Kansas Common Sense
Nov 09 2015
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Honoring All Those Who Served
I hope this Wednesday, Veterans Day, you take the time to honor and celebrate the veterans in your life. Whether it’s your sister, dad, grandpa or neighbor, take a moment to thank them for their courage and sacrifice, which has preserved the freedoms we all enjoy today.
Over the weekend, I took the opportunity to say thank you to veterans and their families as part of the Ottawa Veterans Day ceremony. This is just one of the many events and parades across Kansas that will bring families and communities together to honor all those who served. It was an honor to lay a wreath with Ottawa Mayor Mike Skidmore at the Veterans Memorial. Below, I'm pictured with Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 912 Members Ron Bishop, Kenny Nichols, Mel Lucas and Kathy Lee. I also had a great conversation with two Shriners who are helping the VA help veterans – Greg Seymour and Bob McDaniel.
Whatever the mission, the men and women we honor on Veterans Day were ready to answer the call. They deserve a VA that is ready to serve them. Our nation would not be what it is today without your strength, sacrifice and bravery. We are forever grateful for your service.
Engaging Women Veterans in Entrepreneurship Roundtable
On Friday afternoon, I led a roundtable discussion at the Enterprise Center in Johnson County on engaging female veterans in entrepreneurship. This roundtable was convened in connection with the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) Kansas City conference held over the weekend. The purpose of the discussion was to gain a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges associated with fostering entrepreneurship among women veterans specifically; and generally the needs of veterans transitioning into civilian life who deserve resources, training, and support to pursue the American dream in starting a business. Representatives from the Enterprise Center in Johnson County, the Kauffman Foundation, OneKC for Women, KC Sourcelink, Vets2Ventures, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) contributed to the roundtable discussion. Several female veteran entrepreneurs and V-WISE participants also contributed to the discussion.
In addition to learning more about the needs of transitioning military and their families, the roundtable was also an opportunity for me to gather important feedback on legislation I introduced called the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act of 2015 (VET Act), S. 1870. The bipartisan legislation would empower veterans to access resources through the SBA and their G.I. Bill benefit in order to become entrepreneurs, create jobs for Americans, and generate growth in our economy. The VET Act is gaining momentum in Congress, and was recently passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.
I appreciate all the roundtable participants taking time to join the discussion and share their valuable insight with me and other participants. Thanks to Enterprise Center in Johnson County President and CEO George Hansen for hosting the roundtable, and to Melissa Roberts of the Enterprise Center in Johnson County for coordinating my visit.
Voicing Concern with EPA’s Waters of the United States Regulation
This week I supported efforts to reverse the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Waters of the United States” rule, which greatly expands the scope of federal authority over waterways in the United States under the Clean Water Act. All Kansans, including agriculture producers who strongly oppose the regulation, care about having clean water. However, the federal government should not dictate to citizens how they manage their private lands. I believe there are better ways to promote water quality than with threats of severe fines, penalties or even jail time. One of the ways in which we see this effort take place is through the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS promotes water and soil health not by mandates and threats from Washington but through collaborative, voluntary approaches that encourages conservation through incentives and technical assistance for landowners.
Unfortunately, the EPA ignored the overwhelming feedback they received from farmers, ranchers and other concerned stakeholders when they drafted the regulation. They even ignored the concerns of the technical experts at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who were supposed to be working together with EPA on the regulation. It’s obvious the regulation exceeds the EPA’s legal authority under the Clean Water Act. It’s equally obvious the EPA intended to run roughshod over anyone who disagreed. At the end of the day, if the goal is to promote clean water, there are much more effective methods to do so as evidenced by voluntary efforts within USDA that respect private landowner rights, incentivize conservation rather than criminalize landowners, and don’t cost us jobs and threaten to do irreparable harm to our economy.
Commerce Hearing on the Consumer Review Freedom Act
On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a full Committee hearing to examine the impact of non-disparagement, or “gag” clauses in form contacts that prevent consumers from providing honest but critical reviews of companies or individuals. In particular, the hearing was an opportunity to receive feedback from the expert witness panel on S. 2044, bipartisan legislation I recently introduced with Committee Chairman John Thune of South Dakota and Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. Witnesses included representatives from TripAdvisor, the world’s largest online travel site, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, and the National Association of Consumer Advocates, as well as Jennifer Palmer, plaintiff in the landmark case Palmer v. KlearGear where by invoking a non-disparagement clause the online retailer caused Ms. Palmer and her family significant long-term financial damage following a negative but truthful online review.
This legislation, the Consumer Review Freedom Act, would make certain consumers in Kansas and across the country are able to make their voices heard without having to fear lawsuits or financial repercussions for honest feedback. Just as word of mouth is used by family and friends to share experiences with particular brands or businesses, online reviews have significant benefits to consumers in their purchasing decisions. This bill protects consumers from unfair non-disparagement clauses that can appear in a number of non-negotiable form contracts and stifle consumer speech by silencing fair criticism in public forums, while preserving the right of businesses to take action in response to false and defamatory misrepresentations.
As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I am proud to sponsor this legislation to protect the ability of consumers to share honest information freely. In bringing this issue to light, Wednesday’s hearing was a valuable step in advancing the conversation toward a bipartisan solution, and I am eager for S. 2044 to receive an up or down vote in the Committee in the coming weeks.
