Kansas Common Sense
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Giving Thanks for Blessings as Kansans, Americans
As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this week, families and friends come together to reflect, give thanks and enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving feast. However, millions – in fact, one in six Americans – struggle each day to even get enough food to eat. The unfortunate reality is that food insecurity exists in every community in our nation.
Living in the breadbasket of America, it can sometimes be difficult to comprehend the prevalence of hunger at home and around the world. Yet, hunger is real – it threatens the future of millions every day. Hunger creates political instability, stunts economic growth, and robs individuals of their dignity and self-potential.
This Thanksgiving, I hope you will consider supporting or volunteering at an organization in your community. Just a few hours of your time giving back can help make this holiday a memorable one for you, your family and for those in need.
Robba and I join all Kansans in celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, and giving thanks for our blessings. I am especially grateful for the service and charitable organizations that support our communities and those in need. I hope you and your families also enjoy time together and have the chance to reflect on all we have to be thankful for – both as Kansans and Americans.
Opposing President Obama’s Irresponsible Amnesty Plan
On Thursday night, President Obama announced his plan to issue an executive order on immigration. I oppose the President offering amnesty to millions of individuals who have entered the country illegally. The President is aware that he is overstepping his bounds – and has explained at least 22 times that he does not have the authority to unilaterally alter immigration laws. President Obama should not act alone on an issue of such importance. The President is choosing to allow 5 million people to jump the line in front of those who have followed the rules and are waiting to come to our country legally. This irresponsible decision encourages and incentivizes illegal activity – it will increase the number of people illegally entering the United States, while making it more difficult for Congress to address the problems of our immigration system.
President Obama declared his policies were under referendum on Election Day. He was correct, and on November 4, the American people voted to take our country in a different direction. I look forward to when the Senate returns to a functioning body and I commit to Kansans I will work in the new Congress to prohibit any funding from being available to implement the President’s action.
Serving Veterans - Compassionate Care and Suicide Prevention
On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) ability to support veterans who suffer from mental health conditions that for too many veterans’ leads to ending their lives. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 50 percent of service members returning from tours overseas seek mental health treatment, and the VA estimates that 22 veterans take their lives each day. While holding this committee hearing helps conduct oversight of the VA’s willingness and capability to support these veterans, it is imperative that the VA follow through on its commitments so the families who have suffered can take comfort in knowing the VA’s work will result in suicide prevention.
As a sponsor of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, it was moving to hear from Clay’s mom, Susan Selke, who testified before the committee. Susan shared her son’s story of reliving the traumatic experiences of war and his disappointment when the VA failed to offer the care he needed to treat his despair. We listened to Valerie Pallotta bravely tell the story of her son Josh who took his own life just six weeks ago. Josh suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), yet he could not get treatment he needed due to VA bureaucracy and trouble navigating the broken system. We ought not allow this cumbersome system to fail one more veteran in need of help.
The lack of mental health care professionals in the VA is profound and, for a decade, I’ve been pressing the VA to utilize Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC), which offer 24/7 help and are located in every county throughout Kansas. The VA has two specific programs that could incorporate CMHC’s and bring care closer to home for veterans – the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) program and the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA). The VA owes me answers from multiple requests related to the VACAA, particularly how the VA defines a facility according to the 40 mile eligibility criteria. Forty miles from a facility is different than 40 miles from a facility that provides the services that a veteran needs. Rural veterans in Kansas deserve far better than the misinformation and misinterpretation of this important law and should not be disqualified from accessing mental health care because of where they live.
In addition, I challenged the VA on their lack of hiring capable Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) and Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors (LPMHCs), which are certified counselors who make up only .04 percent of the total mental health professional workforce in the VA. I intend to continue this conversation when I receive the specific name of the individual who is responsible for their hiring as I requested in the hearing. I will keep working on finding solutions and holding the VA accountable when it comes to providing our nation’s veterans with the timely, high quality and specialized care they earned. Click here to watch video from the hearing.
Keystone XL Falls Short in Senate
The Senate failed to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline in a 59-41 vote this past Tuesday. The Keystone XL Pipeline should have been approved years ago, and while I am disappointed it failed by a single vote last week, it is only a matter of time before it is passed in the next Congress by the new Republican majority and sent to President Obama’s desk. At that time, the President will finally be forced to decide whether increases in energy security and American jobs trump special interest politics. I look forward to the Senate joining the House in approving the Keystone XL Pipeline in the very near future. This is merely the first of many issues to finally receive the Senate’s attention after years of being denied votes. Click here to read more about the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Keystone XL Pipeline is an additional phase to the original Keystone Pipeline that currently moves crude oil from Steele City, Nebraska, through Kansas to the processing facility in Cushing, Oklahoma. The pipeline expansion would link the existing Keystone infrastructure already operating in Nebraska and Kansas to the oil-rich Bakken granting greater accessibility to domestic natural resources. Unfortunately, the White House has refused to approve the permit application for the remaining 1,200 miles of pipeline to be built despite President Obama’s own State Department’s view that this project can move forward. The Administration’s delays have prevented the creation of new well-paying jobs and economic growth for Americans.
