Kansas Common Sense
Apr 19 2021
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Visiting Our Southern Border
Visiting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Facility in Donna, Texas
I went to the southern border in Texas to witness the humanitarian and security crisis firsthand. What I saw at the border was alarming: border patrol agents working round the clock to stop the flow of drugs and illegal activity while also caring for and processing the record surge of people who have already crossed the border.
I visited the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Facility in Donna, Texas, to learn about its intake process, medical facilities and the unaccompanied children and family unit PODS. The children are housed here until they are able to be transferred into a long-term care and placement facility. This transfer is required by law to occur no more than 72 hours after being processed, but currently children reside there for well over a week and some for as long as 18 days. The responsibility for caring for these children after 72 hours rests with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is failing in its ability to provide adequate care.
In addition, I learned that as a result of the huge inflow of people, 40% of our border agents are being pulled away from patrolling the border to now process unaccompanied children. The intended operational capacity for the facility I visited is just under 1,000 people, but there are nearly 2,000 people currently housed there. After being processed, the children are separated into pods that are meant to house 30 people, yet there were over 300 children in them, and just last week, it was more than 600 children.
The open-door policies of the Biden Administration have created an incentive for individuals to cross the border because they believe there are little to no consequences for doing so. We must eliminate the “catch and release” policy in addition to enforcing our immigration laws and strengthening border security through a physical barrier, enhanced technology and additional agents to patrol the border. This is a humanitarian crisis, but it’s also a threat to the safety of our communities and our national security.
Learning More about Cartel Operations from the FBI and DEA
At the border, I also spent time with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officers to see firsthand how drug cartels operate and how they smuggle narcotics into the U.S.
Before heading out on the helicopter, DEA’s McAllen District Office leaders and members of DEA’s Special Response Team described the advanced tactics they deploy to disrupt transnational criminal organizations and apprehend major drug traffickers. These cartels are sophisticated, adaptable, and ruthless. DEA officials made clear that cross-border drug trafficking is not just a border issue – it also has consequences throughout the rest of our country, including in Kansas.
As the Ranking Member on the Appropriations Subcommittee that supports the Department of Justice and our federal law enforcement agencies at the border, it is vital that we provide the necessary resources to our law enforcement agents so they can better protect our country and stop criminals from entering or transporting drugs across the border. I also saw the value of the border wall in forcing cartels to conduct their criminal activity in a narrower space, allowing law enforcement agents to better respond to cartel activities.
Click here or below to hear more about my visit to the southern border.
Hosting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dennis McDonough in Kansas
Earlier this month, I hosted Secretary Veterans Affairs Dennis McDonough for two days in Kansas. We met with Kansas veterans and VA staff across the state to discuss mental health, community health, issues facing our rural veterans and how we can best provide for them. Watch a quick recap of our visit by clicking here or below.
Supporting Veteran Families and Spouses
Expanding Tuition Eligibility for Family Members of Deceased Veterans
I introduced legislation this week to expand in-state tuition eligibility for the families of veterans who die from service-connected disabilities. The bill is named to honor the memory of U.S. Army Colonel John McHugh, who was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2010, while he and his family were stationed at Fort Leavenworth. His daughter, Kelly, was attending Kansas State University at the time of his death. The Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act would require public colleges and universities that receive GI Bill benefits to provide in-state tuition rates for students using the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance (DEA) program. This would lower out-of-pocket costs for these students to pursue an education and receive the benefits their loved ones have earned for them through their service. Military service is family service, and this country has made a commitment to care for the families of fallen servicemembers.
Expanding Licensing Credential Access for Military Spouses
Military spouses play a vital role in the wellbeing of our military communities. They are often forced to move across the country at a moment’s notice when their spouse receives new orders. This week, I introduced the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act, bipartisan legislation that would give military spouses with valid professional licenses in one state reciprocity in the state where their spouse is currently serving on military orders. A servicemember’s oath to protect and defend our nation impacts their families as well, and military spouses often have to spend thousands of dollars obtaining new professional licenses every time their spouse receives orders to move to a new state. This legislation would ensure military spouses with professional licenses are able to utilize their credentials in each new state their spouse is stationed without going through the costly and time-consuming process of obtaining a new license.
