Kansas Common Sense

Coronavirus Update

Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks 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.

Coronavirus Update

As we continue to monitor the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the administration, Congress and state and local governments are working together to make certain we do everything in our power to stop the spread of this virus. Please take precautions to keep you and your families safe, and please call your doctor about testing for COVID-19 if you feel are experiencing symptoms related to the coronavirus. On Friday, President Trump declared a national emergency, which will make emergency funds available to increase the number of tests, develop treatments and prevent the COVID-19 from spreading further. The Senate canceled our state work period this week to travel back to Washington, D.C. to vote on a relief package for families and businesses across the nation. We are taking this threat seriously, and we will face this crisis head-on as a nation. 

To find further resources on how to protect you and your family, visit coronavirus.gov or the Kansas Department of Health and Environment website here.

Briefing from The University of Kansas Health System

This morning, I met with health officials at The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City to receive an update on the spread of COVID-19 in Kansas. Our fight to stop the spread of this virus is locally led, state coordinated and federally supported, involving partnerships with local hospitals, ERs, clinics and the general public. While I was in Kansas over the weekend, I took the opportunity to learn more about how I can be of further help in D.C. from health officials throughout our state, mainly through phone calls to adhere to social distancing guidelines. I was also able to learn more about the situation in Kansas from our state experts. As we face this increasingly serious situation, it is important we all take a personal responsibility to “flatten the curve,” slowing the spread of COVID-19 throughout our population, to avoid overwhelming our healthcare delivery system.

Following the meeting, I was joined by several experts for a virtual news conference to give a state and federal update, as well as answer questions. Thank you to Tammy Peterman, Chief Operating Officer, The University of Kansas Health System; Steve Stites, MD, Chief Medical Officer, The University of Kansas Health System; and Allen Greiner, MD, PhD, Medical Officer, Unified Government Health Department for providing an update on our efforts and answering questions. To watch, please click here.

Hosting Conference Call with KDHE and Kansas County Health Directors

Saturday morning, I hosted a conference call with Kansas Department of Health and Environment Deputy Director of Public Health Ashley Goss and over 30 Kansas County Health Directors to hear about the response to COVID-19 in our state. The purpose of the call was to host a platform for further information sharing and have the opportunity to learn directly about the response to COVID-19 in communities across Kansas, while also hearing how we can be of further assistance during this national emergency. Local health departments are working with state officials to ensure clear guidelines and streamlined testing.

Speaking with Kansas Leaders Across the State

In addition to my conference call, throughout the weekend I spoke with public officials and health leaders from across the state to continue learning about local situations and what Kansans need. I had calls with the President of the Kansas Hosptial Association Tom Bell and Kansas City, Kan. Mayor David Alvey, as well as spoke with Rush County Health Department staff while I was in the area. I also spoke with Kansas Adjutant General Major General Lee Tafanelli who leads the Kansas National Guard and is the Emergency Management Director for Kansas. General Tafanelli informed me that additional resources for Kansas from the first federal supplemental appropriations package have been received. 

Protecting Our Troops from Coronavirus

I have remained in regular contact with the Army’s senior leaders to make certain the health of our soldiers stationed at home and abroad is a priority in the face of COVID-19. This week, I spoke with General Robert “Abe” Abrams, Commander of U.S. Forces, Korea (USFK); Major General John Kolasheski, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley; and Major General Lee Tafanelli, the Adjutant General of Kansas, to check in on the well-being of our Kansans servicemembers. Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division are currently serving in South Korea as part of a nine-month rotation and there are major steps being taken by USFK to safeguard the health of our troops. I was pleased to hear from General Abrams and Major General Kolasheski about preventative measures that are underway, and I will continue to monitor the health of our Big Red One soldiers serving abroad. Additionally, I spoke with Major General Tafanelli about the recent return of airmen from the Kansas Air National Guard from Europe. I will continue to engage with our senior military leaders as the coronavirus persists to make certain our servicemembers are receiving the support they deserve.

