Kansas Common Sense
Apr 22 2013
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Flying at Half-Staff
Last week was difficult for all Americans. Tremendous loss of life, gross violence and terrorizing fear struck our nation from Boston to Washington, D.C. to Texas and elsewhere. Weeks like these, so catastrophic and sorrowful, can shake us to the core, but also unite us as Americans and remind us of what is most important in life. My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the events of last week, particularly those who have lost loved ones.
Our nation breathed a sigh of relief on Friday with the simple words “we got him.” I am incredibly grateful for the bravery, persistence and expertise of our law enforcement, military and intelligence officials who worked together seamlessly to make certain justice will be served for the victims of these senseless attacks.
I am confident our nation will heal, affected communities will rebuild, and justice will be served. I look forward to seeing our flag return to full-staff after such a trying week.
Reaction to Immigration Bill Introduction
With Wednesday’s introduction of the Gang of Eight’s Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, there is much talk about the 11 million undocumented immigrants. We must also remember the other 11 million – those 11.7 million Americans who are unemployed. As the debate moves forward, we must keep an eye toward how immigration reforms can help our economy grow.
Committed to a Common-Sense Approach to Gun Safety
As our nation looks for real and lasting solutions that will keep our children safe, it is essential that we focus on what works and be realistic about what doesn’t. One amendment I supported — the Grassley-Cruz Amendment — would improve the current background check system; enhance awareness, prevention and early detection of mental illness; supplement resources to address gun violence and school safety; and strengthen existing criminal law with gun trafficking statutes — all while protecting Americans’ Second Amendment rights. However, the amendment failed to garner the 60 votes required for adoption.
The other two amendments I supported, which were approved, would protect the private and personal information of law-abiding gun owners; reauthorize various programs designed to enhance awareness, prevention and early detection of mental health conditions; and provide targeted improvements to help states address the unique mental health care needs in their communities.
I voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment because under current law, licensed merchants are already required to conduct background checks on purchases. Engaging in the business of selling guns without a license is already a felony offense — even at gun shows. A Bureau of Justice Statistics Report, the most comprehensive of its kind, indicates that less than 1 percent of criminals obtain firearms from gun shows. The Manchin-Toomey proposal of expanding background checks to include those who trade and collect guns is a solution in search of a problem. Additionally, a widely-circulated Department of Justice memo states that universal background checks will not work without registering every single firearm in America, but a national registry is impractical and was absent from the amendment. The amendment also failed to reach the 60 votes required for adoption.
While the underlying bill, S. 649, did not have sufficient support to pass the Senate, it is worth our efforts to find workable, continued solutions. We can immediately start keeping our neighborhoods and communities safer by properly enforcing all of our existing gun laws. Criminals who misuse firearms should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I am committed to addressing the safety and concerns of Kansans. Thank you to the thousands of Kansans who contacted me regarding this issue.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing and Claim Backlog Announcement
This week began by attending the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing and listening to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and other VA officials discuss their goals for the upcoming year. I used this opportunity to question them on the understaffing of rural Community Based Outpatient Clinics and ask why Marriage and Family Therapists and Licensed Professional Counselors have not been more included in providing mental health care to our veterans. I also requested information on the progress of the proposed Department of Defense/VA joint hospital in Wichita between the Dole VA Medical Center and McConnell Air Force Base. These issues are crucial to the care of our nation’s heroes, and you can view the discussion here.
A step in the right direction was announced on Friday from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), who stated that they are responding to our concerns about claims backlogs and expediting the process for claims that have been held up for more than a year. It is absurd that veterans have been waiting for a year or more to have their claims processed, and I’m pleased to see the VA is finally taking action. I’ve heard countless stories from folks who wait months — and in some cases years — to have their claims make it through all the wickets of the VA, and I’m glad the message is being heard. To learn more, click here.
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing with FAA Administrator Huerta and FAA Furloughs
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development held a hearing with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta. I had the opportunity to question the Administration about disproportionately targeting FAA Contract Control Towers with sequestration cuts. Administrator Huerta responded that he did not have the authority to use unobligated funds to keep the towers open, but my amendment to the Continuing Resolution, which was blocked from being voted on and opposed by the Administration, would have given the FAA the authority use those unobligated funds. It baffles me as to why the Obama Administration fought this common sense, bipartisan effort. Click here to view me questioning with Administrator Huerta.
