Kansas Common Sense
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Remembering the Life and Legacy of Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, Friend and Agricultural Titan
On Friday morning, the Manhattan, K-State and Kansas community gathered to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, an agricultural titan in Kansas and around the country, and one of the most empathetic men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He cared about every student that walked through his classroom doors, and the care he showed for so many was as uncommon as it was inspiring.
Like all who were lucky enough to know him or learn from him, I was deeply affected by Dr. Flinchbaugh’s passing last November. This ceremony provided a beautiful moment to come together to honor his life as a trusted mentor to many and as a leader to the community. I respected and loved him, and his presence in my life made me a better person.
It is hard to put into words the impact Dr. Flinchbaugh had on those he taught or the generations of people who will benefit from his presence in ag policy. During my time in Congress, many of his former students have come to work on my team – 15 staff members and numerous interns – to serve Kansans and make the best decisions for our great state and country. He didn’t just teach ag policy, he taught rural leaders, and he gave his students the ability to think critically about what was important to them.
I was honored to be a part of Friday’s ceremony and feel the impact he had on everyone sitting in attendance. I am thinking of his wife, Cathy, his son, James and his daughter, Katie. Kansans will never know another Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, but we will feel his influence for generations to come.
Honoring Father Emil J. Kapaun and His Return Home to Kansas
Attending Father Kapaun’s Burial Mass
Following the identification of his remains 70 years after his death, I had the honor to attend the funeral Mass of Father Emil J. Kapaun on Wednesday
Father Kapaun’s story is one that is well-known in Kansas. He was born in Pilsen in 1916 and served as a Catholic priest before volunteering for the Army and serving as a chaplain in the Korean War. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in the Battle of Unsan, where he was taken prisoner, but escaped to steal food from nearby farms to bring back to starving prisoners. He cared for the sick and injured and saved hundreds of lives on the battlefield and in prison camps prior to his death while a prisoner in May 1951.
I joined thousands of others in Hartman Arena and more watching from around the world to pay respects to a war hero and Servant of God, whose life continues to inspire. From Bishop Carl Kemme’s moving homily to the powerful testimony given by Mike Dowe, a P.O.W. who served with Father Kapaun, the chaplain’s humility and belief in God, country, and his fellow man was emphasized and offered a reminder to all listening what makes a good servant. At the request of Ray Kapaun, Father Kapaun’s nephew, we sang “America the Beautiful” to conclude the Mass. It was a fitting way to end welcoming home this Medal of Honor recipient and possible saint of the Catholic Church. His legacy in Kansas and around the world will endure.
My Efforts to Recover and Recognize Father Kapaun
In March, I was humbled to announce that the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency had identified the remains of Father Kapaun, a Kansan I sought to properly honor and recognize. In 2011, I introduced legislation to award the Medal of Honor posthumously to Father Kapaun, which was one of the first pieces of legislation I introduced as a U.S. Senator. On April 11, 2013, the Medal of Honor was presented to Father Kapaun’s nephew and attending family at a White House ceremony. Following the identification of his remains earlier this year, I introduced a resolution honoring Father Kapaun which unanimously passed the Senate in March of 2021.
Homecoming to Pilsen
Seventy-two years after he left, Father Kapaun finally made it home to Pilsen where he was greeted by the Pilsen community. He was carried into the church where he was baptized as a child, and he was honored by those who came to pay their respects. Read more here from the Wichita Eagle about Father Kapaun's return home.
You can watch the funeral Mass by clicking here or below.
Supporting K-State Research and Training Capabilities
Facilitating Partnerships between K-State and NOAA
Friday was an exciting day for K-State’s Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The signing ceremony I participated in marked the official creation of a first-of-its-kind program, made possible by my legislation to train and prepare students to serve as officers and pilots within the NOAA Corps.
NOAA pilots are charged with collecting airborne environmental data, such as critical real-time weather during severe storms. Kansas experiences 75 percent of climatic weather, providing training for a wide-range of weather conditions. This program will also capitalize on Kansas' strong aviation programs to create a pipeline of well-trained pilots.
