Kansas Common Sense


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Confirming a New Secretary of Veterans Affairs
The Senate voted unanimously this week to confirm Dr. David Shulkin as the nation’s ninth Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Shulkin’s stated desire to restore veterans’ faith in the VA and transform its stubborn, bureaucratic culture is a good foundation, but the ultimate measure of his success will be determined by veterans’ timely access to quality care and the benefits they earned. I made it clear to Dr. Shulkin during the confirmation process that I have high expectations for him to bring positive changes to the VA and put veterans first. As the former under secretary for the Veterans Health Administration, Dr. Shulkin is familiar with many of the challenges facing veterans in accessing care and the general resistance to change within the department. I look forward to seeing what kind of impact Dr. Shulkin can have at the VA, and I hope he seizes this opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of American veterans. If, however, the pattern of unresponsiveness, deflection and mismanagement continues at the VA, I will be a persistent voice for change on behalf of those they are failing.

Encouraging the President to Strengthen the Mission at Guantanamo Bay
I led a group of my colleagues in writing to the president this week regarding the future operations and detention of detainees held at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay. The previous administration’s reckless attempts to close the detention facility at GITMO and blatant disregard for the safety of the American people by transferring detainees to foreign nations cannot be continued. I am encouraged by the president’s acknowledgement that terrorists captured on the battlefield who threaten Americans and the United States should be housed at GITMO, and I look forward to working with him to reinforce the critical mission the detention facility serves in putting the safety of Americans first. My senate colleagues and I have requested an immediate hold on detainee transfers and suspension of the Periodic Review Board, which has been allowed to make determinations about detainee releases with no congressional oversight or sharing of their analysis with Congress. In the face of the growing number of threats against our nation and the troubling recidivism rate of detainee terrorists, it is critical that will of Congress, which has continually prohibited the closure of the base through annual legislation, is carried out.

Inviting the Nominee for Secretary of the Air Force to Kansas
I enjoyed catching up with Dr. Wilson, nominee for secretary of the Air Force, who I have known since we served together in the House of Representatives. We discussed some of the readiness and modernization issues currently facing the Air Force and how my new chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs can help me address some of those challenges. I also talked to her about the Kansas Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and Active Duty airmen who serve in Kansas and the new flying mission of the first KC-46As at McConnell Air Force Base arriving this fall. I invited Dr. Wilson to join me in Wichita for their arrival – I look forward to hosting her.

A Farm Crisis in the High Plains
As the Senate begins considering changes to the 2014 Farm Bill, I wrote an op-ed this week about the issues that I continue to hear about from farmers and ranchers across Kansas. I am pleased the Senate Agriculture Committee will host the first formal farm bill hearing in Manhattan, Kansas, providing the opportunity for our producers to have direct input into the development of the legislation. Producers are facing one of the most challenging economic periods since the Great Depression – farm income has nearly been cut in half since 2013. Crop insurance, conservation and farm programs authorized in the farm bill provide a critical safety net for family farmers, helping them survive unpredictable weather disasters and volatile commodity markets.  

Agriculture serves as the economic backbone of rural America and the farm bill provides the opportunity to advocate for policies that enable the long term success of family farms. At the end of the day, when agriculture is successful, Kansas is successful. I look forward to working to make sure the next farm bill serves rural Kansans and helps provide family farmers and ranchers with the tools necessary to succeed and pass their farm or ranch down to the next generation.

I spoke on the floor this week about agricultural imports, commodities and the impact of community banks – click here to watch my remarks.

Letter to Yahoo! on Disclosed Data Security Incidents
As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, I joined the full committee Chairman John Thune in a letter to Yahoo! Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer requesting clarification regarding a number of data security incidents that the company has disclosed over the past few months. Specifically, we asked that Ms. Mayer answer questions regarding the scope of the incidents that took place in 2013 and 2014 and the “steps taken to identify and mitigate potential consumer harm.” Additionally, our letter emphasized the importance of Yahoo!’s efforts to restore the integrity and enhance the security of its systems in order to prevent future issues from arising while adequately keeping Congress informed of such efforts. It is Congress’s responsibility to ensure that Americans’ sensitive personal information is protected and treated appropriately by those collecting it, and I take this responsibility seriously. Click here to read the letter.

Spurring Investment in Short Line Railroads
On Thursday, I introduced the Building Rail Access for Customers and the Economy (BRACE) Act (S. 407) with a group of senators from both sides of the aisle. The bill would further extend the short line railroad track maintenance tax credit that expired in 2014. Specifically, the short line railroad track maintenance credit provides short line and regional railroads a 50 percent tax credit for railroad track maintenance expenses, up to $3,500 per mile of track owned or leased by the railroad. The tax credit was established by legislation that I introduced as a member of the House of Representatives in 2004 to encourage railroads, railroad customers and suppliers – who depend the most on short line railroads – to invest directly in maintaining the more than 2,000 miles of short line rails in our state. Located in the center of America’s heartland, Kansas is one of the leading rail and distribution centers in our country and plays an integral role in connecting farmers and factories with communities around the globe.

Meeting with Kansas Fraternal Order of Police
This week I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives from the Kansas Fraternal Order of Police: Blaine Dryden of Hays, Scott Kirkpatrick of Kansas City and Mark Bundy of Kansas City. We discussed policy issues of interest to law enforcement across our state and the various areas of cooperation between the Department of Justice and local law enforcement agencies that can support the important work of Kansas police and enhance the safety of both officers and the communities they serve.