Additionally, I have introduced the Protect Our Skies Act, which now has more than 30 bipartisan cosponsors, and would prohibit the Department of Transportation (DOT) from closing any air traffic control towers during FY 2013 or 2014 including those that are operated by the FAA. I am committed to finding more responsible ways to cut spending than by compromising safety. The simple fact that the FAA was able to delay the closures until June shows that the agency’s financial state is not as dire as initially projected. Click here to learn more about the legislation.
After neglecting to mention it during the hearing on Thursday, Administrator Huerta announced that air traffic controller furloughs would begin Sunday and would force delays at airports across the country.
The Administration’s insistence on deliberately inconveniencing air travelers instead of prioritizing their safety falls right in line with its history of putting politics before common sense. They do have flexibility when it comes to sequestration. Savings can and should be found elsewhere, and the Senate stands ready to work with them on a bipartisan basis to find a solution, but they refuse to come to the table. I am again baffled by the Administration’s continued insistence on putting its top-line message – that we can’t cut a dime without severe consequences – before the safety and well-being of Americans.
Military Spouse Job Continuity Act
On Thursday, I introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation called the Military Spouse Job Continuity Act, which would help military spouses more easily re-enter the workforce by offering a tax credit to any military spouse who has to renew or transfer a professional license due to a military Change of Station order. Our men and women in uniform are only as strong as the families who support them, and military spouses deserve the opportunity to seamlessly transition employment and continue working in their licensed career fields when moving across state lines.
Approximately 85 percent of military spouses either work, or desire to work, outside the home and nearly 35 percent of these require licenses or certification. At the end of 2012, there were 27 states, including Kansas, that moved toward “state-to-state transfer of credentials” best practice legislation, made policy changes, or showed where the state has policy supporting the desired outcome. Last year, the Kansas Legislature passed a law expediting the process for military spouses currently licensed in another state. The Military Spouse Job Continuity Act makes certain that this kind of smooth transition is carried out across the country. Click here to learn more.
Questioning Secretary Duncan about Kansas Education Priorities
On Wednesday, I participated in a Senate Appropriations Labor-Health-Education Subcommittee hearing on the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request for the U.S. Department of Education. This was my first hearing as Ranking Member, which has jurisdiction over funding for all accounts at the Department. Secretary Arne Duncan was the witness at this hearing so it presented an opportunity to ask his perspective on a range of education issues important to Kansans.
The Administration’s budget requests a more than $3 billion increase compared to FY 2012 levels, yet it does not contain any increases for formula grant programs that Kansas schools rely on significantly, such as Title I, Special Education Grants to States, and Impact Aid that supports children of military service members in our state. I asked Sec. Duncan to explain the Administration’s rationale for increasing funds to new, unproven competitive grant programs while electing not to increase support for these existing formula grant programs, which are the primary source of federal education investments in Kansas. I also asked the Secretary to detail the Administration’s planned changes for student financial aid assistance, including new requirements and obligations of higher education institutions within this proposed new framework. Another request I had for the Secretary was to discuss the process the Department takes to make certain that schools within rural states like Kansas, which often have lower student enrollments and tighter administrative budgets, have the opportunity to effectively compete for resources related to Department initiatives, such as early childhood learning and TRIO programs that provide a variety of services to improve higher education opportunities for low-income individuals, veterans, and first-generation college students.
Finally, this hearing gave me the chance to reiterate my invitation to Sec. Duncan to join me in Kansas to visit McPherson Unified School District 418. Over the past several years, McPherson has worked to obtain to a waiver from certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act to implement an innovative, locally-designed plan to ensure its students learn the skills needed for success in higher education and the workplace. McPherson was the first school district in the country to earn this type of flexibility to go above and beyond to hold its students, teachers, administrators, and community to a higher standard of achievement. I think it would be very useful for the Secretary to see this innovative work taking place in Kansas without additional money or federal intervention. Click here to see video clips of my discussions with Sec. Duncan.
State of Veteran Entrepreneurship Roundtable
Veterans in Kansas, as well as across the country, face challenges when they return to the workforce after serving in the Armed Forces. While the VA often focuses on job training and employment, our veterans are also great businessmen and women. It’s important for them to have the opportunity to explore starting a business of their own, which is why I hosted a State of Veteran Entrepreneurship Roundtable with the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Thursday. It was an opportunity to highlight the success stories and insights of veterans who have lived the American Dream and established a business after serving their country.