Supplying Food for Low-Income Children During School Shutdowns

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced flexibilities in school nutrition programs to allow meal service during school to closures. USDA approved a request from the Kansas State Department of Education to waive the requirement that school meals be served in a group setting, to ensure children are able to receive meals in the event schools are temporarily closed.

Protecting Veterans Educational Benefits

As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I introduced legislation with Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) which would make certain that student veterans and servicemembers would not have their GI bill benefits cut as schools move classes online to stop the spread of COVID-19. The GI Bill determines student veterans’ benefits based on whether or not they attend a physical university in person versus an online program. As colleges and universities close campuses to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, veterans on the GI Bill could lose or have their benefits cut. This bill would allow these student veterans to continue to receive full benefits even if the universities they attend move classes online due to COVID-19. Read more in the Military Times by clicking here.

Seeking Assurances for Safety of Olympic Athletes

As the chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the health and safety of Olympic athletes, I sought answers from Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), on how the IOC plans to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 during the Olympic Games in Tokyo and protect the thousands of athletes, fans, sponsors and members of the media who will attend the games. Ensuring a safe and secure environment should be a top priority for the IOC, the Japanese Government, the Japanese Olympic Committee and all National Olympic Committees around the world. While there are indications that IOC has taken steps to protect travelers to the upcoming Olympic Games from this disease, many questions remain unanswered. Read more in the New York Times here.

2020 Census Reminder

Your response to the 2020 Census matters, and the results can shape many different aspects of your community over the next decade. Between March 12-20, your home should receive an official Census Bureau form in the mail with information on how to respond. When filling out the Census, you should respond with information about your residency on April 1, 2020. Learn more or take the census online at 2020census.gov.

Introducing Landmark Federal Data Privacy Legislation

As the chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I introduced the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act to strengthen the laws that govern consumers’ personal data and create clear standards and regulations for American businesses that collect, process and use consumers’ personally identifiable data. Americans need to be able to count on strong baseline responsibilities that businesses must uphold when collecting, processing and protecting their personally identifiable information. While our economy has benefited from the use of data, these advancements should not be traded for an individual’s right to have control over their personal information. We have witnessed unauthorized activities and security breaches from bad actors attempting to access and process consumers’ personal data and sensitive information in unfair and deceptive ways. Without action from Congress, consumers will continue to be vulnerable to future threats against their personal data, and innovators and job creators will be plagued with regulatory uncertainty resulting from a growing patchwork of state laws. It is clear that Congress needs to act to provide consumers and companies with a clear federal standard that lays out robust protections for consumers’ personal data, and I encourage my colleagues to support the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act as the federal standard for comprehensive privacy legislation. I authored an editorial “Every American Deserves a Say in How Their Personal Data Is Collected and Used” in the Morning Consult about the importance of this legislation, and you can also read about it in the Kansas City Star

Highlighting the Importance of U.S. Agriculture Standards in UK Trade Agreement

On Wednesday, I led a letter to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer along with 20 of my Senate colleagues highlighting the importance of U.S. agriculture and science-based food safety standards in a future trade agreement with the United Kingdom (UK). Currently, U.S. food and agricultural producers face unfair barriers to market access largely as a result of the UK’s former membership in the EU. The UK recently left the European Union (EU), creating an opportunity for a trade agreement that addresses these trade barriers. Trade positions held by the EU that are based on antiquated and unscientific food standards should be rejected in an agreement with the UK, including those standards that block significant segments of U.S. beef, pork, dairy and poultry exports and discourage the use of biotechnology. As Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds USTR, I look forward to working with Ambassador Lighthizer to ensure that a trade deal with the UK provides a level playing field for American producers.

Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Josh Hawley (R-Miss.), and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) joined my letter to Ambassador Lighthizer.

