Kansas Common Sense
Nov 02 2020
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.
Participating in the General Election
As Americans, one of the most fundamental elements of our system of government, and at the foundation of who we are as a nation, is the ability and freedom to vote in our elections.
Tomorrow, people across the state and country will head to the polls to make their voices heard in the 2020 general elections and many already have through early or mail-in voting options. I encourage all Kansans who haven’t yet voted to do so tomorrow. Voting in this election looks different than in years past, and Kansans must take necessary precautions to exercise their right to vote while also keeping themselves and their fellow Americans safe.
If you are voting in person, please take precautions to keep you and your families safe: this means wearing a mask, as well as maintaining proper social distancing in any lines and while at your polling station. To look up your polling location and find more information about the election, click here.
Sweeping Olympics Reform Legislation Signed into Law by the President
I am pleased to announce that President Trump signed my sweeping Olympic reform legislation into law this past week. The Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act codifies critical changes and effective safeguards that will protect future generations of our Olympic, Paralympic and amateur athletes. I introduced this bill last July with my colleague, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), following an eighteen-month investigation into the systemic abuse occurring within the U.S. Olympic movement. The joint investigation was launched the day after Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison and included four subcommittee hearings, interviews with Olympic athletes and survivors, and the retrieval of over 70,000 pages of documents.
Young athletes across this country dedicate years, oftentimes decades, of their lives to earn their spot on the world stage, representing the United States at the Olympics. As they compete at a global level, and as they stand on that podium, American athletes should be proud of the countless hours of hard work that earned them that spot. But no athlete, whether an amateur athlete or an Olympian, should have to endure abuse and mistreatment to pursue the sport they love.
This law would not be possible were it not for the athletes and courageous survivors who traveled to Washington, shared their stories and demanded change so that future generations of athletes can train, compete and succeed without fear of abuse. I am grateful to my colleagues, athlete advocates and the many survivors who helped create and advocate for the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act to bring about change in the Olympic movement. We promised the survivors that we would get this bill across the finish line, and we did. However, our work here is not complete. I will continue to make certain that this law is implemented to its fullest extent and continue to hold accountable the institutions that have the responsibility to keep our athletes safe.
Questioning Big Tech CEOs on Data Privacy & Content Moderation
On Wednesday, as a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, I participated in a full committee hearing focused on liability protections that shield internet platforms from lawsuits based on content produced by outside users. These protections are afforded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and this hearing covered the statute’s effects on the internet economy as a whole while evaluating ways to address conservative bias sometimes employed by internet platforms and services, including by measures that would increase the transparency and accountability of these technology companies. Section 230, now decades old, provides internet companies with liability protection for content hosted on their websites, and several lawmakers on either side of the aisle have called for reforming the law. I specifically questioned the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google about their content moderation and data privacy practices.
During my questioning, I asked Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Google’s Sundar Pichai about the resources their companies spend on content moderation and associated legal costs, and whether their costs would be higher without Section 230. While last week’s hearing was about big tech, we must also consider the impact on small businesses when discussing the cost of monitoring content. We must make certain small businesses can continue to operate in this growing environment of big tech, so that these companies do not create costly barriers to entry into the marketplace, which would further entrench large internet companies.
As chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I also discussed key provisions of my legislation concerning consumer data privacy, the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, intended to strengthen the federal laws that govern consumers’ personal data and create clear standards and regulations for American businesses that collect, process and use consumers’ personally identifiable data. Each of these companies participating in the hearing have had serious allegations raised against them related to the data collection and processing practices in the past, and I used the opportunity to ask them critical questions on jurisdictional scope and enforcement of federal privacy legislation. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to monitor the behavior and practices of these tech conglomerates, especially as the scope and functions of the internet, as well as big tech and its providers, continue to rapidly evolve.
To watch my questioning, click here.
Meeting with FCC Nominee Nathan Simington
This week, I met with nominee to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Nathan Simington. We discussed a range of issues, primarily focusing on the importance of broadband in rural communities across Kansas and the regulatory and spectrum recourse needed for 5G deployment. The FCC has a number of programs and initiatives focused on working to close the divide between rural and urban areas when it comes to broadband availability, particularly the Universal Service Fund’s High-Cost Program. This program is designed to ensure that consumers in rural areas have access to modern communications networks at rates that are comparable to those in urban areas. I emphasized the critical nature of ensuring rural areas of our state have access to quality broadband service, and I look forward to asking the nominee more questions related to his commitments to address the digital divide in rural Kansas in his future nominations hearing. I will continue to work so that rural communities across the state have adequate access to the internet access they need, especially as COVID-19 has created a new reliance on stable internet and broadband connection.
Discussing the Impact of COVID-19 on College Campuses
This week, I met virtually with school presidents of the Kansas Independent College Association, representing 17 Kansas private colleges, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on their campuses. As colleges continue to implement safety plans and precautions across their campuses and in in their classrooms and lecture halls, we discussed the plans regarding keeping students safe while also continuing their education. The Kansas Independent College Association’s resilience in the face of this difficulty is commendable, and I appreciate their responsible approach to combatting coronavirus as classes continue, even as it faces additional financial difficulty due to the Kansas SPARK Taskforce withholding federal funding intended to assist schools like these during the pandemic.