I was pleased to play a role in creating this new and invaluable partnership. Thank you to K-State Salina Dean Alysia Starkey and NOAA Rear Admiral Nancy Hann for your remarks and your commitment to this exciting new program, as well as Regent Carl Ice for attending. Read more from the Salina Journal here.
Expanding Research on Emerging Zoonotic Diseases
Kansas State is well-known for being a premier research institution within the animal health corridor. This week, I was pleased to announce a $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support expanded laboratory capacity for research on emerging zoonotic diseases. This federal grant will serve to strengthen our nation’s biomedical research infrastructure in the wake of the pandemic and support critical animal health research being conducted by K-State professors and students. As an appropriator for the NIH, I supported resources for the construction of biomedical research facilities, and I will continue to work with our federal agencies to make certain that Kansas is a priority when these resources are distributed.
Continuing to Support Our Veterans
This week, I joined Chairman Jon Tester in meeting with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough to discuss a range of topics important to veterans in Kansas and across the country. Most importantly, we talked about outreach to veterans, particularly those who served in Afghanistan, who may be experiencing anger, depression and understandable feelings of outrage following our haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan. Calls, texts and chats to VA’s Crisis Line are up, so our discussion centered on VA’s preparedness from a mental health standpoint and my encouragement for the secretary to rely heavily on non-government community providers to help with outreach to Afghanistan veterans.
We also talked about the disability claims backlog, working together to ensure veterans exposed to toxic substances during military service get health care and timely consideration of benefit claims, the importance of community care access for veterans in rural states like Kansas and the status of the administration’s compliance with the law to update VA’s aging infrastructure. Our conversation laid the groundwork for our continued bipartisan work in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee as we continue working together to serve veterans.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing with top officials from the Department of Defense this week to question them on our nation’s failed withdrawal from Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and Commander of U.S. Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie were all present. The bipartisan committee asked these officials pointed questions about the intelligence and operational failures that led to the collapse of Afghanistan and the end of our nation’s longest war. Although the hearing allowed Congress to provide necessary oversight of this administration’s failure to plan for and execute a smooth and peaceful withdrawal from Afghanistan, this hearing did not give American taxpayers the answers they need in the wake of a disastrous military and diplomatic operation.
Over the past two months, I have sent multiple letters to President Biden and other administration officials stating that this crisis was entirely avoidable and those who are responsible must be held accountable. This week, I joined a number of other senators in calling on Secretary Austin and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to pause the relocation efforts of all Afghan refugees who have not already been thoroughly vetted. There are currently about 65,000 Afghan refugees located at military bases across the United States, a majority of whom have not been screened or vetted. This poses a significant risk to the communities that are housing them, to the servicemembers who are interacting with them and the cleared Afghans who have gone through the immigration process.
The situation that has unfolded in Afghanistan left American citizens and Afghan partners behind, started a large-scale humanitarian crisis and made this world a more dangerous place. There are still too many questions that must be answered, and I remain committed to holding those who created this situation accountable.
Helping Kansans Claim Unredeemed Savings Bonds
The federal government owes Americans billions of dollars in matured U.S. savings bonds, most of which the Treasury deems lost, stolen, destroyed or “unclaimed.” The U.S. Treasury Department is currently holding more than $26 billion of these bonds, over $200 million of which belong to Kansans. This week, I introduced bipartisan legislation that would help reunite these investments with their respective owners. Many of these bonds were issued more than 70 years ago and have matured—meaning they no longer earn interest for bondholders. If the bonds are not physically possessed by their rightful holders, only the Treasury has the names and addresses of the original bond owners. This bill, the Unclaimed Savings Bond Act, would require the U.S. Treasury to provide states with the necessary records needed to locate the owners and heirs of these matured bonds.
Protecting Americans’ Online Control
Improving Control of Data Privacy
One of my priorities is improving Kansans’ control over their data that is collected and processed by businesses. On Wednesday, I participated in a Commerce Committee hearing that examined the issue of data privacy and what Congress needs to include in a comprehensive data privacy law. Earlier this year, I reintroduced my data privacy and security bill, the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, which would put Americans in the driver’s seat with respect to how their data is used, giving people the right to access, correct and erase their personal data that has been collected. My legislation sets a federal standard that would provide Kansans strong data privacy protections and delivers stability for businesses that operate across state lines.
