Kansas Common Sense
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.
COVID-19 Vaccination Centers and Resources in Kansas
As Kansas continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, please use my COVID- 19 Resources and Vaccine Information on my website for guidance.
Right now, we must focus on vaccines—it’s the most important objective we can undertake. More shots in more arms is the best thing that can happen for our country’s well-being, both from a health perspective and for our economy.
I encourage all Kansans to continue to take precautions to keep yourself and your families safe, including wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and frequently washing your hands. To get the most up-to-date recommendations from the federal government, please visit coronavirus.gov.
Calling on Governor Kelly to Improve Response Times to Kansans Filing for Unemployment
We are approaching nearly a year since COVID-19 arrived, but Kansans are still facing extreme difficulties receiving their unemployment benefits from the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL). My office is fielding urgent pleas for assistance from constituents who, through no fault of their own, are finding themselves without the means to pay their bills. It is unacceptable to make Kansans wait weeks or months before finally receiving their unemployment benefits from the state. On Friday, I led the Kansas Republican Congressional Delegation along with Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson and Kansas Speaker Ron Ryckman in calling on Governor Kelly to utilize available resources already provided by Congress to improve KDOL’s response times to Kansans filing for unemployment insurance.
Governor Kelly continues to place the blame on Congress for lack of funding to assist in updating KDOL’s outdated technology. However, according to a House Oversight Committee report released on February 12, Kansas’ Executive Office still has $218 million unspent from the coronavirus relief packages passed last year, showing Kansas is not in imminent need of resources. It is not a solution to continue throwing money in a direction where the process is the problem. The fact of the matter is Kansans’ livelihoods have been put on the line during the upheaval caused by the department’s four different leaders over the past year, the false narrative that additional federal funding will solve the current issues, and playing politics rather than problem-solving. When Kansans are getting evicted from their homes or are unable to purchase groceries and are calling for help but receiving none, it is evident something must change immediately.
Read the full letter here.
Overseeing VA’s Vaccination Distribution Efforts
Pressing the Biden Administration to Prioritize Veteran Vaccinations
This week, I spoke with leaders from the Biden administration as the lead republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) to press them to prioritize veterans as the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed. Dr. David Kessler and General Gustave Perna, the two officials leading the administration’s vaccine rollout, provided valuable information to Sen. Tester and me regarding the vaccine distribution process. The efficient and effective distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine remains one of my top priorities, especially for high-risk veterans, and I will continue working with federal, state and local officials to streamline this process.
I am concerned that rural and underserved veterans will be left behind, so I received commitments from Dr. Kessler and General Perna to work with me to support rural veteran vaccine distribution.
Conducting a Hearing Evaluating VA’s Ongoing Vaccination Efforts
On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee conducted an oversight hearing for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ ongoing efforts to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to America’s veterans. Following my call with the Biden administration’s COVID-19 Response Team on Tuesday urging them to prioritize our nation’s heroes in the vaccination process, VA officials announced at the hearing several thousand extra doses will be distributed to veterans and the frontline staff who provide their care starting today.
Even with this announcement, I will continue to make certain that the VA is doing its best work at taking care of veterans and seeing that this vaccination rollout is working in the most efficient and expeditious manner possible. We ought to have smooth processes that make certain the most vulnerable veterans are able to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Currently, veterans who have existing health risks or are over 75 years of age, and some eligible caregivers, are able to receive the vaccine. The VA is reaching out to those individuals personally to notify them of their eligibility and coordinate their vaccines. If you are a veteran, you can click here for more information about the VA’s COVID-19 testing and treatment resources. You can also sign up for updates about vaccine availability here.
As the lead republican on the Senate VA Committee, I remain committed to making certain the VA provides the highest level of care and service to those who served in uniform. My work in Congress will continue to make certain that veterans, regardless of where they live, are able to access these vaccines.
Speaking with Veterans Receiving their COVID-19 Vaccine at Topeka’s VA Vaccine Clinic
This week, I visited the Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center vaccine clinic in Topeka. I appreciated hearing more about how VA facilities receive and distribute vaccinations as they continue to adapt to the rollout program and the opportunity to hear from Kansas veterans receiving their COVID-19 vaccine shot. The veterans I spoke with were happy to be receiving the vaccine and described their desire to be able to visit their family and loved ones again. I was encouraged that they were able to get the vaccine, however, we have a long way to go, and I will work to make certain that veterans in Kansas who want to be vaccinated get that opportunity.
