Defense Counterintelligence Security Agency. Additionally, they are partnering with Wichita State University to develop deepfake detection technology. These are exciting technologies that will have great impacts on our national security, and I appreciate their Kansas origins.
Greg Thom of Ultra
On Thursday, I met with leaders from Ultra to discuss their Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS) technology. It uses 3D imaging and correlation algorithms to analyze gun-related crimes for the federal government’s National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) system. We discussed the importance of expanding access to these types of public safety programs to rural and tribal law enforcement agencies so they have the tools to eliminate crime and keep the public safe. As the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice, I have worked to expand funding for these programs and will continue to work with Ultra as they seek to partner more widely with law enforcement agencies.
Visiting Adaptive Training
On Monday, during a layover at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, I visited Adaptive Training, a physical rehabilitation facility that focuses on bridging the gap from basic functional rehabilitation to adapted sport. Founded by former NFL linebacker David Vobora and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, Adaptive Training helps those with life-altering injuries, including service-related injuries, find life-fulfilling adaptive performance training.
I met with Director of Development Tayla Moore and Chairman Jim Gardner, where we discussed rehabilitation for severely wounded veterans. I met with several veterans, and I had the opportunity to learn more about their rehabilitation program and process, and the way that Adaptive Training uses mindfulness or “recharge” sessions as a part of their recovery. Thank you to Tayla Moore and Jim Gardner, and to all the athletes who shared with me about their recovery journey.
Discussing Protections for State-Based Insurance
I met with Kansas Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt on Tuesday to discuss how best to protect policyholders and businesses in Kansas. We discussed the importance of protecting our state-based insurance system, the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), helping businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and lowering health insurance costs. I appreciate Commissioner Schmidt’s efforts on behalf of Kansans and look forward to partnering in the future to strengthen insurance markets and increase affordable choices.
In Person Listening Tour Stops Are Back!
I was great to see familiar faces and shake hands with friends on Friday in Russell County as I hosted a Listening Tour stop at Meridy’s Restaurant and Lounge. It finally feels like we are approaching our pre-pandemic normal, and I appreciated discussing Russell’s infrastructure priorities, my work to address the record-high prices of lumber, and veterans’ experience with the MISSION Act and community care from those who attended. The feedback I receive at these stops guides my work in Washington, and I appreciated our conversation.
Thank you to Meridy’s for hosting the discussion, and thank you to everyone who took time out of their day to speak with me about the important issues they face as Kansans.
I also had the chance to speak with Kansans this weekend in Junction City and provide them an update on my efforts to support Fort Riley. Fort Riley is a premier military installation and its expansion would benefit Junction City and the surrounding communities. Thank you to all those who attended to share your concerns and ideas, including Geary County Chairwoman Trish Giordano, Sherriff Daniel Jackson Jr., USD 475 School Board Vice- Chairman Jim Schmidt and Junction City Manager Allen Dinkel for the invite.
Read more from the Junction City Post by clicking here.
Remembering Floris Jean Hampton
Floris Jean Hampton was an exemplary community leader in Kansas. She was fiercely dedicated to Dodge City and was involved in dozens of projects, organizations and committees throughout her life that made western Kansas a better place to live and raise a family. Her leadership was also sought at the state level, receiving appointments to governors’ committees and advisory councils, extending her impact statewide. However, anyone who knew Floris will remember her passion for Dodge City Community College, and particularly the nursing program, where her legacy will live on in the recently dedicated Floris Jean Hampton Nurse Education Center.
Kansans like Floris make our state the great place it is, and I am grateful to her many years of service to our state. I extend my sincere condolences to her family, loved ones and the Dodge City community. Learn more about Floris’ life by clicking here.
Remembering Don Wilson
Don Wilson was a titan in the Kansas health care community. He served as the President of the Kansas Hospital Association for 22 years, leading the KHA through a significant growth period and was recognized accordingly by the American Hospital Association in 2003.
After I was elected to the Kansas Senate, he went out of his way to educate me on Kansas hospitals and our state’s health care system. Don realized how important hospitals are to our communities, and my efforts to support rural health care and Kansas hospitals are based on many of the conversations I had with Don.
He was an outstanding advocate and a good friend. Robba and I are sending our prayers to his family and all those he impacted throughout his life. Read more about Don’s life by clicking here.
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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