I will work to ensure that these schools have the resources necessary in the future, including testing capacity and access to necessary PPE, so that they may continue to offer educational opportunities to Kansas students. Thanks to Association President Matt Lindsey for allowing me to join this call.
Welcoming American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford to Kansas
This week, I was pleased to welcome American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford from North Carolina to Wichita at Richard Gilbert Post #256. Commander Oxford has served at every level of the Legion and has been a member of America’s largest veterans’ organization since 1986. This event concluded his three-day tour of American Legion posts throughout Kansas, and I enjoyed hearing about his time visiting the state.
As chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I appreciate Commander Oxford’s partnership on many important priorities, including the landmark veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention legislation signed into law this month. Special thanks to Allen Leffew, Commander of Richard Gilbert Post #256 and his team for being such gracious hosts. Thanks also to Kansas Department Commander Mary Krupco of Topeka for her leadership.
Joining the Pittsburg Kiwanis
This week, I joined the Kiwanis Club of Pittsburg for their weekly meeting. During our meeting, we discussed my work as chairman of the Senate VA Committee, election security, the need to focus on testing, vaccinations and health-related items in the next stimulus and the hearing I participated in this week regarding data privacy and censoring by companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google. My work in the Senate is to ensure that our close-knit Kansas communities thrive, and I appreciate the feedback I receive when I meet with Kansans. I want to extend my thanks to President Whitnie Anderson for hosting me.
Assessing Pittsburg’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Needs
While in Pittsburg, I also met with city officials regarding the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant. The current facility has reached its service life and the city administration has been researching financing options to avoid ratepayers having to be burdened with the costs associated with a new treatment plant. The project is necessary due to projected economic growth and housing development in the community, as well as to meet EPA requirements in the future. I shared federal agency resources for the group to consider as they move forward. I want to thank City Manager Daron Hall, Deputy City Manager Jay Byers, Utilities Director Matt Bacon, Housing and Community Development Director Quentin Holmes, Chamber of Commerce President Blake Benson and Ed McKechnie for the discussion.
Learning More about Chanute Manufacturing
During my time in southeast Kansas, I was able to visit Chanute Manufacturing to learn more about this facility’s manufacturing process. Operating in Neosho County for over 40 years, Chanute Manufacturing produces engineered replacement pressure parts for gas and solid fuel fired utility generation along with contract fabrication of steam generation pressure parts, specialty boilers and related industrial products. Chanute Manufacturing is a leader in their industry and an asset to the Chanute community. I was pleased to see how this local manufacturer provides the community with job opportunities, as well as how the company works with local and state entities to provide apprenticeships for the next generation of Kansas manufactures. Thanks to Chanute Manufacturing CEO Dustin Stanley, Plant Manager Nathan Harbin, Chanute Regional Development Authority Director Matt Godinez and Chanute City Manager Todd Newman, as well as Chanute Chamber Director Jane Brophy for their time.
Discussing PTSD Treatment and VA Telehealth with Kansas Health Officials
I joined regional VA officials this week, including VISN 15 Director Dr. William Patterson, to visit the recently opened Lt. Gen. Richard J. Seitz Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Junction City. I spoke with staff that provide care to our local veterans, and we discussed the use of telehealth and how they have adapted during COVID-19.
We also visited Katie’s Way in Manhattan to discuss the facility’s deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (dTMS) therapy that is used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am hopeful that this visit will create stronger connections between the VA and more treatment opportunities for veterans who suffer from PTSD. The lives of those touched by trauma and violence should receive proper care to help them cope and recover from this disorder. Thank you to the Katie’s Way team for hosting us and Dr. William Patterson, Eastern Kansas Health Care System Director Mr. Rudy Klopfer, VAEK’s Chief of Staff Dr. Michael Leeson and Physician Dr. Lee Duong for joining us. Also, thank you to Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Art DeGroat from K-State for attending.
Manhattan Regional Airport
Over the weekend, I met with Manhattan Regional Airport Manager Jesse Romo along with Manhattan city officials to discuss the recent federal resources it has received in order to support the reconstruction of the airport runway, as well as funding from the CARES Act that is helping to support the airport while travel rates remain low as a result of COVID-19. This airport is not only important to the Manhattan community and K-State, but also to Fort Riley, and I appreciated our discussion of how it is a vital piece of the region’s economic development, and helps provide the Manhattan region with efficient access to the rest of the country.
Currently, many airports across Kansas are struggling due to COVID-19. I will continue to look for ways I can support them though the pandemic. Thank you to Jesse for the conversation, as well as City Manager Ron Fehr, Riley County Commissioner John Ford, City Commissioner Usha Reddi and George Kandt with the Chamber of Commerce for joining us.
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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