Kansas Common Sense
Aug 10 2020
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Passing Landmark Veteran Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Legislation
On Wednesday, my landmark veteran mental health and suicide prevention legislation with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), S.785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act passed the U.S. Senate. This legislation will strengthen community organizations already providing support to veterans, bolster research efforts on brain and mental health conditions, expand upon telehealth partnerships to deliver better care to our veterans in rural areas, allow veterans to take advantage of emerging, complementary and integrative programs, and much more.
Sadly, our veterans continue to struggle with mental health, and through no fault of their own, this pandemic has led to more veterans being isolated from friends and family and cut off from lifesaving services. Now, more than ever, we need to invest into mental health services for veterans especially for those in hard-to-reach areas in rural America.
Commander Hannon, the bill’s namesake, believed in taking tangible actions to tackle big challenges, and that is exactly what this legislation will do for the care, treatment and support of America’s veterans. This bill is a comprehensive and aggressive approach to connect more veterans with mental health care, and I call on the House to quickly pass this bill and send it to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
My Sweeping Olympic Reform Legislation Unanimously Passes the Senate
On Tuesday, my sweeping Olympic reform legislation that I authored with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) unanimously passed the Senate. This legislation will implement reforms to protect and empower Olympic and amateur athletes.
On January 25, 2018, the day after Larry Nassar was sentenced to life in prison, I opened a Senate investigation as Chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over the health and safety of Olympic and amateur athletes into how USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and Michigan State University allowed girls and young women to be assaulted and abused for over two decades. The joint investigation included four committee hearings, hundreds of interviews Olympic athletes and survivors and the retrieval over 70,000 pages of documents. This bipartisan effort with Sen. Blumenthal culminated in the production of a comprehensive investigative report and S. 2330, the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act.
This week’s Senate passage of our legislation marks a critical step towards providing effective safeguards and protections to Olympic, Paralympic and amateur athletes pursuing the sports they love. We could not have passed this bill in the Senate without the input and guidance of the survivors – athletes who traveled to Washington countless times, shared their stories and demanded change.
We will continue working to get this bill across the finish line and signed into law - for the survivors and all of our nation’s future athletes.
Read more about my Olympic reform legislation here in ESPN.
Urban Outfitters to Add Up To 2,000 Jobs in Kansas
On Wednesday, I joined leaders in Kansas to announce that Urban Outfitters will be building a new 888,000-square-foot distribution center located next to the Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County. This partnership will create up to 2,000 new jobs in Kansas.
I was pleased to play a part in recruiting Urban Outfitters to Kansas, which will bring good-paying jobs to our state and be beneficial for both Urban Outfitters and the Kansas economy. I’m confident more businesses will continue to partner with our state as we work to bring more jobs and industries to Kansas.
Read more here in the Topeka-Capital Journal.
COVID-19 Phase IV Federal Relief Update
This weekend, I spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to discuss the COVID-19 Phase IV negotiations.
The first three federal relief packages included many provisions I would not support in ordinary circumstances, but hospitals needed supplies, small businesses needed loans, and folks who were out of work, through no fault of their own, needed relief. However, there are not enough government programs or borrowed dollars to keep this economy going, and we cannot continue spending trillions of dollars. Any additional federal relief needs to be focused on our health, with resources for more testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and vaccine development and distribution. We need to quickly come together on an agreement so that we are secure in our health and Kansans can get back to work and kids can safely return to school.
On Friday, I spoke with WIBW regarding the Phase IV negotiations. To read about our discussion, click here.
Condemning Destruction in Portland & Other Cities
Over the past several months, our nation has witnessed disturbing acts of destruction and lawlessness in cities such as Portland, Oregon that are far-flung from the peaceful protests our Constitution protects. I believe we must listen and learn from the Kansans and Americans who have or are still experiencing injustices to determine the right path forward and create a more perfect union. However, violent and destructive behavior is unacceptable and only undermines the ongoing efforts in this country to engage in important dialogue about social justice and police reform.
Introducing Comprehensive Veteran Benefits Legislation
On Thursday, I introduced legislation to improve various veteran benefits in multiple areas. I’m pleased to introduce this legislation, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020, which will expand education benefits for servicemembers and their families; improve veterans pension benefits; expand survivors benefits for the families of Medal of Honor recipients, our Guardsmen and Reservists; and enhance burial benefits for our servicemembers and veterans. I appreciate my colleagues in the Senate and House for including their provisions in this legislation that will support our veterans and their families in the years to come.
Urging Against Phosphate Fertilizers Tariffs for Kansas Ag
On Tuesday I led a group of senators in urging Chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission Jason Kearns and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to not impose tariffs on imported phosphate fertilizers from Morocco and Russia. About 85 percent of phosphate fertilizers imported into the United States each year come from Morocco and Russia. The proposed tariffs would limit Kansas farmers’ access to affordable fertilizers, and phosphate fertilizers are relied on to produce a variety of crops in Kansas, including corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat and sorghum. These tariffs would result in higher input costs for farmers already facing a downturn in the agriculture economy. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to protect Kansas farmers from unnecessary financial harm.