Some of the topics we discussed touched on the state of existing federal government programs and the ability to conduct outreach to veterans and those still serving in the Armed Forces, ideas on how current programs may be improved to better support veteran entrepreneurs such as using post-9/11 GI Bill benefits toward a startup, and gaps or issues not being addressed by current programs such as mentoring networks that reach service members at the local level. Most of the participants were veterans themselves and engaged in a passionate and dynamic discussion, they include: Karl Monger, GallantFew Executive Director, Wichita, Kan.; Dali Rivera, Elite Revolutionary Solutions Owner; Blake Hall, TroopID Founder and CEO; Michele Markey, Kauffman Foundation FastTrac Vice President; Tak Lo, TechStars Associate; Rhett Jeppson, Small Business Administration Associate Administrator; and Davy Leghorn, National Economic Commission Assistant Director and The American Legion. Click here to learn more.
This spring I’ve had a great group of interns assisting me with legislative and administrative duties on behalf of the state of Kansas. Rachael DeGarmo of Valley Center, Nick Herrman of Holcomb, Dustin Morris of Wichita, and Mitch Rucker of Burdett are bright young Kansans who have been doing important work for Kansans and gaining valuable experience that will help them in the future.
Kansans interested in applying for U.S. Senate Internships in Washington, D.C., Hays, Manhattan, Pittsburg, Wichita or Olathe can learn more by visiting my website.
Doolittle Tokyo Raiders
This week, I cosponsored a Senate Resolution to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 1942 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders – a group of WWII pilots who have become an enduring model of courage and patriotism. The four surviving members were reuniting for the last time this week to mark the 70th Anniversary of their “extremely hazardous” bomber mission – which they volunteered for without knowing the target, location or assignment. Led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, the Raiders were forced to launch their airplanes 650 miles from their target. After hitting their military and industrial targets in Tokyo and five other cities, low on fuel and in setting night and deteriorating weather, all 16 airplanes were forced to crash-land in China or Russia. Of the eight Raiders who were captured, three were executed – including Sergeant Harold Spatz of Lebo, Kansas – one died of disease, and four returned home. A dormitory at McConnell AFB is named in Sergeant Spatz’s honor. Click here to learn more about the story of the Doolittle Raiders and their final reunion.
Shawnee Chamber After Hours
While home in Kansas, I had the opportunity to visit with Shawnee Chamber of Commerce members at an “after hours” event hosted by Weaver Auto Center, Inc. We discussed Congressional legislation and its effect on their businesses. I appreciate hearing their feedback before returning to Washington, D.C. Thank you to Jody and Tony Adams and John and Susan Weaver for hosting the event. Click here to see a photo.
Receiving the CEA Digital Patriots Award
On Wednesday evening, I joined executives and technologists for the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) annual Digital Patriots Dinner. CEA has been an important voice in explaining how technology and innovation can improve our society and solve some of our greatest challenges. This year, I was awarded the Digital Patriot Award for my support of entrepreneurship, job creation and innovation. I am grateful for the recognition and will continue my support for entrepreneurs who have had such a substantial impact on job creation. Thank you to CEA President and CEO, Gary Shapiro, for honoring me and inviting me to speak at the event. To view a video from CEA about the award, please click here.