Grant to Construct New Fort Riley Elementary School to Benefit Military Families
As co-chair of the Defense Communities Caucus, one of my priorities is to make Kansas’ military communities great places to live, work and raise a family. This week, the Department of Defense approved a federal grant of $24.4 million for Geary County Unified School District 475 to construct a new elementary school on Fort Riley. Once opened, this school will serve 390 students and make the base more attractive to new Army programs and additional brigades, and will be a great addition to Fort Riley’s thriving military community. Our nation’s military children deserve the very best education we can offer them, and this school will offer that opportunity to the children of First Infantry Division soldiers.
Read more about the new school in the Manhattan Mercury here.
Remembering Larry Welch
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Larry Welch (January 23, 1936 - April 7, 2021), a man I hold in high regard and my friend for decades. Larry dedicated his life to protecting and serving communities in Kansas and across the nation, first with a career in the FBI, then as Associate Director and then Director of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center and finally as Director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. During his KBI days, I worked with him first as a State Senator to garner more federal support for local law enforcement, and I continued to witness his dedication throughout the time I knew him. He led a life of service in which he worked every day to protect people he had never met. I thank him on behalf of a grateful state and nation and send my heartfelt condolences to his family. Read about his life here.
Update on the Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection Program
This week, I announced the first steps toward launching the Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection (AMJP) program and am encouraging small businesses who may be eligible for funding under this program to begin preparing for the application process.
The program, based on legislation I introduced with Rep. Estes and which passed the Senate on March 6, 2021, will provide funding to eligible businesses to pay up to half of their compensation costs for certain categories of employees, for up to six months. In return, the business is required to make several commitments, including a commitment that it will not involuntarily furlough or lay off employees within that group during the same period. The maximum amount available for this program is $3 billion, one percent of which will be applied to program administration.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that thousands of businesses that meet the statutory criteria may be eligible to receive funding through this program. The eligibility criteria includes businesses that are actively engaged in aircraft manufacturing, maintenance, and repair.
While the official application process has not yet begun, there are several steps that businesses which may be interested in applying for this program should take now:
- Become familiar with all of the requirements in the law;
- Apply for a DUNS number if you do not already have one;
- Register online with the Federal government’s System of Award Management (SAM) if you have not already done so; and
- Monitor the AMJP program website frequently for updates, which will include FAQs and a link to the application system.
The Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection program was designed with Kansas’ aviation industry in mind; I highly encourage those that are eligible and could benefit to apply.
Discussing the Impending Merger of Kansas City Southern and Canadian Pacific Railways
Speaking with President Keith Creel of Canadian Pacific
This week I spoke with Keith Creel, President of Canadian Pacific, following the recent announcement of Canadian Pacific Railway agreeing to acquire Kansas City Southern to create the first rail network linking the U.S., Mexico and Canada. I was pleased to hear Kansas City will be designated as the new U.S. headquarters and appreciated getting to speak with Mr. Creel. I look forward to continuing to support the rail industry in the Kansas City region and beyond.
Joining Kansas and Missouri Leaders with KCS and Canadian Pacific
I was also pleased to join Kansas and Missouri Governors Laura Kelly and Mark Parson, Senator Blunt, Rep. Cleaver, Rep. Graves and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas during a virtual meeting hosted by Kansas City Southern (KCS) with both Canadian Pacific President Keith Creel and KCS President Pat Ottensmeyer for a discussion about the pending merger. The merger will create the combined entity titled Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) and will create the first rail network linking the U.S., Mexico and Canada. I was glad to have the opportunity to join this discussion, and I look forward to what the future holds for both Kansas City and the newly combined company.
