Kansas Common Sense
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.
I had the pleasure of visiting the impressive Kauffman Center for Performing Arts last night in Kansas City where my wife Robba accompanied the Kansas State University Choir’s concert event “Rhapsody.” This great event has raised more than $100,000 for the K-State scholarship fund over the past couple years and I am glad Robba and I had the chance to take part.
Chairing Agriculture Appropriations Hearing on Veterans in Agriculture
I chaired a Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing this week to learn more about the barriers facing veterans interested in farming, ranching and other careers in agriculture. The hearing featured former Fort Riley Garrison Commander and Vietnam Army veteran Gary LaGrange who testified at the hearing about the unique organization he leads – the Soldier Agricultural Vocational Education Program (SAVE). SAVE is a nonprofit organization based in Manhattan that provides transition assistance, training and behavioral health services on a training farm so that veterans may be equipped to farm on their own. As the average age of farmers approaches 60 and continues to trend upwards, SAVE also offers a unique solution to help establish a new generation of agricultural producers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison Lanon Baccam also testified at the hearing to detail what USDA is doing to reduce those barriers and what is needed from Congress to further advance the cause. I conveyed my appreciation to USDA for their willingness to assist in making certain veterans who have a desire to farm and ranch when they transition to civilian life have every opportunity to make their dream come true. I look forward to continuing to find ways to support SAVE and other efforts to assist veterans transitioning into agriculture.
Meeting with the Director of National Intelligence
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, it is critical to oversee the capabilities of our nation’s intelligence community and determine budgetary priorities in line with our national security strategy. This week I had the opportunity to meet with the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre in a classified session to address intelligence capabilities and the threats facing our country. The discussion was focused on the fiscal year 2017 funding request and budgetary justifications for the National Intelligence and Military Intelligence Programs, which will be prioritized based on the needs of the intel community and our subcommittee oversight.
It is vital that we maintain a robust intelligence capacity and force to deter aggression, shape security environments and win wars as our nation faces a variety of threats: Iran, the rise of ISIS, a resurgent Russia, the military build-up by China and an unpredictable North Korea are just a few. I will continue to work to address the budgetary requirements of our intel community so they can continue the important work they do in this ever-changing and dangerous world.
Advocating for Medical Research Funding
I questioned National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins in a Senate Appropriations Health Subcommittee on Thursday about the progress of research at NIH and how future funding will impact new discoveries. I asked specifically about the potential to improve lives through research on the connection between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease – about half of all people with Down syndrome will eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease. This connection may be a clue for NIH researchers in providing a better understanding of both conditions, benefitting those with Down syndrome as well as those suffering from Alzheimer’s.
I have been a strong advocate for scientific research and worked with my colleagues last year to allocate a budgetary increase for NIH to accelerate their important work. Given the vast amount of progress made and the great potential in current research, now is not the time for our nation to waiver on its commitment to advancing scientific research. Serving as Chairman of the Congressional Down Syndrome Task Force and having been a founding member of the Senate NIH Caucus, I will continue to work in the Senate to make certain that biomedical research, NIH and its allied agencies receive the necessary financial support that benefits Americans today and in the future. I was glad to be visited by a group of Kansas Ambassadors from the Alzheimer’s Association pictured below. To read an op-ed I wrote last month about medical research and Alzheimer’s disease, click here.
Filing an Amicus Brief Challenging Obama Administration’s Executive Actions
This week I joined a group of Senators to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court regarding United States of America v. State of Texas, a case against the Obama Administration’s unilateral actions to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. Kansas is a co-plaintiff in this important case. The Court’s decision will have important implications not just for immigration policy, but for the greater balance of power among the branches of government. The presidency must be restricted and directed by the will of the people expressed through law passed by Congress. To view the full text of the amicus brief, click here.
Speaking on the Floor about FAA Reauthorization
To emphasize to my colleagues the importance of strong bipartisan support for the long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), I spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. Reauthorization of the FAA is essential to protecting and improving accessible and efficient transportation options in both rural communities in Kansas and larger towns like Wichita, “The Air Capital of the World”.
I spoke about necessary reforms to the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, which improves the certification process for general aviation pilots. The bill also includes the bipartisan TSA Fairness Act, which requires the TSA to provide security and screening services for commercial air travelers at small airports such as Salina Regional Airport. Finally, the bill makes significant progress in providing fair safety standards for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) without hindering the innovative technological opportunities presented by this evolving industry.
