Kansas Common Sense
Kansas Common Sense - Visiting Guantánamo Bay
Mar 07 2016
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. Robba and I were saddened to learn about the passing of Nancy Reagan — may she rest in peace.
Visit to the Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
I had the opportunity to visit the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Joint Task Force that oversees the detainee detention facilities on Monday with Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana. My goal was to gain a better understanding of the operations at GITMO to thoroughly examine the administration’s plan and illegal attempts to close the facility and move detainees to the United States.
Rear Admiral Peter Clarke and his Joint Task Force Team provided unfiltered, firsthand explanations of the detention facility operations on the ground – I was grateful for their willingness to go into great detail. From the moment we arrived, it was clear to me that the administration’s persistence to close GITMO has an impact on the individuals who serve our nation guarding the detention facility. Every time the president talks about closing GITMO, threatens an executive order, and, most recently, sent the framework of a plan to Congress lacking real details, it has a direct impact on the morale of our service members about the future of their mission. The facilities themselves and the way the facilities are operated are considered some of the best in the world. They are safe, secure and our military carries out their guard duties with the highest degree of professionalism.
I found the Marines, Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers, Coast Guardsmen and civilians incredibly proud to serve their country in this vital mission. Those we met on the ground at JTF Guantanamo, including several Kansans, are fully committed to serving and protecting our country and I was honored to meet with them. I continue oppose the administration’s plan to close GTMO and remain committed to blocking the transfer of Guantanamo detainees anywhere in the United States, especially Fort Leavenworth.
Supporting Educational Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems
This week, along with U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), I introduced the Higher Education UAS Modernization Act (S. 2626). This bipartisan legislation would pave the way for higher education institutions to operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for research, educational purposes and workforce development. While the UAS industry has become one of the fastest growing in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) regulations have failed to keep up and are stifling innovation and job creation. By allowing our universities to create cutting-edge student curricula and train the next generation of UAS pilots, we can ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of this vital and valuable industry. I am grateful to represent the “Air Capital of the World” and am especially proud of the tremendous leadership our state’s universities have shown in developing best-in-class UAS programs and pioneering what is possible. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the U.S. Senate to pass this important legislation. Click here to learn more.
Difficult Times for Farmers and Ranchers
As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I hosted a roundtable discussion this week on the state of the U.S. farm economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), net farm income fell by an estimated 54 percent from 2013 to 2015. In 2016, it is projected that farm income will continue to decrease due to sustained low commodity prices. The effects of tough economic conditions in agriculture are felt throughout the rural economy and in small communities across Kansas. Young producers, who we are counting on to be the next generation of farmers and ranchers, are especially vulnerable during extended periods of low prices.
The Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee oversees the budget and operations within the USDA and Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The roundtable discussion with leading agricultural economists allowed us to gain a clear-eyed understanding of the economic conditions of rural America as we craft this year’s agricultural appropriations bill. The event followed the annual Agricultural Outlook Forum hosted by the USDA last week. I appreciate the agricultural economists who were able to participate in the conversation: Dr. Robert Johansson, USDA Chief Economist, Dr. Nathan Kauffman, Assistant Vice President and Omaha Branch Executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and Dr. Patrick Westhoff, Director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI).
Hearing on FDA Budget
I chaired a hearing this week in the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to review the budget request of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The hearing featured the newly confirmed FDA Commissioner, Dr. Robert Califf. The FDA plays a key role in advancing public health innovations, including the development of new medicines, medical devices and food safety initiatives. I questioned Dr. Califf on the agency’s ongoing implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), an effort to better prevent foodborne illnesses and contamination. I have urged the FDA to implement the new food safety rules and guidance in a way that promotes production and handling practices that help keep our food supply safe for consumers. At the same time, it is important the agency take a commonsense approach that does not create new bureaucracy or unnecessary burdens that harm food producers in our country.
I also encouraged Dr. Califf to fill the recently vacated position of director of the Center for Veterinarian Medicine (CVM) with a practicing veterinarian. The CVM plays a critical role in protecting animal health by approving new animal drugs, monitoring the safety of the drugs, and making certain feed additives are safe for both animal and human health. It is important the new director of the CVM has in-depth knowledge of the animal health industry and is motivated by science and real world application of animal health practices, and in my view a practicing veterinarian best fits that role.
