Kansas Common Sense
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Confirming Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court
This evening, the U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s judicial career on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and her conduct during the Senate Judiciary hearings demonstrates she will be a fair and impartial justice, who will uphold the law. She is the most impressive nominee I have interviewed and considered during my time in the Senate, and today I voted to secure her confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. I look forward to Justice Amy Coney Barrett taking her seat on the bench and protecting our constitutional freedoms and liberties.
President Trump Signs Bipartisan Bill To Designate 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Hotline
Last weekend, President Donald Trump signed S. 2661, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which I introduced with Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to designate 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. This pandemic has highlighted the need for modernized mental health and suicide prevention resources, and this easy-to-remember number will help connect callers in need of help with experts who can offer resources and hope to make it through a mental health crisis. Kansans and the entire country stand to benefit from increased access to critical suicide prevention and mental health services this dedicated nationwide hotline will offer. I commend President Trump for signing our legislation into law and will continue working with my Senate colleagues to ensure Americans have better access to mental health resources.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stated that the transition to 9-8-8 will happen by July 2022. During the transition to 9-8-8, Americans who need help should continue to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK).
I joined KSOK’s Brady Bauman, KMAN’s Dave Lewis and Brandon Peoples, and KSAL’s Jeff Garretson on air throughout this past week to highlight the significance of this bipartisan legislation to Kansas listeners across that state. We discussed how this bill will change the speed and efficiency in providing help to those contemplating suicide and give hope to potential victims that need life-saving counsel.
Questioning Amtrak President William Flynn Regarding Service Reductions
During a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing this week, I questioned Amtrak CEO and President William Flynn about Amtrak’s reduction from daily long-distance passenger services to triweekly services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is not the first time Amtrak has chosen to implement triweekly services and, as proven in 1994, the reduction of services fails to serve Americans and Amtrak operations at large. I have previously stated in conversations with Amtrak officials that Amtrak is designed to provide long-distance service across the country, like the Southwest Chief that runs across Kansas. The metrics of whether or not it should exist are not based upon whether or not Amtrak is profitable, and I continue to stand by that statement as Kansans struggle to find access to long-distance passenger routes and retain connectivity between routes.
Our work here is not done, and I will continue to raise this issue with my colleagues in the Senate as well as with Amtrak leadership to ensure that Amtrak’s reduction in transportation services will not set a precedent for how it will conduct its future service for America’s long distance passengers.
Examining the VA’s Progress Implementing the MISSION Act
Earlier this week, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) conducted a hearing examining the VA’s progress implementing Title I of the MISSION Act. This hearing was a follow-up to SVAC’s February hearing on the MISSION Act’s Community Care Network (CCN); it also focused on the recent expansion of the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC). Though the VA declined to participate, committee members heard from Third Party Administrators (TPAs) who are in charge of recruiting and coordinating with private community providers to ensure veterans’ access to care in the community, as well as from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation concerning VA’s progress in implementing these program changes.
During the hearing, I pushed the TPAs to build their networks in line with MISSION access standards to make certain that rural veterans have adequate access to care in their communities. As evidenced by Jennie Baller’s testimony during the hearing, who is her veteran husband’s primary source of care, we must make certain caregivers have access to critical resources to support them in their caregiving responsibilities to help alleviate some of the mental and physical strain that comes with this enormous and unexpected responsibility. Both TPAs assured SVAC that they are building towards this goal. While the TPAs are taking a step in the right direction, the VA must enshrine the MISSION Act’s access standards in the contracts to ensure the TPAs build a truly robust network of providers.
As the VA implements key provisions of the MISSION Act, it is important that the committee conducts careful oversight to ensure MISSION’s ultimate success. I remain committed to working with my colleagues in the Senate and the VA to make certain that our veterans and those that care for them have access to the care and support system they need.
Advancing PTSD Treatment through U.S-Israeli Collaborative Research
This week, I introduced a bipartisan bill with three of my Senate colleagues to advance post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) research and treatments. The United States-Israel PTSD Collaborative Research Act will establish a grant program for joint research between the United States and Israel so that the world’s leading scientists in both countries may discover new and innovative ways to identify and treat this disorder. Passing this legislation will allow American and Israeli scientists to work with the Departments of Defense, Veterans’ Affairs and the State Department to reach groups of people who are vulnerable to PTSD. To date, the global medical community’s research has illuminated our understanding of how to treat PTSD; however, there is still much to learn. This bill will result in research that improves people’s lives, as well as their understanding of this oftentimes undiagnosed disorder, particularly those who have experienced traumatic events in the military or in law enforcement and those who have been personally affected by violence.
As chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I take treating PTSD seriously. The lives of those touched by trauma and violence should receive proper care to help them cope and recover from this disorder.
Discussing Boeing 737 Recertification with FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson
I spoke virtually this week with Federal Aviation Administrator (FAA) Stephen Dickson about the recertification of Boeing’s 737 MAX. The tragic accidents of 2018’s Lion Air Flight 610 and 2019’s Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 are unacceptable, resulting in hundreds of senseless and preventable deaths. Since these incidents, the FAA has prioritized the safety of pilots and passengers throughout its recertification process and airworthiness directive that will mandate a number of design changes to the Boeing 737 MAX before it recommences passenger service. I agreed with the administrator and shared how this plane’s recertification would provide vital aid to Kansas aviation manufacturers during this pandemic. We also discussed the remaining steps towards ensuring the Boeing 737 is safely recertified before returning to the skies.
Accepting the Memorial Chisholm Trail Champion Award
This week, I participated in a virtual Chisolm Trail Association conference championing the rich legacy of this historic trail. The Chisolm Trail was a major route for longhorn cattle entering Kansas from Texas following the end of the Civil War, and we celebrate it as one of the great cattle trails of the 19th century and for its significance to Kansas’ cattle history. Along with Congressman Ron Estes, I accepted the inaugural Robert L. Klemme Memorial Chisholm Trail Champion Award, named in honor of the late Bob Klemme of Enid, Oklahoma who was an ardent advocate of this historic cattle trail.
Thank you to Ron Wilson for moderating the event and to all of those who attended, as well as to the International Chisholm Trail Association for honoring me with this award.
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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