Kansas Common Sense
Nov 09 2020
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Update on the General Election
Our democracy is based on the ability of the American people to elect our leaders in free and fair elections. We must make certain every vote is counted correctly, and I’m confident the principles outlined in our Constitution will guide us through this moment.
Thank you to all Americans who volunteered at polling places and continue to count ballots in accordance with their state’s laws.
Remembering Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, Friend and Agricultural Titan
Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh was an icon of agricultural policy in Kansas and throughout the nation. Dr. Flinchbaugh was well known for his involvement in helping craft farm bills for nearly five decades, and his authority on agriculture issues made him a trusted advisor to me and many prominent federal officials of both parties throughout his lifetime.
More importantly Dr. Flinchbaugh was my friend. We met when I called him more than 30 years ago to ask a question about Kansas tax policy. Ever since, I’ve admired and respected (loved) him. He spoke his mind, told me what he thought and made me a better senator and person. His death is a huge loss to me and all of his many friends, and it is hard to find the words to capture a man revered by so many. There may be no Kansan whose company I enjoyed more.
Each year, I would make a surprise visit to his ag policy class at K-State. His trademark sarcasm, wit and quips that made him a talented professor and a sought-after speaker was always on full display at the front of the classroom. I saw he loved and cared about his students and those feelings were mutual.
There is no doubt Dr. Flinchbaugh’s presence in ag policy will be felt for generations to come through the thousands of students he taught and mentored during his decades-long career as a professor at K-State. His loss will be felt deeply within the ag community, and Robba and I will be praying for Dr. Flinchbaugh’s family and loved ones during this time.
On Tuesday, I joined Chip Flory and Davis Michaelsen on AgriTalk radio to discuss the life and legacy of Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, including my surprise visits to his classes and his passion for teaching and mentoring students at K-State.
Hosting My 15th Annual Kansas Conservation Tour
Last week, I held my 15th Annual Kansas Conservation Tour, which included visits across four northwest Kansas counties to discuss local conservation efforts and partnerships. Kansans understand the importance of conserving natural resources like water and grasslands, because their livelihoods and communities depend on these resources for raising cattle, growing crops and attracting tourism to western Kansas. This year, I was pleased to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Acting Chief Kevin Norton join us on the tour.
Our first stop on my annual conservation tour was the Sheridan 6 Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) hosted by Hoxie Feedyard. In Sheridan County, I heard from area producers and stakeholders about their work in groundwater conservation and its importance. Currently, area producers from six townships have come together to cap multiyear water use amounts to preserve the viability of irrigated agriculture locally and extend the use of the High Plains aquifer. They have been successful in adapting their operations to a reduced reliance on groundwater while also remaining profitable, serving as a model for other areas.
Our next stop took us to Logan County, where we spent time at the Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, owned by The Nature Conservancy in Kansas (TNC). The TNC partnered with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPTS) to make portions of this 332-acre area open to the public, showcasing the dramatic chalk rock formations visible in the photo below. It is also home to the largest population of Great Plains wild buckwheat, only found in the chalk bluffs prairie of western Kansas. Here we heard about the efforts and work it took to prepare the park for opening and how TNC and KDWPTS plan to continue working together to preserve this area.
We then headed to Smoky Valley Ranch, which borders Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. Also owned and operated by TNC, Smoky Valley Ranch has worked with the USDA’s NRCS for over 20 years to protect this biodiverse grassland through grazing management plans, such as stocking rates and grazing time frames. Smokey Valley Ranch also partners with the Kansas Forest Service to assist with Prescribed Fire projects, and I’ve been pleased to support these efforts to safely accomplish over 3,000 acres of prescribed fire treatments on the property.
Outside of Colby, we made a stop at the Ducks Unlimited Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) Project. With the help of USDA’s NRCS, the restoration of this 34-acre WRE is underway to provide a habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reduce flooding and recharge groundwater. This site is important to protect biological diversity, and it was great to hear of their progress.
My last stop was in Sherman County at Northwest Kansas Technical College’s Water Technology Farm in Goodland with President Ben Schears. This public-private partnership with the college, students and local farmers allows for the exploration and testing of water irrigation technology that could increase the efficiency of water use in agriculture.
I always enjoy traveling throughout the state to learn more about the ways Kansans are working to be strong stewards of our land and see the great partnerships between local communities, the state and federal government that are helping protect the natural resources that are vital to the long-term success of communities in rural Kansas. Special thanks to NRCS Acting Chief Kevin Norton, NRCS Kansas State Conservationist Karen Woodrich and Kansas Farm Service Agency State Director David Schemm for joining me on this tour.
Crime-Prevention Grants Reach Kansas Communities
This week, I was pleased to announce that the Department of Justice (DOJ) Innovations in Community-Based Crime Reduction Program (CBCR) awarded Wyandotte County and the City of Wichita a combined $2 million in grants. The CBCR Program aims to reduce serious and violent crime by supporting a multi-faceted approach to addressing issues in high-crime neighborhoods. This program is intended to work in conjunction with broader neighborhood revitalization efforts in order to dismantle gang and drug related violence by targeting the specific needs of each community.
