Kansas Common Sense
Apr 18 2022
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Christ the Lord Is Risen
Lives again our glorious King,
Where O death is now thy sting?
Dying once He all doth save,
Where thy victory, O grave?
Love’s redeeming work is done,
Fought the fight, the battle won,
Death in vain forbids Him rise,
Christ has opened paradise.
Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head,
Made like him, like Him we rise,
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
Visiting Cottonwood Complex Fire Damage in Reno County
In early March, a massive wildfire, now known as the “Cottonwood Complex fire,” ravaged parts of Reno County. Residents had to evacuate their homes, and 95 homes, 92 outbuildings and 110 vehicles were destroyed in the blaze. One life was tragically lost.
On Monday, I was welcomed by Chief Steven Beer of the Hutchinson Fire Department and Reno County Emergency Manager Adam Weishaar, who introduced me to the men and women who risk their lives to serve and protect their community. This was an opportunity for me to say thank you to these firefighters. They deserve respect and support, especially as we see more dry and windy conditions each year. We must stay vigilant and practice caution when our weather conditions are conducive to producing these destructive wildfires. In December, we saw several major fires spread out over multiple western Kansas counties. And in recent years, we suffered record-breaking wildfires in Barber County in 2016 and Clark County in 2017.
There are mitigation programs that local, state and federal governments can work together on to help reduce this risk that we face too frequently these days. I was able to take away from this meeting a few objectives, including making sure that funds are available to reduce the invasive eastern red cedars which dominate and choke out much of Kansas’ prairie vegetation.
I am grateful to Fire Chief Beer for allowing me to come to Hutchinson and thank the local first responders, but I recognize that there are so many more that have aided in Reno County’s recovery than the few I was able to visit with on Monday. To those communities near and far who sent your firefighters to Reno County to assist and save lives and property last month: thank you. Your kindness and concern for our neighbors makes me proud to represent such great people. Thank you also to Reno County Commissioner Daniel Friesen and Administrator Randy Partington for joining on the visit and to those who provided me an update on the ongoing efforts to keep the Hutchinson community safe. Watch here or below.
Dreams Worth Chasing: Hosting Former Astronaut Dr. Janet Kavandi in Hutchinson
Discussing STEM Education and Inspiring the Next Generation at the Cosmosphere
This week, I hosted former astronaut Dr. Janet Kavandi to speak to area elementary school students at the Cosmosphere and discuss with them the importance of STEM education. Dr. Kavandi shared her upbringing in Carthage, Missouri and how she was selected to be an astronaut in 1994. She was a mission specialist on three Space Shuttle missions and has spent more than a month in space. Dr. Kavandi is current the president of Sierra Space Corporation and shares my goal of inspiring the next generation.
I was pleased that she was able to share her story and take questions from local students, and the Cosmosphere was the perfect place to host an event like this. The Cosmosphere has been a hub for scientific inspiration and educational innovation for the Hutchinson community, for Kansas and for those who come to visit from across the globe since its founding in 1962. From the digital dome theater to the planetarium to the Hall of Space Museum and hands-on lab, the Cosmosphere does an incredible job getting kids and adults alike interested in science and space.
The students were also given a spacecraft tour after they asked Dr. Kavandi questions about being an astronaut. Through my role on the appropriations committee that provides resources to NASA, I have made certain that STEM education is always a priority. Thank you to Dr. Kavandi for speaking to students in Kansas and for helping me inspire future scientists, engineers and astronauts. I also want to thank Jim Remar at the Cosmosphere and their incredible staff for hosting us.
On Wednesday evening, I also invited Dr. Kavandi to speak at the Cosmosphere regarding her experience as an astronaut and share about her exciting work as president of Sierra Space Corporation. We were joined by community leaders, Cosmosphere Board of Directors, staff and many others interested in space. Thank you again to Dr. Kavandi for joining us and to Jim Remar for hosting the event.