International Negotiators Extend P5+1 Nuclear Talks with Iran
Today international negotiators announced a seven month extension of diplomatic negotiations with regarding their nuclear development program. Given the President’s worrisome admission that the past year of dialogue failed to bridge the ‘significant’ gaps between P5+1 negotiators and Iran, I am skeptical of what this extension can accomplish. As negotiations carry on, Congress must continue to demand terms that secure lasting and verifiable dismantlement of Iran’s illicit nuclear program. Any sanctions relief must be dependent on evident compliance by Iran. The world has too much at stake to accept a dangerous deal that disregards the concerns of Congress and the American people.
If international negotiators fail to reach an agreement that prescribes lasting and verifiable, the United States should immediately reinstate and augment financial sanctions to further force the issue of Iran’s economic fate into their country’s nuclear calculations. 42 of my Republican colleagues and I expressed these and other concerns to President Obama this week. Click here to read the full letter.
Letter to USDA on Beef Checkoff Proposal
This week I sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressing my concerns with his plan to administratively establish a new, separate beef check-off. Under the Secretary’s proposal, this new check-off would operate parallel to the current Beef Checkoff Program that has been in place since 1985. Cattle producers from across Kansas and the country have been loud and clear in their objections to this plan.
I am concerned that a separate check-off would add administrative costs and red tape to the current successful system. It is also important to remember the beef checkoff is funded by beef producers. Thus, common sense would dictate that any changes to the checkoff should rest in the hands of those producers, not the federal government. It is important for Secretary Vilsack to listen to cattle producers who are insisting USDA to not move forward with this plan to create a new, separate checkoff. Click here to read my letter to Sec. Vilsack.
Deadly Attacks in Jerusalem
I was disgusted and saddened by the attacks in Jerusalem last week that took the lives of three American-Israelis while they were at prayer at a Jewish synagogue. Two of the victims, Rabbi Kalman Levine and Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, had close ties to Kansas and have family in our community. In the face of such gross violence, we must continue to advocate for a world where people of all faiths can attend places of worship without threat of danger. My family is keeping the friends and loved ones of those lost in our thoughts and prayers as they mourn during this most difficult time.
Kansas Home Care Association’s 2014 Legislator of the Year
I am honored to have recently received the 2014 Legislator of the Year Award from the Kansas Home Care Association (KHCA). KHCA is a member organization of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and was established in 1973 to provide leadership, support, and services to the home care industry in Kansas. Access to quality, affordable health care determines whether Kansans can remain in their homes and communities as they grow older. My parents were married for 73 years and were able to live independently in my hometown of Plainville for their entire lives because they had the loving support of their friends and neighbors. This support embodies the special way of life we live in Kansas, a way of life we cherish deeply. This way of life would not be possible without access to the types of care home health practitioners and others provide to Kansans in their own communities. Home health care is a cost-efficient alternative to other forms of care, especially in rural areas where patients tend to be older, sicker, and more geographically dispersed. Furthermore, Medicare patients in rural areas often lack alternative care options within their own communities. I will continue working to see that federal policies reflect the value of home care in Kansas communities, and I am grateful to partner with KHCA in this effort.
Celebrating National Entrepreneurs’ Day
Entrepreneurs have long been vital to the economic health and growth of America. Research from the Kauffman Foundation shows that new businesses accounted for nearly all net new jobs between 1980 and 2005. In fact, entrepreneurs and the businesses they start create 3 million jobs annually. On Tuesday, Senator Cory Booker and I introduced a Senate resolution to celebrate the contributions of American entrepreneurs and officially establish National Entrepreneurs’ Day as a federally recognized observance day. The Moran-Booker Senate resolution aims to have Congress recognize the third Tuesday of every November as National Entrepreneurs’ Day. This year, National Entrepreneurs’ Day is celebrated today, November 18. Devoting one day a year to celebrating the important role entrepreneurs play is a small step toward encouraging more Americans to be entrepreneurial and securing future economic success.
National Entrepreneurs’ Day was established in 2010 by David Hauser and Siamak Taghaddos, co-founders of Grasshopper, an organization that helps entrepreneurs to establish a phone system for their businesses, and Amir Tehrani, entrepreneur and co-founder of The Legacy Foundation, a non-partisan educational organization that promotes free enterprise. The group successfully petitioned President Obama to proclaim National Entrepreneurs’ Day as a holiday in 2010 and each year since. Please click here to read an op-ed authored by Senator Booker and me.