I want to extend my thanks to Director Rudy Klopfer, Chief Nurse Shelby Bowen and Associate Chief Pharmacist TJ McCombs for the informative visit.
VA Announces Mobile Vet Center Deployments to Help Vaccinate Kansas Veterans
Last week, the VA announced it would be sending Mobile Vet Centers across Kansas to hold mass vaccination events. As part of the VA’s vaccination efforts, it is using the Mobile Vet Centers to extend its vaccination reach beyond brick and mortar VA facilities to provide additional vaccination capacity to Kansas veterans and VA employees. Beginning this week and running until March 27th, the VA will utilize Mobile Vet Centers at 13 mass vaccination events in locations like Hays, Salina, Dodge City, Ft. Leavenworth and Olathe—just to name a few. Due to the limited vaccine supply, local VA facilities will be reaching out to veterans to confirm eligibility and appointments for all Mobile Vet Center vaccination events. Sign up for updates about vaccine availability here.
Empowering Student Athletes While Maintaining College Sports Integrity
This week, I introduced the Amateur Athletes Protection and Compensation Act of 2021, to create a consistent, federal standard to allow student athletes greater control of their name, image and likeness (NIL). Over the years, 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 have introduced legislation on athlete compensation, which could lead to a confusing system of inconsistent state laws that would be cumbersome for schools and athletes to navigate. My legislation would create a national standard of guidelines to make certain student athletes can benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness without hurting their eligibility to compete as a student athlete while at the same time protecting the existing model of college athletics that has afforded so many young athletes an opportunity to pursue an education.
Athletics teach young men and women many valuable skills that serve them throughout their life, and Kansas has an unparalleled history of college athletics that includes several premier programs attracting student athletes from all over the nation and the world. I will continue to work with my congressional colleagues to ensure this NIL legislation strikes the appropriate balance of empowering amateur athletes while maintaining the integrity of college sports that we all know and love.
Read more about my legislation here in ESPN.
Welcoming Novacoast to Wichita
This week, I was pleased to announce that Novacoast, a national leader in cybersecurity development, has decided to make Wichita the location of its new Security Operations Center. This is an exciting move for many of the region’s leaders in cybersecurity technology research and development, including Wichita State University, Friends University, Butler Community College, and the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base. Kansas is becoming an important leader in this field, and Wichita is now a pipeline for some of our nation’s most talented cybersecurity professionals. Novacoast’s presence in Wichita will create many rewarding partnerships, along with several well-paying technology industry jobs for our community.
The Greater Wichita Partnership announced this move on Thursday, and I offered remarks to express my support for the future of Novacoast and my eagerness to assist in their important mission of providing cybersecurity for American companies. Paul Anderson, CEO of Novacoast, announced that they will soon be advertising jobs on Kansas Works and the Wichita location would begin operations three or four months from now. He mentioned that he chose Wichita because it is a place where people would be happy to make a home, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Holding Big Tech Accountable
Social media platforms that promise to be free and open marketplaces of ideas should abide by these assurances. This week, I introduced the Promoting Responsibility Over Moderation In the Social Media Environment (PROMISE) Act with Senators Mike Lee and Mike Braun. This legislation would ensure social media companies are consistently following their own public statements and policies on censorship and hold them responsible when they display political bias that contradicts their own standards.
Unfortunately, we have seen recent examples of these social media companies exhibiting political bias when moderating content, making our bill more urgent than ever. Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites have permanently banned President Trump, while allowing despotic leaders like Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei to remain on their platforms and post violent and hateful rhetoric, despite having terms of service against such speech. Pro-life voices have also been restricted by Big Tech, while pro-abortion groups are allowed to continue to advertise their views. For example, Facebook has prohibited advertising from pro-life groups such as Life of America, Live Action and Choose Life Marketing from advertising on their platform. In addition, Twitter has prohibited Live Action from advertising as well. Simultaneously, Planned Parenthood is permitted by both companies to advertise on their websites.
I urge my colleagues to work with Senator Lee, Senator Braun and I to ensure that social media companies are being held accountable when they act on political bias that runs contrary to their public statements and policies.
Questioning HHS Nominee Attorney General Xavier Becerra
During my first Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee hearing this week, I questioned President Biden’s U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary nominee, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, on several topics. First and foremost, I spoke to Attorney General Becerra about the current issues facing the 340B Drug Pricing program as certain drug manufacturers are refusing to live up to their end of the bargain. 340B has been an issue for as long as I have been in the Senate, but these recent developments are creating particularly dire circumstances for Kansas’ community health centers who are losing significant revenue due to the 340B program’s issues.