Speaking with Ag Leaders
Prairie Land Electric Coop Annual Meeting
It was great to be in Norton on Tuesday to speak at the Prairie Land Electric Coop annual meeting. We discussed the need for America to produce enough energy to meet our own needs and not be dependent on foreign suppliers like Russia for our energy. We also discussed issues affecting coops like Prairie Land, including access to supplies to repair damaged powerline infrastructure due to extreme weather and the challenges of keeping electricity affordable and reliable for its members and owners. I discussed my Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, legislation which would allow electric cooperatives to reprice Rural Utilities Service (RUS) loans to take advantage of lower interest rates. Taking advantage of lower rates would allow for better cash-flow management, investment in rural communities, and more savings for consumers.
I appreciate the coop for letting me join their meeting and for giving me an update on the issues they are currently facing. Thank you to Ronald Griffith, president of the board, for inviting me to speak.
Prairie Horizon Agri-Energy
I also visited Prairie Horizon Agri-Energy, an ethanol plant outside Phillipsburg, to tour the business and learn more about its contributions to the ethanol industry. Each year, it produces more than 40 million gallons of ethanol which yields 127,000 tons of high protein livestock feed as a byproduct.
While at the plant, it was useful to hear about their plan to construct a new state-of-the-art wheat protein ingredients facility that will create over 60 new jobs. The company plans to retrofit the plant to accommodate wheat-based ethanol production in the future. Once complete, Prairie Horizon will boast the largest wheat protein facility in North America.
Thank you to Plant Manager Kevin Morgan, Chief Operating Officer Steve Adams, Senior Director Kevin Bogenreif and President Justin Kirchhoff for showing me around the plant and discussing the Summit Agricultural Group’s investment plans. This is an exciting time for Prairie Horizon, and I appreciated Kansas State Senator Rick Billinger, Representative Ken Rahjes and local community leader Denis Miller joining us for the tour.
Visiting with High School Students
On Monday, I was pleased to spend part of my afternoon with Buhler high schoolers. I greatly appreciated listening to Mr. Bontrager’s freshman choir and speaking with student leaders Jaylee, Kaden and Tanner as they showed me their school.
While I was in Chanute on Wednesday, I spoke with students at Chanute High. I enjoyed seeing all aspects of the school, from visiting their greenhouse to stopping into an art class and a biomedical science class. We discussed the importance of career technical education and STEM, and the opportunities for students to start their careers right here in Kansas. Teachers play a vital role in the development of students across our state, and I thank Superintendent Dr. Kellen Adam, Principal Zach Murray and Assistant Principal Tyler Applegate for speaking with me and for the care they put into educating young Kansans. Thank you to student leaders Carson and Emma for showing me their school. Read more about my visit from the Chanute Tribune here.
Touring Medical Facilities Across Kansas
Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center
This week, I was pleased to be at Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center in Chanute to announce new federal investments in its Imaging Department. Over the past year, I’ve worked closely with Neosho Memorial regarding its need for a new nuclear imaging machine, which is important to providing care for cancer patients, as the existing machine reached the end of its life cycle. It was great to be able to be in Chanute to discuss the importance of both a new SPECT nuclear medicine imaging machine and improvements to the Imaging Department wing to accommodate more patients.
Neosho Memorial provides nuclear medicine and essential cancer detection services to its community, and this new life-saving technology and improvements will allow them to continue to do so for years to come. This is a community-driven solution to the barriers to care so often faced by rural Kansans.
Thank you to Neosho Memorial CEO Dennis Franks and Hospital Foundation Director Anna Methvin for the opportunity to be a part of this grand opening ceremony and for your continued efforts to provide health care services to southeast Kansas.
Rice County District Hospital
I also visited Rice County District Hospital. George Stover, CEO of the hospital, walked me through the facility as we discussed the current condition of rural health care. Kansas officially moved from a pandemic response posture to treating the virus as an endemic disease. However, the CMS vaccine mandate has increased administrative burdens, and rural facilities are still struggling with financial stress as a result of the pandemic. I will continue relaying these concerns to the Department of Health and Human Services and working to ensure Kansas hospitals have the support needed to serve their communities. Thank you to Judy Hodgson, George Stover and Terry Pound for their time visiting with me.
