Kansas Common Sense

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Landmark Veterans Mental Health Legislation Headed to the President’s Desk

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed my landmark legislation to improve veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention S.785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. On Tuesday, I spoke on the Senate floor to highlight the importance of passing this critical legislation for veterans and applaud my colleagues in the House for working with the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee to reach an agreement to advance this bill. 

One veteran lost to suicide is too many and this pandemic has further worsened mental health conditions and resulted in more veterans being isolated from friends and family. This bill will improve care and services for our veterans across the country; it will continue to bolster outreach to veterans by establishing a grant program for community organizations currently serving veterans; direct the VA to pioneer new research on mental health and suicide to better diagnose and treat our veterans; improve rural veterans’ access to mental health care and hold VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts.

Passing this legislation to serve veterans was one of my top priorities as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and I look forward to the president quickly signing the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act into law.

Read more about this monumental accomplishment for our nation’s veterans here in Stars and Stripes.

President Trump Nominates Judge Amy Coney Barrett

This weekend, President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee. Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a well-qualified nominee, having served as a clerk for Justice Scalia and distinguishing herself as a law professor at Notre Dame before receiving bipartisan support during her confirmation to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. I will review Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s legal writings in the coming weeks, and I look forward to meeting with her to learn more about her views on the judicial branch and the Constitution.

Hearing on NASA’s Artemis Program
As the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, I led a hearing on the oversight of NASA’s budget and activities for FY2021, including on the Artemis program. This hearing was the first in an ongoing dialogue with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, along with others leading the Artemis program, and the impact it will have on our country. NASA’s current initiative is to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. NASA is known around the world as a leader in innovation and exploration, inspiring generations of engineers, developers and explorers. I am committed to preserving its legacy of bold vision and focus through a successful return to the Moon by 2024.

Meeting with Postmaster General DeJoy

This week I met with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to stress the importance of our Postal Service in rural areas and the essential services it provides Kansans. I reiterated to the Postmaster General how much Kansas communities rely on the Postal Service, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming election. I also conveyed my eagerness to work with him on comprehensive postal reform legislation.

While the Postal Service is an independent agency, Congress derives oversight responsibilities from the Constitution, and I take this responsibility very seriously. As the nation begins recovering from COVID-19, we cannot risk losing the Postal Service. Now is the time to put the Postal Service on a path towards financial solvency and, in doing so, protect an essential American institution that serves Kansans each day.

Questioning the FTC Regarding Data Privacy

As chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I questioned California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and former members of the Federal Trade Commission about the need for federal data privacy legislation during a full committee hearing on Wednesday.

In March, I introduced the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, a bill to strengthen the laws that govern consumers’ personal data and create clear standards for American businesses and nonprofits that collect, process and use consumers’ personally identifiable data. This hearing was an opportunity to question current and former law enforcement experts in the data privacy field about what data privacy legislation should contain, including whether “persistent identifiers” should be considered information to be regulated.

Persistent identifiers are data points that can be used to recognize a consumer or device across different services, allowing users to be tracked online. My data privacy legislation includes such data in the scope of the bill to help protect Americans’ data privacy and security. I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to ensure Congress acts to provide consumers and companies with a clear and uniform federal data standard that lays out robust protections for consumers’ personal data. 

Expanding Benefits and Care for Our Veterans

This week, I held a business meeting for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) during which we unanimously voted to advance two pieces of legislation to help veterans, including my bill, S. 4511, the Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020. I introduced this legislation with several of my colleagues in August to greatly improve benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to our servicemembers, veterans and their families, including the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. I am proud of numerous provisions included in this bill to better the lives of the men and women and their families who have served.

Additionally, our committee unanimously advanced S.4393, the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act of 2020. The TEAM Act, sponsored by my colleague Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), is legislation aimed at fundamentally fixing how our country cares for the men and women who encounter toxic exposure during their military service. For too long we have seen a clear need for reform in order to provide our veterans access to timely, quality care when needed.

I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to move both of these bills through Senate as quickly as possible. 

Sponsoring Legislation to Prevent Medicaid Funds from Supporting Abortion Providers

Last week, I joined my colleagues to cosponsor the bicameral Women’s Public Health and Safety Act, which would give states the authority to exclude abortion providers, like Planned Parenthood, from receiving Medicaid funds. Under current law, states are required to allow any qualified provider to participate in a state’s Medicaid system.

A non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed that Planned Parenthood received $1.2 billion in Medicaid reimbursements over a three-year period, accounting for 80 percent of the abortion provider’s joint federal-state funding stream. The findings in this report are unacceptable and require action.

Human life is precious and should be protected. I have consistently supported measures to prevent taxpayer money from funding abortions and will continue to take steps to protect unborn children.

Meeting with Oakley Native, Joshua Llewellyn

I met with Oakley native Joshua Llewellyn who attended the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in 2015. We discussed his experience at the Naval Academy and his most recent tour as a Nuclear Submarine Officer. I appreciated the opportunity to see one of my former nominees from Kansas and thank him for his service to our country.