As the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted gaps in our health care infrastructure, telehealth has proved to be a powerful source of care. The recent coronavirus relief packages passed by Congress included provisions to reduce the regulations around telehealth, allowing it to be a more reliable, accessible source of care for both rural and urban Kansans. As I told Attorney General Becerra, creating permanent extensions of the emergency telehealth provisions should be a high priority moving forward.
Finally, I encouraged Attorney General Becerra, if he is confirmed, to look into the policies surrounding organ transplants. We live in a nation with the world’s leading transplant surgeons and hospitals, but thousands die every year because of scarcity of donated organs. HHS ought to be implementing policies to increase the number of kidney transplants nationwide and consequently, save hundreds of lives each year.
Keeping Skies Safe With The CONTRACT Act
This week, I introduced the Continuity for Operators with Necessary Training Required for ATC Contract Towers (CONTRACT) Act with a number of my Senate colleagues. Regional economies across Kansas rely on the aviation industry and our state’s eight contract towers, which play an important role in making certain air travel is safe. This legislation removes unnecessary hiring barriers and financial disincentive for air traffic controllers who have retired from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), providing a simple and sensible solution to ensuring we have highly-skilled and experienced controllers working at federal contract towers and keeping skies safe across the country.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, with jurisdiction over the FAA, I will advocate for contract towers in the state of Kansas and work to advance this legislation.
Securing Benefits for Combat-Wounded Veterans
This week, I introduced the Major Richard Star Act along with Chairman Jon Tester and Senator Mike Crapo. This bipartisan legislation will allow combat-injured veterans to receive the full benefits they deserve and will eliminate what is known as a Concurrent Receipt.
Under current law, only military veterans who retire with a full 20 years of service and who receive at least a 50 percent combat-related disability from the VA receive their full payments of both retirement pay and disability benefits from the DoD and VA. All other combat-injured retirees receive a single payment in which their retirement payments are offset from their disability compensation, which results in a lower average payment. The Major Richard Star Act would remedy this problem and make certain that veterans whose military careers ended due to combat injury receive the full benefits that they have earned. It would impact 42,000 veterans throughout the United States, including many who reside in Kansas.
Introducing The Kelsey Smith Act
This week, I introduced the Kelsey Smith Act to require wireless communication providers to provide call location information to law enforcement officials when responding to a call for emergency service or in an emergency situation that involves the risk of death or serious physical harm.
This legislation is named after Kelsey Smith, who was abducted in broad daylight from an Overland Park department store and murdered on June 2, 2007. The abduction was captured on the store’s security camera, leaving little doubt of the emergency nature of the circumstance. Four days after she disappeared, authorities were able to locate Kelsey’s body after her wireless provider released the “ping” or “call location” information from her cell phone.
Kelsey Smith’s tragic abduction sent shockwaves through the Overland Park community and the country, and this bill is named in her honor. Providing this information as fast as possible is critical to ensure law enforcement officials can rescue victims in imminent danger of death or serious harm when every second counts.
In honor of their daughter and to aid law enforcement in rescuing kidnap victims, Greg and Missey Smith have fought to successfully pass this legislation in 27 states and are continuing to work to make it federal law. This legislation will make certain first responders have the tools they need to quickly locate people who have been abducted, and I urge my colleagues to support this sensible bill to help save lives. I will continue to work with the Smith family and my Senate colleagues to ensure this critical legislation is passed into law.
Advancing Greater Job Opportunity for Women in the Trucking Industry
Over the past year, we have relied on the essential service of the trucking industry as it transports critical resources to Kansas and across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the trucking industry continues to face a driver shortage, we must find new ways to recruit and retain drivers, including supporting women pursuing careers in trucking.
This week, I introduced the Promoting Women in Trucking Workforce Act to support women pursuing trucking careers. The legislation would establish a Women of Trucking Advisory Board that would be responsible for working with organizations and companies to coordinate formal education and training programs and help identify and establish training and mentorship programs for women in the industry. This sensible and bipartisan legislation will lead to new job opportunities for women, combat the shortage of workers in the trucking industry, and promote equality for those who are currently working in the trucking industry.