During the hearing, I asked witnesses about areas of disagreement that have come up during negotiations with my Senate colleagues and how to find middle ground so that a comprehensive data privacy law can move forward. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Commerce Committee to move forward with a federal data privacy bill that ensures Americans have control over how their data is processed and collected.
This week, the Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on data security, which is often linked with data privacy. My Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act includes provisions that help ensure Kansans’ data is secure, as well as private, and I encourage you to tune in to hear me discuss this important aspect of my legislation.
Protecting Teens from Big Tech’s Negative Mental Health Effects
A recent report by the Wall Street Journal exposed internal research done by Facebook that shows one of its social media platforms, Instagram, can have a negative impact on the mental health of some of its users, particularly teenage girls. Last week, as a member of the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Commerce Subcommittee, I attended a hearing that examined Instagram’s impact on the mental health of its users and what Instagram is doing to respond to this issue. Facebook’s Global Head of Safety, Antigone Davis, answered questions concerning what Facebook’s internal research has shown about how Instagram’s algorithms push potentially harmful content on teenage girls and what Facebook’s plans are to target teens with their products. I will continue to work with my Commerce Committee colleagues to examine the impact of social media on Americans, particularly those groups most vulnerable to its influence, our youth. Read more from the Wall Street Journal here.
Defending Second Amendment Rights from International Regulation
This week, I joined 35 of my Senate colleagues in requesting clarification from President Biden regarding his administration’s intention to open U.S. Second Amendment rights to international oversight by rejoining the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), an international agreement that would regulate trade in firearms, infringing on Americans’ Constitutional rights. The vague language of the ATT makes American commitments uncertain, the most concerning of which is the lack of protections for lawful gun ownership, threatening the rights afforded to Americans under the Second Amendment. It is unacceptable for the Second Amendment rights of Americans to be infringed on or controlled by foreign nations. I rejected attempts by the Obama administration to subject law-abiding Americans to the United Nations’ ambiguous arms deals, and under the Biden administration, I will actively oppose an international organization attempting to exert control over the Constitutional rights of private citizens.
Meeting with Lt. Governor David Toland
On Tuesday, I met with Kansas Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland to discuss economic development projects in Kansas and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) role in assisting local economic growth in Kansas. The EDA is the only federal agency tasked exclusively with economic development, and as the lead Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee that funds EDA, I support its mission to invest in high-impact projects that will boost local economies, including in our state. Kansas has received millions of dollars in EDA grants, and I will continue to work with the Kansas Department of Commerce to coordinate efforts to support community economies in Kansas. Thank you to Lieutenant Governor Toland for visiting me while in Washington, D.C.
Meeting with Chamber of Commerce Members in Washington, D.C.
This week, I was pleased to meet with the Manhattan Chamber who came to Washington, D.C. to discuss their federal priorities. During our conversation, we discussed the development of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). The development of NBAF will work to solidify the Manhattan community and state of Kansas as one of the top research and destination areas for the world’s food and animal health companies. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I prioritize securing full funding for NBAF construction and workforce development. We also discussed the importance of Manhattan Regional Airport and Fort Riley and how to best support their operations. I appreciate our local leaders commitment to the Manhattan area, and I look forward to continuing to work with them to strengthen the community's capabilities.
Joining the Kansas Chamber of Commerce
I also joined the Kansas Chamber of Commerce at their welcome reception at the National Cathedral, and I stopped by their luncheon before heading back to Kansas. It was great to see so many community leaders in our nation’s capital. I thank everyone for allowing me to speak with them, and I thank them for their work supporting and promoting their communities and Kansas.
Commending Operation Triple Beam’s Success Curbing Crime
On Wednesday morning, I was back in Wichita to highlight the important partnerships between our federal, state and local law enforcement and commend them on another successful operation. Wichita’s Operation Triple Beam was a 60-day operation to reduce violent crime through collaboration between the U.S. Marshals Service, the Wichita Police Department, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, Kansas Highway Patrol, Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, Kansas Department of Corrections, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, along with a number of other federal entities like the DEA, ATF, FBI, HSI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office. This joint operation produced tangible results to make this community safer—resulting in over 1,000 arrests in addition to the seizure of illegal firearms and narcotics.