Questioning TSA Administrator Neffenger
On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing entitled “Transportation Security: Protecting Passengers and Freight.” With Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator Peter Neffenger as the lone witness, the hearing focused on current transportation security efforts in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium. While aviation security screening efforts received significant attention, the hearing also addressed the agency’s role in helping secure potential vulnerabilities in passenger transit systems and our national freight network.
Following the hearing, I had the opportunity to meet personally with Administrator Neffenger in my office. Joining us were Executive Director of the Salina Airport Authority Tim Rogers and CEO of Great Lakes Airlines Doug Voss to discuss the issue of restoring TSA security screening services to Salina Regional Airport (KSLN). Great Lakes was scheduled to begin nonstop commercial service from Salina to Denver on April 1, 2016, but that service has been postponed indefinitely while KSLN awaits a commitment from TSA to provide federalized security screening. In addition to the obvious and legitimate safety concerns, no security screening prior to boarding in Salina would force air travelers to be shuttled to the main terminal security checkpoint – a significant time commitment that would routinely result in missed connections.
I am a cosponsor of Senate legislation S. 2549, the TSA Fairness Act, which would require TSA to provide federalized screening services at any U.S. airport that lost commercial service since 2013 and has a commitment from a commercial carrier to resume service, such as KSLN. Last month, I offered this legislation as an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization bill and it was successfully adopted. Last week, the full Senate began consideration of FAA Reauthorization and I look forward to the continued debate on this important legislation in the coming days.
Meeting with Leavenworth Representatives and Recognizing Army Day
I met with Leavenworth Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Bauder, Leavenworth City Manager Paul Kramer, and 27 Committee Director Dick Gibson on Tuesday. We discussed ongoing development in Leavenworth and local efforts to boost economic growth in the region. We also discussed the importance of U.S. Penitentiary Leavenworth and Fort Leavenworth to the communities they serve.
Wednesday was National Army Day, a day on which we honored all who serve or served our nation and reflect on the rich history of the U.S. Army. On that day in 1917, America declared war against Germany and the Central Powers, officially entering World War I. It was in the European theater of this war that graduates from what is now the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth first put to use their superior training – turning the tide of battle and driving our nation to victory. The critical mission of Intellectual Center of the Army will continue at Fort Leavenworth as it prepares to be the home of Army University, which will prepare our soldiers to handle to evolving threats facing our country. Thanks to members of the Fort Leavenworth community for what you do for the Army and the nation.
Working to Reduce Costs of Consumers Purchasing Automobiles
I participated in a Senate Banking Commitee hearing this week to examine the activities of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). While I am opposed to the CFPB’s current ability to operate with minimal Congressional oversight, I am particularly concerned about the CFPB’s guidelines on auto financing and the risk they pose to consumers purchasing vehicles. The CFPB issued this ‘guidance’ based on their assumption that they can reduce discriminatory lending practices by identifying minority borrowers based on what zip code they live in. Discrimination has no place in our economy and all borrowers have the right to equal protection under the law. The CFPB’s approach, however, did not provide an opportunity for public comment as to the best way to identify and eliminate discrimination in auto finance and fails to actually solve the problem. To address this concern, I have introduced S. 2663, the Reforming CFPB Indirect Auto Financing Guidance Act, a bill that directs the CFPB to follow the traditional rulemaking process to provide for more transparent, accountable and, most importantly, accurate pursuit of discriminatory practices. A companion bill to the one I introduced in the Senate recently passed the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 332-96, and I am hopeful that the Senate will be quick to take up my bill.
Speaking at KHCA Breakfast
I was happy to speak in front of the Kansas Home Care Association on Tuesday morning during their visit to Washington. Access to quality, affordable health care determines whether Kansans can remain in their homes and communities as they grow older. Home care and hospice services continue to play a larger role in caring for our aging society, and it is important to preserve access to these services for Kansans in the future. I will continue working to see that federal policies better reflect the value of this care and realities of the health care needs of Kansas communities. Thank you to the Kansas Home Care Association for inviting me to speak and for their partnership in these efforts.
