Kansas Common Sense
Jul 13 2020
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On Monday, I visited the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center (KLETC) in Hutchinson to tour the facility, observe training exercises and meet with instructors and cadets. I was able to see firsthand how police cadets from across the state receive training and support at this premiere facility and how the training curriculum has been adapted to reflect the needs of communities in Kansas. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the U.S. Department of Justice, I will continue to provide the necessary resources for law enforcement officers to strengthen engagement and trust with the communities they serve.
I thank our law enforcement officers in Kansas for their service and the important role they have in keeping our communities safe. I also want to thank Executive Director Darin Beck, Deputy Executive Director Ron Gould and their team for making time in their busy schedules to host me at their training facility.
This week I introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to expand VA Home Loan Guaranty eligibility for members of the National Guard and Reserve with my fellow colleagues on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC). Members of the National Guard and Reserve are always ready to support our communities when a disaster strikes and are currently working to help stop the spread of COVID-19. However, this service does not count towards eligibility for one of the most popular benefits offered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Home Loan Guaranty benefit. This is a crucial benefit that makes it easier for veterans to attain homeownership and successfully transition into civilian life.
Under the Home Loan Guaranty, the VA guarantees a portion of the veterans’ home loan made from a private lender, allowing for more favorable loan terms for the veteran. Nearly 90% of all VA-backed loans are made without a down payment as a result of the VA’s guaranty. Our legislation will afford members of our military’s Reserve Component with expanded eligibility for the Home Loan Guaranty and grant them greater access to homeownership to live the American dream after military service.
Discussing Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser System
On Friday, I had the opportunity to visit with Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and discuss their Dream Chaser System, a unique, multi-mission space utility vehicle designed to transport crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit destinations such as the International Space Station.
While there, I also had the opportunity to visit with a student from the University of Kansas who is interning for the summer at SNC. It was great to learn firsthand the opportunities they provide to students, and the overall role the company plays in inspiring our next generation of leaders in the field. Companies like Sierra Nevada Corporation are vital in ensuring the United States remains a leader in the space domain, and I look forward to our continued work together.
Learning More About United Launch Alliance Missions
Afterwards, I had the opportunity to visit United Launch Alliance (ULA), an American spacecraft launch service provider with more than 100 years of launch history. During the visit, we discussed their developing Vulcan-Centaur Rocket designed to meet the demands of the United States Air Force and US national security satellite launches. Additionally, we discussed ULA’s role in launching the Mars Perseverance Rover which will search for signs of habitable conditions on Mars and pave the way for future human exploration missions.
With more than 130 launches and a 100% mission success rate, I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss these missions and look forward to continuing to work with ULA in the future.
As Chairman of the CJS Subcommittee on Appropriations with jurisdiction over NASA funding, it was great to tour the private companies that are helping accomplish our nation's goals within the space domain.
I toured Kansas Ethanol in Lyons where I heard about the importance of ethanol for our producers and the state’s economy. I enjoyed a tour of their facilities and the ability to see their operation in action, which turns millions of bushels of corn and sorghum into approximately 77 million gallons of ethanol each year. I also learned that Kansas Ethanol is currently building a combined heat and power system that will provide steam and electricity to generate the power needed to run their facility. Thank you to Michael J. Chisam, President & CEO, for giving me a tour of the plant.
I spoke with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie this week about the VA’s current efforts to address coronavirus cases across the country. He noted that VA is prepared to care for far more veteran COVID-19 cases than their current number of cases, and this has allowed them to support the civilian health care system and execute their ‘Fourth Mission’. The VA has conducted missions in support of civilian health systems in 46 states so far, and they continue to provide hospital beds and nursing home support in hot spots like Texas, Florida and California. Secretary Wilkie also noted the close collaboration VA has had with the Indian Health Service (IHS) and his goal of continuing that close collaboration not only through this pandemic, but also afterwards. We know our Native American population serves in the military at higher rates than other groups, and supporting those Native American veterans after their service is the right thing for us to do as a nation. As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I look forward to continuing to work with VA and IHS to make certain Native American veterans receive they care they have earned.