In the Office
Last week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below:
American College of Surgeons
Tyler Hughes of McPherson
Joshua Broghammer of Fairway
National Association of Letter Carriers
Rod Holub of Manhattan
Academy of General Dentistry
Paul Hund of Leavenworth
National Pawnbrokers Association
Dave Crume of Wichita
Bruce Harris of Wichita
American Physical Therapy Association
Carolyn Bloom of Topeka
ABC Rent to Own
Jim Brown of Wichita
Debbie Brown of Derby
Golf Course Superintendents Association
Richard Konzem of Lawrence
Chava McKell of Lawrence
Jeff Bolug of Overland Park
Kansas Association of Nurse Anesthetists
Joe Conroy of Emporia
Ruth Morris of Overland Park
Kevin Alexander of Olathe
Ronda Brammer of Wichita
Amanda Galyardt of Lawrence
Kyle Nevills of Scott City
Alicia Wyatt of Rose Hill
North American Deer Farmers Association
Brett Niles of Lawrence
Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
Reverend Stevie Wakes of Kansas City
Molly Fleming-Pierre of Kansas City
Wendy Medina of Kansas City
Self-Insurance Institute of America
Matt Leming of Overland Park
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Reverend Gerald Mansholt of Shawnee
American Student Dental Association
Eve Lofthus of Overland Park
Kansas Small Business Development Center
Greg Panichello of Topeka
Tom Byler of Iola
American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
Douglas Fain of Stillwell
Matthew Lowe of Pittsburg
William Whitlow of Hutchinson
Kansas Council of the Military Officers Association of America
James Pittman of Lansing
Tony Pimentel of Wichita
National Association of Federally Impacted Schools
Keith Mispagel of Fort Leavenworth
American Beverage Association
Ron Hein of Topeka
Julie Hein of Topeka
Todd Roberts of Overland Park
Drew Heenan of Lenexa
Kevin Morris of Lenexa
Kansas Council on Development Disabilities
Steve Gieber of Topeka
Bill Story of Overland Park
Kansas Contractors Association
Bob Totten of Topeka
National PACE Association
Karren Weichert of Topeka
Greg Resler of Topeka
American Equity Life
Randy Yeisley of Wichita
Donald Wales of Prairie Village
Randy Matchke of Topeka
American Public Works Association
Andy Haney of Ottawa
Joab Ortiz of Kansas City
Vietnam Veterans of America
Ronald Zink of Tecumseh
Virginia Zink of Tecumseh
National Association of Professional Background Screeners
Steve Wolfe of Overland Park
Kansas Livestock Association
Mark Harms of Lincolnville
Jeff Sternberger of Ingalls
Frank Harper of Sedgwick
TJ Curtis of Cimarron
Mary Ann Kniebel of White City
Kevin Kniebel of White City
Mark Smith of Sharon Springs
Dee Likes of Topeka
Aaron Popelka of Topeka
Matt teagarden of Topeka
Kansas Bar Association
Lee Smithyman of Overland Park
Jordan Yochim of Topeka
Tom Hamill of Prairie Village
American Advertising Federation
Brian Bookwalter of Topeka
Jim French of Partridge
National Council of Teacher of English
Cindy Anderson of Overland Park
Michael A. Ragomo of Leawood
Youthfront and Mission Adelante
Kurt Rietema of Kansas City
Jason Schoff of Kansas City
Joshua Shepherd of Kansas City
Amber Booth of Kansas City
American Rental Association
Phillip Kelling of Kansas City
Lynne Kelling of Kansas City
Life Star of Kansas
Greg Hildebrand of Lawrence
Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association
John Arnold of Wichita
Hugh O’Reilly of Olathe
Farris Damian of Kansas City
Scott Redler of Wichita
Bill Goodlatte of Wichita
Michael Phipps of Wichita
Gene Suellentrop of Wichita
Ron Oberg of Wichita
Adam Mills of Wichita
American Wholesale Grocers of Association
Jimmy Holland of Kansas City
Jeff Pedersen of Kansas City
Jon McCormick of Kansas City
Kansas Bankers Association
Gary Yager of Topeka
Guy Meader of Waverly
Chuck Stones of Topeka
Mark Larrtbet of Prairie Village
John Boxer of Kingman
Federal Home Loan Bank
Pat Doran of Topeka
Eric Haar of Topeka
American Water Works Association/ water Environment Federation
Michael Armstrong of Olathe
Michael Orth of Olathe
Susan Pekarek of Olathe
Joe Foster of Olathe
DC Capitol Tour
George Simms of Shawnee
Paul and Brenda Baugh of Baxter Springs
Regina Schroeder of Manhattan
Steve and Brenn Beykirch of Pittsburg
Samantha Beykirch of Pittsburg
Lyndy and Marty Wells of Wichita
Todd and Claire Zehner of Overland Park
Richard and Donna Gerber of Pratt
Kendra Campbell of Abilene
Edith Campbell of Abilene
David and Melissa Mitchell of Kansas City
Dr. Vinton and Mrs. Beverly Arnett of Hays
Tom and Tina Albers of Hays
Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. In recent weeks, I’ve been listening to Kansans calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the debt crisis and big issues our country faces. Whether your thoughts are in the form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, please know that I am listening and I appreciate messages from Kansans who wish to make their voice heard.
Very truly yours,
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