Congress Passes Moran-Jenkins Rural Health Legislation
On Thursday evening, the Senate passed H.R. 4067, legislation to prevent the federal government’s enforcement of unreasonable and inflexible direct supervision rules for outpatient therapy services in Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) and other small, rural hospitals in 2014. I introduced the original version of this bill, S. 1954, and it passed the Senate on February 10. Congresswoman Jenkins introduced an identical version of the bill in the House of Representatives and she advanced it to passage in the House on September 9. While this one-year enforcement delay is a positive development, I plan to introduce an updated version of the Protecting Access to Rural Therapy Services (PARTS) Act next year in the new Congress. The PARTS Act would address the therapy supervision issue on a permanent basis.
In 2009, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – the federal agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid – unexpectedly mandated new rules for “direct supervision” of outpatient therapeutic services, which include services such as drug infusions, blood transfusions, outpatient psychiatric services, wound debridement, and cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation. These new rules require that a supervising physician be physically present in the hospital department at all times when Medicare beneficiaries receive outpatient therapy services. Imposing an unrealistic and clinically unnecessary supervision policy jeopardizes patients’ access to important therapy services in their own communities. Many Kansas hospitals have had to consider cutting services for their patients or limiting hours of operation in order to comply with this inflexible regulation. H.R. 4067 prevents CMS’ enforcement of these rules so that a reasonable policy can be implemented that more adequately reflects the realities of providing care in rural areas. Click here to read more about this legislation.
Celebrating National Rural Health Day
Thursday was National Rural Health Day — a day to honor the community-minded spirit and dedication that prevails in Kansas and other parts of rural America. It also gives us a chance to recognize the unique health care challenges that rural Americans face, and to celebrate the individuals who rise to meet these challenges every day. In February, I introduced a bipartisan Senate resolution (S. Res. 26) recognizing the importance of access to health care in rural areas in Kansas and throughout our nation. Last week, I introduced an updated version of this resolution (S. Res. 588), which passed the Senate on National Rural Health Day. Click here to read more about this resolution.
Rural communities must deal with a number of health care challenges, including caring effectively for an aging population across wide areas, addressing medical workforce shortages, and covering high proportions of uninsured and underinsured patients. Due in large part to the effort, cooperation, and commitment it takes to confront such challenges, it is the selfless, resilient doctors, nurses, administrators, and other rural health providers that make up the foundation of these towns. In addition to the care these providers furnish to residents, they are also vital to their local economies as large employers in rural areas.
I commend the men and women working in these health care facilities for their tireless effort and dedication to the people they serve. We are grateful to you and your fellow health professionals who care for the 62 million individuals that call rural America home.
Welcoming New FHSU President
There is no more important decision for the future of Western Kansas than who leads Fort Hays State University. It was a real honor to attend the inauguration of their new President Dr. Mirta Martin at Gross Memorial Coliseum on Friday. Also in attendance were a number of state and local officials, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members who all came to celebrate the transition in leadership. Dr. Martin has made quite an impression on the FHSU community, and my expectation is her vision, charisma and experience will lead FHSU to many future successes and achievements.
My wife and Kansas Board of Regents Member, Robba, served on the selection committee and I was glad to join her in Hays to congratulate and support President Martin. Welcome “home” President Martin. And go Tigers!
Kansans in the Office
Marvin Boyles of Burr Oak
Gary Schuetz of Paxico
Larry Hendricks of Alma
Chuck Knapp of Topeka
Terry Force of Wheaton
Citizens Climate Lobby
Lynate Pettengill of Lawrence
Dairy Farmers Association
Dan Senestraro of Johnson
Farm Credit Ambassador Program
Dennis McNinch of Ness City
Paul Burdick of Wichita
Farm Journal Foundation
Joe Kejr of Salina
Lindy Bilberry of Garden City
Carrie Carlson of Lincolnville
Chance Hunley of Riverton
Cody Holliday of Soldier
Daryl Simmons of Barnard
Elizabeth Allen of Holton
Non-Powered Dams Conversion Program
Claudette Humphrey of Salina
Overland Park Chamber of Commerce
Tracey Osborne of Overland Park
Jeffrey Bell of Leawood
Ben McAnany of Overland Park
Society for Human Resource Management
Craig Ruhl of Manhattan
Darlene Lucas of Garden City
Stacey Moeder of Hutchinson
Tracy Clarke of Hutchinson
Makala Navarro of Wichita
St. Francis Xavier/Rockhurst University
Rebecca McKnight of Kansas City
Tom Bradshaw of Mission Hills
Emily Devore of Lyons
Corey Carnahan of Topeka
Sarah Carnahan of Topeka
Tate Flott of Topeka
Kathryn Flott of Topeka
Cinnemon Buie of Gardner
Skyler Buie of Gardner
Austin Buie of Gardner
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.
Very truly yours,
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