Questioning USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue

On Thursday, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue testified before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. I asked the Secretary about hiring challenges at Farm Service Agency offices, expansion of rural broadband, a trade agreement with the United Kingdom, the importance of international food aid, and aspects of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) that could be part of the solution to the water dispute at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The rural economy continues to struggle as net farm income has fallen by over 50 percent since 2013. Sustaining the way of life for rural Kansans is critical for the success of our state, and USDA helps provide farmers, ranchers, and rural communities with critical resources. I will continue to work to make certain USDA is working to assist rural America today and for future generations.

Discussing The American Legion’s Legislative Priorities

The Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees welcomed The American Legion to Washington, D.C. this week for the fifth and final Veteran Service Organization (VSO) presentation. During the hearing, I had the opportunity to hear from the legion on a range of important legislative issues and gave our commitment to continue working with VSOs to find common-sense solutions. I sat down with Kansas Legionnaires before the hearing to learn about their legislative priorities and discuss important issues that are facing American Legion posts across the state. It was a pleasure to meet with these Kansans and hear how they are making a difference in their communities.

VA’s Community Care Network Begins in Kansas

This week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will increase access to community healthcare for veterans in Kansas as it rolls out the Community Care Network (CCN) requirements of the MISSION Act. I have been reassured by the VA that the implementation of the Community Care Network in Kansas will still occur, despite challenges posed by the spread of COVID-19. The CCN will enable veterans to receive healthcare in the comfort of their community by allowing the VA to purchase care for veterans from community health providers. Given the pandemic we are currently facing and the need for urgent care, it is important that veterans have timely and convenient access to health care. Whether care is provided in a VA facility or using a community provider should not matter, as long as our veterans are receiving the best care that is available.

I am pleased that the VA is keeping its promise to veterans by continuing to implement the MISSION Act in Kansas. Although the spread of coronavirus is on the forefront of everyone’s mind and we must continue to take active steps to limit everyone’s exposure, times like these highlight the need for quality and timely healthcare. As Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will continue to provide stringent oversight of this roll out and make certain that veterans have the access to care that was envisioned in the MISSION Act. To find out if you are eligible, please visit here. To find out if you qualify for urgent care, please visit here.

Questioning Kansans FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

On Tuesday, two Kansans, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, testified in front the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the FCC about their FY21 budget request. I asked the Commission about the importance of expediently and responsibly deploying 5G mobile wireless to rural areas and the need for reliable coverage maps prior to deployment. I also highlighted legislation that I support, the Broadband DATA Act, which would improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps and better direct federal funds for broadband buildout. Thank you to Chairman Pai and Commissioner Starks, as well as the other FCC commissioners, for their commitment to addressing the communication needs facing our country.

Senate Commerce Committee Advances My Legislation

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held an executive session to consider and vote on a legislative agenda that included two bills that I authored, the U.S. SAFE WEB Act and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Reauthorization Act. First, the U.S. SAFE WEB Act would extend the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) existing authorities to maintain their ability to combat unfair or deceptive acts or practices that are international in scope. The legislation would ensure that the FTC continues to have the cross-border enforcement authority and the international cooperation tools it needs to protect American consumers from unfair or deceptive acts or practices that originate abroad. This legislation helps promote our leadership in the U.S. on artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, quantum computing, and other emerging technologies.

Second, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Reauthorization Act would allow USADA, the independent body charged with fighting and preventing doping in U.S. sports, to continue to be authorized. As the National Anti-Doping Agency in the U.S., USADA manages the most comprehensive anti-doping program in the country while setting the standard for all other national anti-doping programs abroad.  Their program consists of in-competition and out-of-competition drug testing, results management processes, drug reference resources and athlete education to prevent athlete doping practices. As the nation prepares to host the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, USADA has made clear to the members of this committee that they want these games to be the cleanest in recent history.