Department of Justice Grants Reach Kansas Communities

I was pleased to announce more than $2.5 million in grants were awarded to Kansas law enforcement through the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) Program. As the leading source of federal funding coming from the DOJ, the JAG Program is a vital instrument for ensuring that our state and local law enforcement are equipped with the necessary tools and resources they need to keep our communities safe. This program provides assistance to state, local and tribal law enforcement to support a number of major initiatives such as drug enforcement and treatment, crime prevention and education, as well as crisis intervention teams. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Related Agencies (CJS), which provides resources to the DOJ, I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate and in Kansas to ensure this critical assistance is provided to the men and women who work each day to protect our communities 

Calling on the Army Corps to Address Safety and Navigability on the Lower Missouri River

This week, I joined my colleagues from several Midwestern states calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide additional resources to conduct work on the Missouri River in response to serious navigation challenges on the waterway. Recently, water levels have dropped on the river, leaving behind sediment that must be scoured because it is causing navigation structures to work improperly. Flooding on the Missouri River in recent years has prevented the Army Corps from identifying needed improvements and repairing damage, and previously constructed river structures like habitat chute projects and dike notches are also impacting the navigation channel. The Missouri River is critical to farmers in Kansas who use the river to transport their products downriver for export. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure the river remains an effective navigation channel and that the issues facing the waterway are addressed by the Army Corps.

Visiting the Kansas National Guard Meal Prep Operation

On my way to Washington, D.C. on Monday, I visited the Kansas Army National Guard meal preparation operation in Leawood, where National Guard members packaged millions of meals for distribution to food banks across Kansas. Over the past several months, the Kansas National Guard partnered with the Outreach Program and Barstow School to deliver meals to those who face hunger here at home and abroad. Through this partnership, they have provided 8 million meals across Kansas and worked in larger capacity to provide potable water, medical care and education to those in need worldwide.

It is my mission as chairman of the Senate Hunger Caucus to meet the needs of those suffering from hunger, both here in the U.S. and around the globe. I want to thank Floyd and Kathy Hammer, founders of Outreach, as well as the Kansas National Guard for their incredible work in the fight against hunger.

Preserving Rural Electric Co-Ops

Earlier this week, I met virtually with representatives and members of the Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (KEC) to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on rural electric co-ops, broadband deployment and legislation allowing co-ops with Rural Utilities Service (RUS) debt to reprice their loans. Many rural electric co-ops utilize loans from RUS, and the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which I cosponsored, would allow these co-ops to reprice their RUS loans to the current low interest rate levels. This would save co-ops a significant amount of money over the lifespan of these loans, allowing them to reinvest in rural communities. I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to ensure that rural electric co-ops are supported during these challenging economic times.

Discussing HRSA Actions with Kansas Health Officials

This week, I spoke virtually with the new leadership team at the Kansas Hospital Association (KHA): President and CEO Chad Austin and Vice President of Governmental Affairs Audrey Dunkel. We discussed the bipartisan letter I joined requesting the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to address the recent actions of pharmaceutical companies – actions that threaten the 340B Drug Pricing Program – and KHA’s support for restructuring the health system to accommodate telehealth initiatives. As the health care industry continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and its financial impact, I look forward to continuing to work closely with KHA as they support our hospitals across the state.

Joining BNSF Railway’s Virtual Town Hall to Highlight the Importance of America’s Railways

This week, I enjoyed getting to join a virtual town hall with BNSF President and CEO Carl Ice and the employees of BSNF. The railway company recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and has been praised as one of the top transporters of consumer goods, grain and agricultural products, as well as low-sulfur coal and industrial goods. Like all those across the transportation industry, rail transport has been impacted by COVID-19, and it was great to touch base with the employees to see how they are adapting under circumstances caused by COVID-19 and answer their questions. BSNF is vital to Kansas’ economy, and I look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.

Remembering 100 Years of the Disabled American Veterans

On Friday, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) celebrated 100 years of representing the interests of those wounded in service in America’s wars. Twelve years after its founding, the DAV was chartered by Congress in recognition of the role this organization plays as the official voice of wartime-disabled veterans of the United States Armed Forces. From its inception to present day, the DAV has cultivated a professional national service officer corps and has become the preeminent provider of claims assistance to injured and ill veterans. In addition to their work helping veterans with their disability claims, the DAV co-presents adaptive sporting events with the VA; has been instrumental in advocating for numerous key veterans reforms over the years; and their members have provided millions of hours of volunteer service in communities across the country.

Earlier this year, I was pleased to lead a resolution in the Senate with my colleague, Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), to commend the DAV on their century of work on behalf of veterans, their families and their survivors. 

Opportunities for Students

Spring Internship Application Now Open
Applications for the Spring 2021 Intern Session are now available. Qualified undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in public service, the legislative process and serving Kansas are invited to apply by October 23rd.

Please visit my website to hear from past interns, find application link, and learn more about this opportunity.

U.S. Senate Page Program
My office is actively looking for a high school Kansan to participate in the Spring 2020 Senate Page Program. This program provides the unique opportunity to work in the Senate and learn about Congress and the legislative process while maintaining their regular coursework. The Sring Page eligibility is limited to juniors in high school who will be 16 or 17 years old on or before the date of appointment.

The Page Program is very competitive and a limited number of spots are available. Applicants are encouraged to apply early. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, but the preferred deadline is October 21st. For questions or more details, please call 202-224-6521 and request to speak with the page coordinator. Please visit my website to learn more about this opportunity. 

Yom Kippur

To all of those who observed Yom Kippur in Kansas and around the world, I hope you had a peaceful fast and meaningful reflection. G’mar Tov.

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. 

Please let me know how I can be of assistance. You can contact me by email by clicking here. You can also click here to contact me through one of my Kansas offices or my Washington, D.C., office.

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