Questioning the FTC Regarding Data Privacy
On Wednesday, I questioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation regarding both domestic and international data privacy law. I asked FTC Chairman Joseph Simons whether businesses affected by a recent European Union (EU) court ruling which struck down the EU – US Privacy Shield can expect a reasonable approach from the FTC in terms of data privacy enforcement.
Privacy Shield was a framework for regulating exchanges of personal data for commercial purposes between the European bloc and the U.S. Many small or medium-sized businesses in Kansas utilized this framework for transatlantic commerce, and this ruling causes these companies great uncertainty. Commissioner Christine Wilson agreed with me that a preemptive federal privacy framework would assist the US government in reaching consensus with other governments when it comes to future data privacy agreements. The Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, which I introduced earlier this year would provide a uniform national standard that governs the collection, processing, and protection of consumers’ personal data. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Committee and the Senate to ensure that Americans’ data is secure and privacy is protected.
Supporting NIH Research
This week, I led a letter with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and 21 of our colleagues in support of funding for National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the next coronavirus package. NIH Director Francis Collins estimates that around $15 billion in federal research has been lost due to coronavirus safety precautions, keeping our researchers from their labs and halting important research. It is crucial that this research begin to move forward again in order to find new cures and treatments for diseases, bringing down costs on our health care system overall and improving the daily lives of our citizens who suffer from these diseases.
Leading the Senate VA Committee in Advancing 12 Veteran-Related Bills
This week, as chairman of the Senate VA Committee I convened a business meeting on legislation our committee has been working on for the last several months. We successfully passed 12 bills out of committee following six months of oversight and a dozen hearings and roundtables where we heard from veterans, veteran organizations and from the VA about how we can better serve our nation’s veterans.
We considered several pieces of legislation that would improve access to VA benefits for those exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances that were informed by a roundtable on toxic exposure I led earlier this year. We also advanced legislation that will help VA to better address the unique needs of women veterans when they access benefits or health care. My recent roundtable on women and minority veterans helped the committee in updating this legislation, as well as a bill aimed at expanding nursing home care for Native American veterans. Another bill our committee advanced expands VA’s ability to deliver care to rural veterans via telehealth. Serving rural veterans through innovative approaches like telehealth is one of my top priorities as Chairman, and I was pleased we were able to hold a hearing in July to hear from VA on their efforts to deliver expanded telehealth care.
I am proud of the work our VA Committee has been able to accomplish for veterans despite unprecedented national challenges and adapting to new ways of conducting business amid COVID-19. The bills considered represent a bipartisan list of priorities, and I look forward to our ongoing collaboration with my Senate colleagues to make certain they pass the full Senate.
Speaking with Dr. Roper Regarding Air Force Innovation
On Friday, I visited with Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. We spoke about how Kansas will factor into a number of on-going efforts in the Air Force. We started by discussing the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance program, which is seeking to develop the next generation of fighter aircraft. We also discussed the Air Force’s Agility Prime program, an innovative initiative that seeks to utilize the commercial unmanned flying vehicle market for military purposes, such as troop transports and logistics. I always enjoy my calls with Dr. Roper. He is a great fan of what Kansas has to offer for the future of aerospace and technology.
Visiting Saint Luke’s Rehabilitation Facility
On Monday, I toured the Saint Luke's Health System South Rehabilitation Hospital in Overland Park with Saint Luke's South CEO Bobby Olm-Shipman and many of the doctors, nurses and rehabilitation specialists on their staff. As chairman of the Senate VA Committee, it was also good to hear of the rehabilitation options that veterans in the area have access to at Saint Luke’s through the MISSION Act’s focus on community care. We also discussed the impact COVID-19 has had on their health system. Thank you to Mr. Olm-Shipman and the entire staff at St. Luke’s for their commitment to rehabilitation and caring for Kansans.
Connecting with the PRA Group in Hutchinson
On Friday, I met with PRA Group CEO Kevin Stevenson to discuss the necessary measures they took to ensure employees at their Hutchinson location were able to continue going in to work safely after the onset of COVID-19. Since establishing this call center in Hutchinson nearly two decades ago, the Hutchinson location has become one of their highest performing and fastest growing locations globally. This is a major testament to the work ethic of Kansans and I appreciate PRA Group’s dedication to its presence in our state.
Paying My Respects to Dick Bond
On Monday, I attended the funeral for former Kansas State Senator Dick Bond in Overland Park. Dick dedicated his life to service, including more than a decade in the Kansas State Senate. He worked diligently behind the scenes on behalf of Kansans for decades before running for office himself, demonstrating his dedication to Kansas. Our state is a better place because of his public service, and I am a better person because of his friendship.
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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