Speaking with Kansans Affected by the National Liver Allocation Policy Changes

For over a year I have been urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to continue to delay the implementation of changes to the national liver distribution policy until the conclusion of ongoing litigation. This week, I spoke with Brenden Wirth, a Kansas Farm Bureau member, and his family about my efforts to push back against this new National Liver Allocation Policy which will result in prolonged waitlist periods, increased costs and system inefficiencies. The Wirth's young son will potentially require a liver transplant in the future and Secretary Azar’s harmful liver policy will increase the waitlist period for him as well as thousands of other patients waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.

This policy tosses aside all public concerns from patients, transplant surgeons and leading transplant hospitals on best practices to improve the availability of organs across our nation. It limits the availability and access to donated organs and impedes the ability of our major transplant hospitals – like the University of Kansas Hospital – to perform these services for patients. It is for Kansans, like the Wirth's young son, that I will continue to call on Secretary Azar to halt the implementation of this disastrous policy. We must live up to our responsibility as elected officials to govern well in order that our children and grandchildren can live a long, healthy life.

Seeking Answers on the Sahel Food Insecurity

On Tuesday, the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations held a hearing on instability in the African Sahel, a region in northwest Africa that is experiencing a significant rise in extremism, political instability and hunger. As a co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, I questioned the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green regarding the state of food insecurity in the Sahel and current U.S. emergency relief efforts. I was particular interested to know under what circumstances USAID would request to use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s emergency funding through the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, which hasn’t been utilized since 2014, to meet the emergency food security needs in the region. 

Meeting with Kansas Farm Bureau

On Wednesday, I was pleased to meet with representatives from the Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB) in Washington, D.C. We discussed challenges caused by lack of staffing at county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices, eligibility requirements for USDA beginning farmers and ranchers programs and the current state of the ag and rural economy. KFB plays an important role in strengthening the agricultural community and I appreciate hearing from KFB members about their experiences as producers in Kansas, especially young or beginning farmers and ranchers. Continuing to develop resources for this group is important to make sure that the next generation is able to continue doing what they want to do: feeding America and feeding the world. I will continue to work in the Senate to sustain the rural way of life and improve the ag economy.

Hosting City Officials from Across Kansas

This week, the National League of Cities gathered in Washington, D.C. and I met with city leaders from Lenexa, Lindsborg, Manhattan, Mission, Olathe, Ottawa, Shawnee and Wichita. I enjoyed our conversations which touched on a wide range of topics, but often focused on infrastructure and economic development and the need for greater flexibility and authority at the local level.

 

With the current federal surface transportation authorization set to expire in September, Congress must pass a new long-term plan to provide dedicated funding for local infrastructure projects. I have been encouraged by President Trump’s continued interest in restoring our nation’s infrastructure, and believe a bipartisan infrastructure package should be one of Congress’s top priorities. Recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation initiated another round of BUILD infrastructure grants with applications due May 18. I was encouraged to hear several Kansas communities are pursuing these grants and look forward to helping support their applications.

Many thanks to the local leaders across our state who made the trip to Washington and visited with me, and for your willingness to serve our fellow Kansans.

Visiting with St. Mary’s Students

St. Mary’s Jr. High School students were visiting Washington, D.C. this week, and I enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with them following their Capitol tour. I was able to speak with them about my work in Washington, D.C., including the committees I sit on and legislation I have introduced, as well as my Kansas Listening Tour Stops I hold when I am back in Kansas. I was happy to answer their questions and encourage them to look into the Senate Page Program if they are interested in the work the Senate does in Washington, D.C.

Speaking at Lions Club District Convention

Members of Lions Clubs around the country make a difference in their communities every day. I enjoyed speaking at the Lions Club District Convention in Hays, thanking the members for their service. I provided an update on the coronavirus and encouraged them to continue collaborating with the local government to help serve the community of Hays. I have always believed we will change the world one person at a time, and through the service of Lions Clubs, like the one in Hays, Lions across the country are making a difference in the lives of their neighbors and members of their communities. It was great to be able to see Tom Baumann, Geoffrey Wade, Bill Phillipi and Gene Vogel, pictured below.

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