Legislation for Safer Underground Storage of Gas in Kansas
I was pleased to see the U.S. Senate unanimously pass the SAFE PIPES Act (S. 2276). The legislation includes a provision that instructs the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to develop underground natural gas storage standards to keep Kansans and Americans safe. The development of standards for natural gas storage facilities is long overdue. The provision included in S. 2276 is a positive step toward ensuring the integrity of our energy infrastructure system and is a common-sense way to add additional safety measures for Kansans and all Americans. I am thankful my Senate colleagues share my commitment to emphasizing safety, and I am hopeful this issue will be addressed by the House of Representatives very soon. Click here to learn more.
Addressing the Need for More Spectrum
As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I voted to advance a bill from committee that will improve how Kansans connect to the world wirelessly. The bill seeks to free up more room on the airwaves used by our cell phones and tablets to transmit data and complete calls– hopefully resulting in better service and an improved mobile experience. While we can’t create “new” spectrum, we can take steps to use what we have more efficiently. We are also trying to make it easier for companies to build the infrastructure that carries all of our calls and Internet traffic.
I was particularly pleased that the legislation included an amendment I introduced to make certain that more “unlicensed spectrum” is a part of that mobile future. We use unlicensed spectrum most commonly for “Wi-Fi,” but it facilitates a host of other amazing things. Click here to read an editorial I wrote that discusses this subject in depth.
Congratulations to the Flint Hills Region for Nationwide Recognition
The Association of Defense Communities began an annual awards program this year to recognize the defense communities around the nation that provide invaluable support to our nation’s military installations. As the co-chair of the Senate Defense Communities Caucus, I am pleased that the Flint Hills Region – including Chase, Geary, Lyon, Morris, Riley, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties and/or their respective municipalities and unincorporated areas – have been recognized in the inaugural class of Great American Defense Communities. These communities offer incredible support to the soldiers and their families serving at Fort Riley, and this recognition is well deserved. I am proud we have such strong, caring communities being recognized for their Kansas values.
Shawnee Mission North High School Visit
On Friday, I visited Shawnee Mission North High School. I was able to visit with students and educators to share a discussion about the important work being done each day to prepare our children in Kansas for their future. They also shared some of their concerns with recent funding changes and how that may have a big impact on students at Shawnee Mission North in the future. I was able see the school’s theater, and observe biology and history classes. I also learned more about the International Baccalaureate Program, which is an internationally recognized, diploma-granting program that was established at Shawnee Mission North in 2012. I particularly enjoy visiting with high school students because that was the time when I discovered my own interest in government and history. Thanks again to Associate Principals Chris Zuck, Annette Gonzales, and Brock Wenciker, and student ambassadors Ali Patterson, Quinton Jones, and Corey Goodburn, as well as School Board President Sara Goodburn for hosting my visit.
Bayer Animal Health Visit
After my tour of Shawnee Mission North, I headed west to Shawnee to visit Bayer Animal Health. Bayer’s Animal Health division develops innovative tools for veterinarians, farmers, ranchers, and pet owners to enable them to better care for the health and well-being of their animals. Bayer is also a leader in research and development in the control of disease transmission between humans and animals.
During my visit we discussed regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other federal agencies, and their impact on Bayer’s Animal Health business. The opportunity to visit and learn more about Bayer’s role in animal health is especially important as I serve as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over the FDA.
The existence of the Animal Health Corridor in Kansas and the region also makes my visit with Bayer leadership and researchers especially helpful. One of my priorities as a United States Senator is to make sure that Kansas kids who enjoy science, mathematics, and technology have the opportunity to pursue careers in those fields here in our state, and Bayer's presence in Shawnee helps significantly in that effort. I was pleased to learn about opportunities Bayer offers to area high school students to explore careers in research.
Thanks to Bayer Animal Health Senior Vice President Ian Spinks, Director of Tech Development Jochem Rueter, and Communications Manager Lauren Dorsch for hosting my visit. Thanks also to Shawnee Chamber President and CEO Linda Leeper for joining me on the tour.
Overland Park Kiwanis Club
Back in Kansas for the weekend, I served as the program for the Overland Park Kiwanis Club who meets at Denny's on 104th & Metcalf. The food was great and I appreciated our waitress, Nancy, introducing me to her other customers at the restaurant. After a week in Washington, I appreciated hearing directly from Kansans about the issues important to them. Thanks to all for visiting with me.