Operation Triple Beam is a clear example of what can be achieved when we all work together towards a common goal, and I remain committed to making certain law enforcement agencies have the resources they need to enhance public safety and strengthen the partnerships that are vital to the health and well-being of our communities. Thank you to U.S. Marshal Ron Miller, Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, Wichita PD Lt. Chris Marceau, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, Sedgwick County DA Marc Bennett and Interim U.S. Attorney for Kansas Duston Slinkard for allowing me to speak and for your dedicated work and service to make Kansas a safer place.
Read more from KWCH here about this successful operation.
Honoring the Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
On Wednesday night, the Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution I led to commemorate the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As the Ranking Member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I was pleased to be joined in this effort by the Chairman Tester, the leaders of the Armed Services Committee and Senator Tom Cotton who served as a Sentinel Tomb Guard as a member of the Old Guard.
One hundred years ago, World War I veteran and New York Congressman Hamilton Fish Jr. introduced legislation for the interment of one unknown American soldier in a tomb to be built in Arlington National Cemetery. According to Rep. Fish, the purpose of the tomb was “to bring home the body of an unknown American warrior who in himself represents no section, creed, or race in the late war and who typifies, moreover, the soul of America and the supreme sacrifice of her heroic dead. There should be no distinction whatever either in the matter of rank, color or wealth. This man is the unknown American Soldier killed on the battlefields of France."
A century’s worth of Americans have paid their respects on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery to those lost in war at the tomb engraved with the words, “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.” This Unknown Soldier, and the enduring reverence shown by a grateful nation, represents what’s best in us and transcends any divisions we may experience as a nation. It is my hope that a century later, we as Americans can recall today all that unites us, that service to others is our highest calling, and that the sacrifices made by generations of Americans in uniform who have come before us were made for all of us.
Supporting Kansas Innovation
University of Kansas
On Thursday, I announced a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) for the University of Kansas (KU) Innovation Park to help with the development of innovative technology solutions.
This grant is an investment in the research and development our universities are doing to meet the challenges of the future. The University of Kansas is uniquely equipped to meet the demand for new technologies and businesses through the Innovation Park, which brings professors, students, entrepreneurs and private partners together as they work to develop these new technologies.
Wichita State University
I announced a $750,000 EDA grant for Wichita State University and the Wichita Entrepreneurship Coalition. The award will support the resources necessary to recruit, support and enable regional entrepreneurs and improve the coalition’s access to technology and startup resources.
Wichita is home to a diverse group of entrepreneurs that support and grow Sedgwick County’s technological innovation market. With an economy that serves not just Kansas, but the globe, I am pleased to see that this investment will accelerate current entrepreneurial efforts and improve access to the startup resources that keep Wichita manufacturers and businesses at the forefront of innovation.
I also announced a $350,000 EDA grant for the Diversifying Kansas' Risk Capital Ecosystem initiative, which will serve a diverse set of founders and investors and create a stakeholder base of educated and effective participants in the risk capital ecosystem. I am pleased that this grant will bolster NXTUS Inc.'s capabilities and the regional economy.
Attending Fort Hays State University's Homecoming
Participating in FHSU's Parade
Rain or shine, it was great to see so many faces along Main Street at the parade this weekend!
Recognizing FHSU’s 2021 Alumni Award Recipients
On Friday evening, I joined FHSU alumni and friends at a reception honoring the 2021 Alumni Award recipients. During the evening, the 2020 Alumni Award recipients were also recognized since homecoming festivities on campus were cancelled last year due to COVID-19. I appreciated the opportunity to congratulate the 2021 award winners in person, including Alumni Achievement Awardees Dave Fate, Dr. John Kim and Col. Jerry Stecklein, and Young Alumni Awardees Dylan Bathurst and Regan Ochs Reif, Nita M. Landrum Award recipient Josh Dreher and the Distinguished Service Award recipient Mary Schreiber Porterfield. Congratulations again to all the award recipients on your accomplishments. Special thanks to President Tisa Mason and the FHSU Alumni Association for inviting me to be a part of this year’s recognition.
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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