On Wednesday, I spoke with the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff and former Big Red One Commander, General Joe Martin. We spoke about the latest issues affecting the Army, including the Army’s response to COVID-19. The Army’s Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard Forces have all played a crucial role in flattening the curve. Their efforts to help health care professionals respond to the pandemic and support the logistics and transportation of testing kits and medical supplies should be commended, and I applaud them for their efforts to keep Americans safe.
General Martin and I also spoke about my visit to Fort Leavenworth and the Combined Arms Center last month. The Combined Arms Center (CAC), commanded by Lieutenant General Joseph Rainey, is responsible for all of the Army’s branch-specific schooling and Force Modernization Centers of Excellence. It is also a staple of the Leavenworth community, so I was initially concerned to learn that one third of this cohort’s students would not be attending in-person classes at the CAC because of COVID-19. My conversation with General Martin reassured me that this decision is purely temporary while we respond to this pandemic. Once the threat of COVID-19 subsides, Fort Leavenworth and the surrounding community will continue to be home to the Army’s best and brightest.
Lastly, we spoke about the tragic murder of Specialist Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood, Texas. General Martin assured me that the Army is conducting a full and thorough investigation to make certain that justice is served for those responsible. The investigation is also looking into what the Army could have done better in its response to her disappearance and murder.
As a former Big Red One commander, I am certain that General Martin is looking forward to his next trip back to Kansas, and I look forward to hosting him and other Army senior leaders to showcase Kansas’ ability to support our national defense.
On Monday, I joined the Hutchinson Rotary Club to provide an update on the federal COVID-19 response including support for hospitals and health providers, the extension to the Paycheck Protection Program, progress on vaccine development and the importance of testing in order to reopen our schools and economy. We also had the opportunity to recognize outgoing president Gabe Goering and thank him for his many years of service to the club. I would also like to congratulate and welcome incoming president, Denny Stoecklein.
Thank you to Aubrey Abbott Patterson for arranging my visit, and special thanks to Sheriff Darrian Campbell for his informative presentation and leadership of Reno County law enforcement.
On Tuesday, I was pleased to join fellow Rotarians in Lyons for lunch. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the ongoing efforts from the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, we discussed the need to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, commonly known as the NDAA, the importance of agriculture production, the struggles producers are facing and telecommunication ideas that could improve education in the school year ahead.
I would like to thank Tim Birzer and Lyons Rotary for allowing me to speak. I also want to acknowledge Rice County Commissioner Jared Wilson and State Sen. Rick Wilborn for attending. Lastly, special thanks to Superintendent Bill Day for the USD 405 Lyons mask.
Council Grove Rotary
On Wednesday, I visited and spoke to the Council Grove Rotary club. We met in the cafeteria of Council Grove High School, where I was pleased to witness officials handing out meals to local students. We discussed COVID-19, the CARES Act and its impact on the local community and my efforts to support the ongoing development of a vaccine. We also discussed the importance of rural broadband, especially as more classes and appointments are being handled online. Thank you to Scott Allen for inviting me.
On Thursday, I spoke at the Atwood Rotary Club in Rawlins County, which remains COVID-19 free. I spoke with my fellow Rotarians about the impact COVID-19 has had on meat packing plants, rural broadband, SBA loans for farmers and ranchers, federal assistance for the local hosptial and what needs to be done to make certain students are able to safely return to the classroom this fall. Thank you to Atwood Rotary President Ken Ruda for the warm welcome.
As Kansas safely reopens, please take precautions to keep you and your families safe, and please call your primary care physician if you are experiencing symptoms related to the coronavirus. It is important as individuals we each take a personal responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19, including wearing a mask in public spaces and social distancing by staying six feet apart from people outside our homes. This also includes measures such as washing our hands regularly, avoiding touching our face, sneezing or coughing into a tissue or the inside of our elbow and disinfecting frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.
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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