Meeting with Keith Creel of Canadian Pacific Railway and Pat Ottensmeyer of Kansas City Southern in Kansas City
Following our virtual meeting, I joined both Keith Creel and Pat Ottensmeyer in Kansas City at KCS’ corporate headquarters. While there, we further discussed the pending merger and how a newly merged Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) will operate throughout Canada, the U.S. and Mexico and how this company will bolster the Kanas City region. Farmers and businesses rely on rail transportation to move their products to markets around the state and country, and I look forward to continuing to advocate for our nation’s rail industry. Thank you to Keith Creel and Pat Ottensmeyer for inviting me to join this discussion.
Working to Improve Rural Broadband Service
Discussing Rural Broadband with the NTCA
On Tuesday, I met with representatives from NTCA – the Rural Broadband Association to discuss their priorities for broadband buildout, the need for oversight of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), along with other issues. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for quality broadband service has been highlighted more than ever, as remote learning, work and telemedicine became commonplace. Rural telecommunications companies, including NTCA members, have provided their customers with critical service during this pandemic, but there are still areas of this country that are without broadband service. Congress must ensure that winners of the RDOF— a reverse auction program that awards funds to companies that commit to building out broadband to underserved and rural areas—are able to deploy broadband services at the speed and latency they committed to in their applications. I will continue to work with Kansas rural telecommunications companies and my congressional colleagues to ensure that rural Kansans have the broadband service they need to connect with friends and family, get a checkup with their doctor or run a business.
Speaking with Laurent Therivel of U.S. Cellular
On Friday, I spoke on the phone to Laurent Therivel, the new CEO of U.S. Cellular. We talked about lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and priorities for the deployment of broadband in rural areas of the country. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way Kansans connect with each other, with heavy utilization of video conferencing for school and work. This increased the load on our nation’s wired and wireless networks, increasing its importance throughout the pandemic, making the deployment of broadband in rural America an important aspect of our recovery from COVID-19. Federal investment in broadband should utilize technologies that are able to provide high-speed broadband in an efficient and cost-effective manner and be informed by well-defined, granular maps of current networks. I look forward to working with U.S. Cellular and my Senate colleagues to ensure that all Americans, urban and rural, are able to access quality broadband service.
Meeting with FTC Nominee Lina Khan
This week, I met with Lina Khan, the nominee to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). We spoke about anti-trust issues, social media censorship and data privacy. The FTC plays an important role in ensuring that companies are operating fairly and consumers are protected. This includes protecting consumers’ data. My privacy legislation, the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, establishes a clear federal standard for data privacy protection and would empower the FTC with authority to enforce federal consumer privacy protections. This would help ensure Americans’ data is being processed and protected in a responsible manner by companies that collect such data. I will continue to examine Ms. Khan’s background and qualifications to sit on the FTC, and if confirmed, will work with her to make certain the FTC is executing its duties efficiently and effectively.
Designating the Chisholm and Western Cattle Trails as National Historic Trails
This week, I introduced legislation with Rep. Ron Estes to designate the Chisholm and Western cattle trails as National Historic Trails (NHT). As the country expanded westward following the end of the Civil War, the Chisholm and Western cattle trails helped ranchers move millions of cattle across the plains to train depots, playing an important role in the economy of the country and supplying food for Americans. Designating the trails as NHTs will recognize them as two of the great cattle trails of the 19th century and cement them as a large part of Kansas’ rich cattle history.
Designating these trails as NHT will allow the voluntary collaboration between landowners, communities, state and local governments to maintain, conserve and promote the trails. These trails will join the 19 other designated historic trails across the nation, including five trails that run in part through Kansas.
This legislation includes strong protections for private property rights along the trails, and cooperation by landowners or communities is strictly on a voluntary basis. Learn more about these historic trails from the High Plains Journal by clicking here.