Our nation’s dedicated law enforcement professionals are an integral part of our communities, and providing our officers, sheriffs and deputies with the tools to combat crime in our neighborhoods should be a priority. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, I will continue to work to make certain our law enforcement officers are equipped to help keep Kansas communities safe.
Roundtable with Mid Kansas Coop Leadership
This week, I met with leaders from Mid Kansas Coop (MKC), a full-service farm cooperative and the largest coop in Kansas. Founded in 1965, the company has had significant growth in the past decade. Due to their deep roots in over twenty counties across Kansas, part of MKC’s mission is to invest back into rural Kansas communities, connecting and bolstering Kansans through their generosity and outreach through their ties with 4-H, food programs and a scholarship program. Made up of local agricultural business leaders, MKC provides cutting edge precision ag technologies.
I appreciated hearing about some of MKC’s concerns regarding market volatility, gain handling and crop insurance. These conversations guide my work with Kansans and in Washington, and I will continue to work on behalf of Kansans to protect and preserve Kansas agriculture and agronomy. Thank you to MKC for having me.
Joining Sterling Rotary
On Tuesday, I was pleased to join fellow Rotarians in Sterling. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the concerns surrounding the health and wellbeing of our communities across the nation so that our local economies can thrive. It’s important that small-town Kansans continue to preserve their special way of life. Additionally, we discussed how my recent veterans mental health legislation will continue to improve the lives of those that served our nation. I appreciated the opportunity to come back to Sterling and want to extend my thanks to Rotary Club President Blair Martin and the members of Sterling Rotary for the discussion.
Visiting with Elementary Students
This week, I joined Erin Wilson’s third grade classroom at the Independent School in Wichita to speak virtually with elementary students about all things Kansas, my role as an elected official and the basics of government.
It is never too early to learn about America’s founding principles and how our nation continues to be a beacon of freedom for all. I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with these bright young Kansans and appreciated hearing their questions.
Visiting Little River and Hays
This week, I stopped in Little River where I was able to talk to folks from the area about the issues they face and what I can do to help them in Washington. I also stopped in Hays to discuss a wide-range of topics, including the importance of preserving Kansas’ rural lifestyle, as well as continuing to support our small businesses during COVID-19. Thank you to everyone who took time out of their day to speak with me while I was in town.
Fortifying Communication Between First Responders at FirstNet Innovation
I visited the FirstNet Authority’s Laboratory in Colorado this week. FirstNet was formed in response to the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion that firefighters and police officers were plagued by communication failures that limited their ability to coordinate an effective emergency response during the September 11th attacks. Established by Congress in 2012, FirstNet is responsible for developing a nationwide public safety broadband network to support the communications needs of first responders and other public safety officials.
In 2017, Kansas became the 13th state to opt-in to the network, allowing our public safety departments across the state to effectively communicate with one another during emergency situations. The FirstNet Laboratory demonstrates how emerging technologies and devices behave in a public safety environment, ensuring that equipment that is connected to the FirstNet network is ready for use by first responders. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, which oversees FirstNet’s operations and deployment efforts, I will continue to ensure our first responders have the equipment and resources they need to successfully handle any situation.
Learning More About NIST, NTIA and Office of Space Command
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS), I lead the subcommittee that funds many of the federal government’s research agencies and laboratories. This week, after stops in northwest Kansas, I headed further west to visit federal facilities operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce in Boulder. These agencies execute cutting-edge research that benefits the telecommunications, manufacturing and space industries, among others. During my visit to NIST, I toured laboratories that advance the measurement science underlying many wireless technologies. This research establishes the technological foundations for higher speeds and better connections between wireless devices.
NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) provides core telecommunications research and engineering services to promote a number of objectives, including the promotion of new technology deployment and more efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum. ITS also serves as a principal federal resource for investigating the telecommunications challenges of other federal agencies, state and local governments, private corporations and associations and international organizations. The Office of Space Commerce, in coordination with other NOAA contingencies, monitors and forecasts Earth’s space environment, providing critical information about conditions that may affect assets in space while fostering conditions for economic growth and technological advancement of the US commercial space industry.
These tours highlighted the work being done by federal agencies to advance research that will ensure U.S. leadership in the telecommunications and space industries now and in the future. I want to thank Dr. Walter Copan, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology; Dr. Marla Dowell, Director of the Communications Technology Lab and NIST Boulder Lab Director; Dereck Orr, Division Chief of the Public Safety Communications Division at NIST’s Communications Technology Lab; Dr. Sheryl Genco, Director of the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences at NTIA, Adam Candeub, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information; and Kevin O’Connell, Director of the Office of Space Commerce at the U.S. Department of Commerce for sharing their important work with me. I look forward to continuing my support of critical research priorities as chairman of the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee.
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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