Kansans in the Office
Holly Fritch of Leawood
David Smith of Lawrence
Sarah Mountford of Leawood
American Veterinary Medical Association
Laurel Thomas of Leawood
Society of Health and Physical Educators
Arianne Seidl of Louisburg
Claudia Welch of Topeka
Wendy Scholten of Olathe
Job Corps Center
Mario Morales of Manhattan
Johnny Taylor of Manhattan
Xavier Gerdes of Manhattan
Trayvon Jones of Manhattan
Infectious Diseases Society of America
Tom Moore of Wichita
Joan Moore of Wichita
Kathy Ford of Lawrence
Archie Macias of Udall
Peter Smith of Lawrence
Marie Censoptmo of Atchison
Vin Zachariah of Atchison
Tammy Beckham of Manhattan
Bruce Schultz of Wamego
American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
Doug Story of Pittsburg
Casey Harbour of Wichita
Gracie Van Bralau of Pittsburg
Mennonite Central Committee
Erica Littlewolf of Elbing
Dominique Chaw of Hesston
Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges
Tammy Beckham of Manhattan
Bruce Schultz of Manhattan
Dana Vanlandingham of Manhattan
Midwest Assistance Program
Gary Smith of Topeka
MOARC and Kansas City Industrial Council
Mike Lally of Overland Park
Scott Brown of Fairway
Boyd Nolen of Kansas City
Melissa Mundt of Kansas City
Rare Disease Legislative Advocates
Nicole Harr of Overland Park
Eden Lord of Overland Park
Alliance for Aging Research
Tammy Beckham of Manhattan
Jarrod Bartlett of Wichita
Angel Capital Association
Marianne Hudson of Overland Park
National Fragile X Foundation
Jean James of Overland Park
Jeremiah James of Overland Park
Lisa Lawrence of Olathe
James Stack of Olathe
Brooke Stack of Olathe
Audrey Hill of Leavenworth
Tim Van Zandt of Garnett
Food Marketing Institute
Jimmy Holland of Kansas City
State Department YES Program
Syed Haseeb Ali-Pakistan of Newton
Kansas Humanities Council
Julie Mulvihill of Topeka
Aaron Otto of Roeland Park
Tony Brown of Baldwin City
Scott Gates of Lawrence
Interfaith Working Group on Foreign Assistance
Alan Barkema of Lenexa
Lee Wheeler of Heston
Caela Simmons Wood of Manhattan
Alan Barkema of Lenexa
Michael Herbert of Wichita
Sarah Patterson of Wichita
Big XII Student Government
Annie Jewell of Manhattan
Jessie Pringle of Lawrence
Stephon Alcorn of Gardner
Joe Tinker of Overland Park
Andy Hurting of Wichita
Brodie Herrman of Manhattan
Amy Dublinske of Olathe
Dalton Dublinske of Olathe
School Nutrition Association of Kansas
Cindy Jones of Olathe
Glenda Johnston of Gardner
Lynelle Munn of Olathe
Carly Coltret of Olathe
Allsha Gupta of Olathe
Cheryl Johnson of Topeka
Andy Pollom Topeka
Gary Shorman of Hays
Mike Shorman of Hays
Kansas State Fraternal Order of Police
Ken Gorman of Topeka
Chet Pinkston of Wichita
Mark Bundy of Kansas City
Scott Kirkpatrick of Kansas City
Customized Logistics and Delivery Assistance
Larry Pfeiffer of Mission Hills
Randy Tuggle of Kansas City
Kansas NSF EPSCoR
Kristin Bowman-James of Lawrence
Doug Byers of Lawrence
Dallas Love of Derby
JT Plummer of Logan
Thomas Hutton of Gardner
Bob Teetsel of Kansas
Charley Shoemaker of Lansing
National Association for the Education of Young Children
Deb Crowl of Emporia
Kasey Kile of Manhattan
Tara Glanton of Lawrence
Kansas Psychological Association
Jeremy Stevenson of Kansas City
Dan Wise of Kansas City
Teresa Coddington of Kansas City
The University of Kansas Hospital
Reagan Cussimanio of Olathe
Great Plains Association for College Admission Counseling
Tara Lebar of Overland Park
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.
Very truly yours,
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