Confirming Secretary Vilsack for the Department of Agriculture
On Tuesday, I voted to confirm Tom Vilsack to be the Secretary of Agriculture. Prior to his nomination vote, I met with Secretary Vilsack to discuss issues important to Kansas farmers and rural America. I believe the Secretary of Agriculture must be a voice for farmers, ranchers and rural communities both within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as across the entire administration. When I met with Secretary Vilsack, I invited him to Kansas to see progress on the construction of the National Bio Agro-defense Facility in Manhattan. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for USDA, I look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack to support Kansas farmers and ranchers and to defend and protect our way of life in rural communities across the state.
Receiving the Sonny Montgomery Student Veteran Champion Award
This weekend, I received the Student Veterans of America’s Sonny Montgomery Student Veteran Champion Award during their annual national conference. I was joined by my colleague, Chairman Jon Tester in receiving the award for the bipartisan work we were able to accomplish last year to make certain student veterans and their education were protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Receiving this award, which was so aptly named after Sonny Montgomery, was an additional privilege due to Sonny’s work on behalf of our nation’s veterans. Sonny dedicated his life to this nation, both in and out of uniform, and pushed for a better GI Bill for veterans in his years in Congress.
Kansas is home to many student veterans and members of Student Veterans of America, so I want to extend my thanks to the Student Veterans of America for their tireless dedication to advocating and improving the lives of our nation’s student veterans and their families, and for honoring me with this
Meeting with Members of the Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association
This week, I met with members of the Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association (KARA) to hear about issues that agriculture producers, retailers and rural communities are facing. We discussed agriculture’s role in climate discussions, including the importance of developing policies that are incentive based rather than harmful regulations. We also spoke about the strain recent extreme weather events have caused on our nation’s energy supply and concerns about consumer utility bills. I appreciate hearing from agriculture retailers from Kansas and across the country, and I look forward to working with them to advocate on behalf of the agriculture community in the future.
Accepting NWAG’s Wheat Leader of the Year Award
I joined the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) for their annual board meeting this week where I was presented the 2020 Wheat Leader of the Year award, the highest award given each year by NAWG. I appreciate NAWG President Dave Milligan and NAWG Board Member and Kansan Kyler Millershaski for presenting me with this honor. I also had the opportunity to speak with farmers from across the country about the importance of wheat to Kansas and the country. I look forward to continuing to work with NAWG to be a strong advocate for America’s wheat producers in Congress.
Protecting the Right to Life
I met virtually with Peter Northcott of Kansans for Life and Douglas Johnson of National Right to Life to discuss the Equal Rights Amendment this week. The amendment, if ratified, could adversely impact laws protecting the unborn from abortion. Passed in 1972, a year before Roe v. Wade was decided, Congress set a deadline of 1979 to secure the approval of the three-fourths of states required to add a new amendment to the Constitution. That deadline passed without adoption, but there is an effort to do away with the deadline and accept states that subsequently ratified the amendment. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel last year issued an opinion saying that Congress cannot revive the amendment after the deadline, and the process must begin anew. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg held a similar position. As the ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee for the DOJ, I asked Attorney General Nominee Merrick Garland about his approach to this matter, and I intend to make sure the law, as it was written in 1972, is upheld.
Federal Resources to Assist Kansas
EDA to Invest $2.6 Million in Southeast Kansas
I was pleased to announce the U.S. Economic Development Administration is investing in the people and economy of southeast Kansas with a $2.6 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant, creating hundreds of jobs, improving telehealth services and providing important resources for workforce training.
Thank you to the Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center for leading the charge on this initiative and the many health care providers and local businesses willing to work in partnership to bring this project to a reality. As the lead republican on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, I will continue to support the ongoing and critical mission of the Economic Development Administration to assist the economic activity of our communities, especially during this pandemic.
Morton County Receives Resources to Bolster Area Telemedicine
I was also pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded Morton County Health System with a Rural Development grant to assist in the further development of telemedicine in the area, serving the greater southwest Kansas region. Access to health care is a challenge in many rural communities and the COVID-19 pandemic has made that access even more limited. This grant will invest in new technology and resources to bring telemedicine to Morton county and the surrounding areas to help folks in rural communities receive the health care they need to make them feel secure and safe.
Newton City-County Airport Funds Received
In 2019, I announced that the Newton City-County Airport was awarded an Airport Improvement Program grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. This week, I received word that the survey and bid process has been completed and the $6.1 million needed to complete the project will be awarded. As I said upon its original announcement, this grant will allow for much-needed infrastructure improvements, enabling the airport to support the area’s aviation needs for years to come.
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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