Commemorating Brown v. Board of Education Sites
The Senate recently and unanimously passed legislation to commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. This legislation will expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include historic sites in South Carolina and designate National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas in other states. It would recognize the importance of the additional sites that catalyzed litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and the District of Columbia by designating them NPS Affiliated Areas, and expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka.
Kansan Linda Brown and her parents took their case all the way to the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, leading to the unanimous overturn of the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine that discriminated against school children because of their skin color. I look forward to the President signing this legislation into law to expand and preserve the historic sites in Kansas and around the country connected to this case. Kansas has played a key role in the civil rights movement, and we must seek to preserve this legacy which calls on all Americans to uphold the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal. The bill text is available here.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places.
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a multi-year initiative led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Ford Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and other partners, working to make an important and lasting contribution to our cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American achievement and activism.
Honoring Veterans Who Helped with Evacuations from Afghanistan
As ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I introduced a resolution honoring the veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and civilian volunteers who organized evacuations during our withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.
Our military personnel worked tirelessly to coordinate flights in and out of Kabul, but another force behind these efforts lies with groups of veteran volunteers who refused to leave their Afghan partners behind. These volunteer veteran groups shared information, drafted flight manifests and coordinated food and supplies to be delivered to families who were in hiding. Without these volunteers, many Afghan men, women and children would have suffered greatly or lost their life. This week, we offered this resolution to officially recognize and thank the veteran volunteers for their efforts to save their Afghan partners from the clutches of the Taliban. The resolution can be found here.
Demanding Answers on Changes to Border Security Policies
This week, I led 12 of my colleagues in seeking answers from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on recent changes to how the department enforces border security and processes migrants at the southern border. In FY2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recorded 1.7 million encounters with individuals attempting to cross the border illegally, the highest single year total ever recorded. Even more troubling is the fact that this year is on pace to far exceed the record-breaking numbers from last year.
This administration’s continued push to weaken our immigration enforcement, through moves like rescinding the Title 42 public health order, de-prioritization of those eligible for arrest and removal and drastically altering how America grants asylum, is reckless and dangerous. Currently, tens of thousands of migrants are gathering at our Southern border and the policies of the Biden administration are only fueling the impending surge, presenting a serious threat to public safety and will lead to an even greater humanitarian crisis. Read my full letter here.
Graham County Listening Tour Stop
I held a listening tour stop in Hill City this week, where I had the opportunity to speak to and hear from Graham County residents. We discussed the importance of supporting our law enforcement community, Putin’s evil in Ukraine and the United States’ humanitarian efforts to help Ukrainian citizens. I heard concerns regarding border security and the administration’s decision to terminate the Title 42 Order, as well as concerns surrounding local nursing home operations. I was also able to announce federal investments in Graham County Sheriff’s Office to update its mobile communications technology and help as they carry out their duties.
Thank you to Jim Logback for his years of support, to those who took time to share their concerns with me and to Cole Presley, Graham County Sheriff and President of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association for being in attendance.
Visit to Kansas City VA Medical Center
On Friday, I visited Kansas City VA Medical Center where I spoke with KCVA Director Jean Gurga and Assistant Director Ryan Locascio. KCVA plays a vital role in the health care of veterans living in and around eastern Kansas and western Missouri, providing service to over 50,000 veterans each year. I expressed my commitment to working on and passing legislation for toxic-exposed veterans. When our men and women are injured or become ill because of their military service, it is our responsibility to see they receive the health care and benefits they deserve. It is the right thing to do and the cost of going to war.
The facility offers a full range of services with state-of-the-art technology as well as education and research. We discussed the research projects KCVA is conducting, the importance of their community-based outpatient clinics and my veterans’ mental health care legislation.
As ranking member of the Senate VA Committee, I am committed to bolstering the quality of care provided to those who have served and sacrificed.
Visiting Prairie View
From City Hall to the businesses along Main Street, thank you to everyone who took time out of their day to speak with me when I stopped into Prairie View this week.
Happy Passover to the families and friends who gathered for Seders in Kansas and around the world on Friday evening. Chag Pesach Sameach!
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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