Advocating for the Release of American Pastor Andrew Brunson
I joined a bipartisan group of members of Congress focused on issues of religious freedom to urge Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to grant the unconditional release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained in Turkey since October and denied regular and appropriate access to legal counsel and American consular services. Turkey’s treatment of Pastor Brunson appears to be in direct violation of the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech. President Erdogan should end the wrongful imprisonment of Pastor Brunson and allow him to return home to his family in North Carolina. Political disagreements must be put to rest when the universal human rights of religious freedom and speech are at stake. To read the letter, click here.

Calling on HHS Secretary to Focus on Rural Healthcare
This week, colleagues and I sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price asking him to prioritize healthcare in rural America. Access to healthcare in Kansas and small communities across the country is critical to the survival of rural America. I am hopeful the new administration recognizes the unique challenges facing providers in rural areas and will make certain policies are put in place that enhance, rather than impede, their efforts to provide quality care. During my visits to hospitals across the state, I have had the opportunity to learn more about how they prioritize resources to deliver the best possible care, and I am optimistic that Secretary Price will keep their needs in mind.

Nationally, more than 80 rural hospitals have closed in recent years. Some estimates show another 700 rural hospitals are at risk of closure. As a member of the Senate Health Appropriations Subcommittee, I will continue my work to remove the burden of federal rules and regulations on our health care providers in rural areas. To read the letter, click here.

Paying Tribute to Atchison’s Ladd Seaberg
I paid tribute this week to the life of Ladd Seaberg, longtime community advocate and Atchison business leader who passed away on Jan. 29, on the floor of the Senate. My prayers remain with his wife and family.

Kansans in the Office
Melissa Ward of Topeka
Lucia Jones of Kansas City
Donna Young of Kansas City
Molly Moffett of Kansas City
Mary Taylor of Princeton
Erick Abernathy of Overland Park
Paige Ashley of Tonganoxie

Kansas State University
Allen Featherstone of Manhattan

Southwest Kansas Coalition
Doug Smith of Topeka
Matt Allen of Garden City
Melvin Dale of Garden City
Ken Smoll of Dodge City
Ernestor De La Rosa of Dodge City
Mark Hall of Liberal

Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital
Jim Kirkbride of El Dorado
Mark Rooker of El Dorado
Gay Kimble of El Dorado

Johnson County Community College
Jerry Cook of Johnson County
Joe Sopcich of Johnson County
Kate Allen of Johnson County
Donny Whitton of Johnson County
Dick Carter of Johnson County

Seward County Community College
Ken Trzaska of Liberal 

Kansas City Regional Clean Cities Coalition and Transportation Energy Partners
Josh Allison of Overland Park

Kansas State Fraternal Order of Police
Mark Bundy of Kansas City
Scott Kirkpatrick of Kansas City
Blaine Dydren of Hays

Hutchinson Community College
Carter File of Hutchinson
David Marshall of Hutchinson

Kansas Association of Health Underwriters
Marcus Hood of Overland Park
Beverly Gossage of Eudora
Jason Powers of Lenexa
Julie Lampe of Wichita

Kansas Grain and Feed Association
Jeremy Girard of Salina
Kevin Brady of Benton
Matt Tripp of Overland Park
Clark Pearson of Osage City

Kansas RSVP and Sr. Corps Directors
Melody Gault of Augusta
Lori Bishop of Manhattan

American Burn Association
Jennifer Parks of Overland Park
James Howard of Kansas City 

Kara Lowe of Leawood
Clint Robinson of Overland Park

Dodge City Community College
Harold Nolte of Dodge City
Morris Reeves of Dodge City
Anthony Lyons of Dodge City

Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation
Pat Tarick of Augusta
Pat Jones of Wichita

Greater Kansas City Foreign Trade Zone
Al Figuly of Kansas City

Cowley County Community College
Dennis Rittle of Arkansas City

Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area
Jim Ogle of Topeka
Julie McPike of Lawrence

Special Olympics International
Chessa McCalla of Topeka
Kathryn Eli-Schneider of Topeka
Rylee Robinson of Topeka

Doctor’s Lawn & Landscape
Mark Myers of Overland Park

Charitable Giving Coalition
Saralyn Reece Hardy of Lawrence
Sue Peterson of Manhattan
Greg Willems of Manhattan

Modoc Tribe
Blake Follis of Topeka

Builders Development Corp.
Michael Snodgrass of Kansas City

Prairie Band Nation of Potawatomi
Liana Onnen of Mayetta

Pratt Community College
Darrell Shumway of Pratt
Kenneth Van Blaricum of Pratt

Kansas City Kansas Community College
Wendell Maddox of Kansas City
Rosalyn Brown of Kansas City

Kansas RSVP and Senior Corps Directors
Lori Bishop of Manhattan
Melody Gault of Augusta

Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy
Tammy Rome of Shawnee

Capitol Tour
Ken Gorman of Topeka
Steven George of Dodge City
Blain Dugder of Hays
Tyler Tannehill of Olathe
Lerisa Tannehill of Olathe
Jonathan Dowty of Lansing
Michele Henry of Oskaloosa
Naomi Hume of Wichita
Craig Berordsley of Manhattan
Erica M. Christie of Wamego
Jody Core of Topeka
Benjamin Moore of Berryton
Nicky Inskeep of Eudora

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.

Please let me know how I can be of assistance. You can contact me by email by clicking here. You can also click here to contact me through one of my Kansas offices or my Washington, D.C., office.

Very truly yours,

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