Following Up on Rural Call Completion Problems
I heard testimony at a Federal Services & General Government Appropriations Subcommittee hearing this week from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai, a native of Parsons. The FCC oversees phone, internet, TV and radio services. My primary line of questioning addressed the problem of poor call completion in rural America. Far too often, telecommunication upgrades fail to focus on rural areas and this results in diminished phone service. After I first asked the FCC one year ago to track this problem and present quarterly reports of their findings, Chairman Wheeler reports that call completion issues are on the decline. Still, this remains a challenge for many Kansans who live in rural areas – if you’re having problems with call completion, click here to report it to the FCC so they can look in to the issue and improve service for you and your neighbors.
Now Accepting 2016 Service Academy Applications
Even as students are beginning their summer breaks, I want to remind them of the opportunity to apply to a United States Service Academy. Appointing Kansans to the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD; the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO.; and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, is one of my favorite duties as a U.S. Senator.
To find out the requirements and apply, please download an application from my website or contact my Olathe office. All application materials are due to my Olathe office by September 2, 2016. After applications have been reviewed, applicants will be notified of interviews with my Service Academy Selection Board, which will take place on Saturday, September 24, 2016, at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene.
Kansans in the Office
Food Recovery Network
Tom Anjard of Manhattan
Garrett Wilkinson of Manhattan
Christine Rock of Manhattan
Kansas State Council of Fire Fighters
Matt Jackson of Junction City
Bob Wing of Junction City
American Physical Therapy Association
Carolyn Bloom of Topeka
Marsha Lawrence of Stilwell
Stephanie Costello of Wichita
Jennifer Manahan of Wichita
Rebecca Hageman of Wichita
Bill Horton of Wichita
City of Leavenworth
Nancy Bauder of Leavenworth
Paul Kramer of Leavenworth
Dick Gibson of Leavenworth
National Association of Professional Background Screeners
Katie Hartley of Overland Park
Child Care Aware
Kim Engelman of Overland Park
Alecia Patrick of Overland Park
Cheryl Firsching of Wichita
Dean Olson of Kansas City
The Eisenhower Foundation
Meredith Sleichter of Abilene
Cynthia Hostetler of Manhattan
Salina Airport Authority
Tim Rogers of Salina
Randall Hrabe of Plainville
Tina Tickles-Dickel of Shawnee
Taylor Hutton of Wichita
Breana Jones of Wichita
Atchison Housing Authority
Sheryl Swendson of Atchison
JoAnn Sutton of Manhattan
Tina Lewis of Salina
Roxanne Mason of Leavenworth
American Educational Research Association
Stephen Benton of Manhattan
Kansas Bank Commissioner
Deryl Schuster of Topeka
Judi Stork of Topeka
Ken Torgler of Lenexa
James Hass of Salina
Scott Hatfield of Lenexa
American Diabetes Association
Marta Howell of Gardner
Aaron Murray of Kansas City
Kansas Commissioner of Education
Randy Watson of Coffeyville
Brad Neuenswander of Topeka
National Association of Professional Insurance Agents
Bob Shields of Oswego
Sue Peachey of Pratt
Trina Ciballos of Topeka
EREXCO/Trenton Agri Products
Charlie Wilson of Wichita
East Kansas Agri-Energy
Jeff Oestmann of Garnett
Karren Wichert of Topeka
Harmony Hines of Topeka
John Allred of Topeka
Kansas Home Care Association
Jane Kelly of Topeka
American Immigration Lawyers
Delmar Ferguson of Overland Park
Blanca Marin of Lawrence
Erika Jurado of Garden City
American Academy of Pediatrics
Marissa Love of Kansas City
Soldier Agricultural Vocational Education Program
Gary LaGrange of Manhattan
Family Advisory Council
Thelma Aldape of Topeka
Donna Yadrich of Kansas City
Kansas Association of Anesthetists
Jeff Glasgow of Lawrence
Sarah Cliff of Lawrence
Becky Lucke of Wichita
Ruth Morris of Overland Park
Michelle Harmon of Wichita
Scott Kunshek of Frontenac
Kendra Kunshek of Frontenac
Baron Kunshek of Frontenac
Strauss Kunshek of Frontenac
Patty Bergsten of Independence
Brian Bridges of Independence
Nora Butler of Independence
Judith Dillion of Independence
Gayleen Shelton-Sullivan of Independence
Patrick Delaney of Lenexa
Gerald Eytheson of Independence
Marilyn Eidson of Independence
Gary Griffiths of Clay Center
Sarah Griffiths of Clay Center
Tim Turcotte of Overland Park
Melanie Turcotte 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.
Very truly yours,
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