Meeting with the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
This week, I met virtually with the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA). The ASLRRA represents over 600 short line and regional railroads that provide first and last mile service to more than 10,000 shippers, particularly in small towns and the rural heartland. These operations are critical to our state, ensuring our commodities arrive to market on time and safely. The group thanked me for my longtime support of the regional and short line railroad investment tax credit, which became permanent last December. This credit is invaluable to the investment it creates within the short line railroad industry and is an issue I have long advocated for. I look forward to continuing to work with our short line and regional railroads in the future, and I thank the ASLRRA for their time.
Meeting with the New University of Kansas Athletic Director & LEAD1 Members
This week, I met with The University of Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod and new Athletic Director Travis Goff to discuss KU athletics and to give an update regarding my legislation, the Amateur Athletes Protection and Compensation Act. I also met virtually this week with LEAD1 members, an association that represents 131 athletic directors across the county.
It is no secret that college athletics have grown into an increasingly profitable, billion-dollar industry, however the rules surrounding athlete compensation have not been modernized. In an attempt to fix this issue, nearly 30 states – including Kansas – have introduced legislation on athlete compensation, which could lead to a system of inconsistent state laws for universities and athletes.
My Amateur Athletes Protection and Compensation Act would create a national standard of guidelines to empower student athletes so they can benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness, allow more transfer flexibility and greater access to health care. As we work to continue this debate over the next couple of months, it is important that we strike the appropriate balance of modernizing college athletics while maintaining the integrity of amateur sports that we all know and love.
Discussing the U.S. Highway 69 Expansion Project with Mary Birch
This week, I met virtually with Lathrop GPM’s Government Relations Coordinator Mary Birch to discuss U.S. 69 Expansion Project. She brought me up to speed on the highway’s construction progress and the collaboration between Kansas City’s HNTB Corporation and the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT). This construction is key to the growth of Overland Park and hearing from leaders on this project highlighted how expanding this roadway will reduce traffic, improve public safety and increase travel time predictability along U.S. 69, the most travelled corridor in Kansas. We also discussed the infrastructure bill, and I appreciated hearing their thoughts.
Thank you to Mary Birch, Cameron McGown of HNTB and Lindsey Douglas of KDOT for this discussion.
Visiting Brush Art Corporation in Downs
I was in Downs this week where I toured Brush Art Corporation, an integrated marketing agency and custom publishing firm that works business-to-business and business-to-customer to help enable brands to lead within their industry. Brush Art offers digital, print, radio and television based marketing services to customers from all 50 states and companies worldwide. I enjoyed touring the facility to see the types of advertising projects they have created, ranging from food processing, pet food and agricultural marketing, to working with construction firms that advertise site and renovation projects. Companies like Brush Art Corporation are a great example of the ways Kansas-based businesses have an impact across the county and outside of America.
Thank you to Founders Doug and Kay Brush, President Tim Brush, CFO Heidi Doane and VP Tom Brush for showing me how your business works to help others in Kansas and beyond.
Visiting with the Dodge City Chamber of Commerce
It was great to see Dodge City Area Chamber members in D.C this week for their annual Western delegation meeting where we had the chance to catch up. They shared their concerns regarding the infrastructure bill and creating better access to broadband across rural Kansas. I appreciated hearing their thoughts and look forward to seeing them again in Dodge City or our nation’s capital.
Thank you Diana Turner, Michael Burns, Matt Morrison, Jason Putnam and Anna Bjerken for visiting with me while you were in D.C.
Also this week, I visited with Joann Knight, Dodge City & Ford County Development Corporation Executive Director, to discuss a potential new business to benefit SWK and the economic development of Ford County. I appreciated the chance to talk, and I thank her for her time.
Happy Birthday to the Air Force Reserve
Thursday was the Air Force Reserve’s birthday. Wishing a happy 73 years to the men and women of the Reserve. Fly, Fight, Win!
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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