Expressing Frustration with Ambiguity in VA Report on Continuity of Care
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) this week released their plan to consolidate all non-VA healthcare programs into one, new Veterans Choice Program (VCP). Prior to the release of this report, I urged the VA, along with my colleagues Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Angus King of Maine, to sustain the unique network of providers that the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) program provides for rural veterans. The ARCH program is a pilot program operating in five test sites – including one in Pratt – that allows rural veterans to receive healthcare within their communities instead of traveling long distances to reach a VA hospital..
Unfortunately, the VA’s current consolidation plan does not address the sustainment the ARCH program and the network of providers the program has fostered. More than 90 percent of veterans participating in ARCH are overwhelmingly satisfied with the care they receive, and it is unacceptable that these veterans may face gaps in care as a result of this consolidation. I will continue to press the VA until they commit to providing the uninterrupted access to quality health care our veterans deserve.
Meeting the Nominee for Secretary of the Army
On Wednesday I had the opportunity to meet the president’s nominee for Secretary of the Army, Mr. Eric Fanning. Mr. Fanning and I discussed the critical missions and soldiers deployed overseas from the Big Red One at Fort Riley, the importance of the Command and General Staff College (CGSC), and preserving Fort Leavenworth as the Intellectual Center of the Army. Our conversation was timely with the administration’s latest unauthorized pursuit to use executive authority to close Guantanamo Bay.
The Command and General Staff College attracts a number of foreign officers, and the possibility of Fort Leavenworth housing terrorists would impact many nations sending their officers to pursue further education at CGSC. It is important that we preserve Fort Leavenworth’s primary mission, and not allow an unlawful undertaking driven by the president to disrupt or detract from the immeasurable value this Kansas institution provides.
The fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill – which is law – includes language to prohibit “use of funds to construct or modify facilities in the United States to house detainees transferred from United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” and prohibit “the use of funds for the transfer or release of individuals detained at United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”
The fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill that will be signed by the president and become law also upholds these prohibitions. Guantanamo Bay should not be closed without Congressional approval, and certainly shouldn’t be done through an executive order. Congress has repeatedly passed laws to prevent the closure of Guantanamo and transfer of detainees, and those laws should be upheld.
Speaking at the Kansas Radiological Society Meeting
On Saturday, I was in Topeka speaking at a meeting of the Kansas Radiological Society. This professional medical society is dedicated to serving patients by advancing the practice and science of radiological care. Radiologists diagnose and treat diseases and injuries by administering radiological procedures and interpreting medical images including X-Rays, MRI, CT and ultrasound. We visited about the importance of medical imaging technology, how Medicare reimburses for professional interpretation of diagnostic imaging services, and the value of mammogram screening for early detection and treatment of breast cancer. Thanks to Dr. John Lohnes of Wichita and his society member colleagues for inviting me to speak at this meeting.
Condemning Palestinian Violence and Calling for Peace Negotiations Israel
Recent violence in Israel has taken dozens of lives, including those of two Americans. In response, I joined a bipartisan group of Senators to sponsor a resolution (S. Res. 302) to condemn Palestinian attacks and express support for Israel. Unfounded rumors of restricted access to holy sites in Israel were used as justification for disgusting maimings and murders. Palestinian leaders have repeatedly mishandled these seething moments, allowing more violence to bubble over. This resolution calls on Palestinian leaders to demand an end to the violence and continue strengthening security cooperation with Israel. Both are necessary to stabilize security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Congratulating the Kansas City Royals
In the aftermath of their World Series championship, I had the pleasure of speaking on the Senate floor to congratulate the Kansas City Royals and their fans. Having waited 30 years between titles and enduring more than a few difficult seasons, the euphoria of the team’s success swept the city and the state. The Royals brought people together, including the estimated 800,000 that turned out for the parade on Tuesday, and served as a topic of conversation at the grocery store, office and restaurant. The strong character of the players, their work ethic, and perseverance to become champions resonates with Kansans. This is a special moment for Royals fans, and here’s to hoping for a repeat next year. Click here to view my remarks on the Senate Floor.
Business Aviation Roundtable in Kansas City
On my way back to Washington last Monday, I hosted a business aviation roundtable at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (MKC). As a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, the conversation was an opportunity for me to hear firsthand about issues facing general aviation — particularly in the context of Congressional consideration of a long-term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization.
With funding for the FAA set to expire March 31, 2016, Congress must act in the coming months to pass a long-term reauthorization that will provide certainty and stability to our nation’s aviation system. For business aviation, the biggest obstacle to reaching consensus on a long-term bill is the potential Congressional effort to overhaul the nation’s air traffic control system. The creation of an independent air traffic control agency, outside the authority of the FAA and insulated from the federal budget process, could entail a cost-based user fee structure to cover its operating costs. As a result, business aviation aircraft – which often utilize the same airspace as commercial airliners – could ultimately pay above their share for use of the aviation system.
Thanks to National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen for assembling such a distinguished group of aviation and business leaders. Congrats to Cessna Aircraft Chairman Emeritus Russ Meyer who is beginning his 42nd year of service. Special thanks to Wheeler Downtown Airport Manager Michael Roper for hosting the event. Special thanks to Michael Roper, manager of Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, for hosting the event.
Crawford County Town Hall
Last Monday, I hosted a Kansas Listening Tour stop in Girard. Thanks to all the Crawford County residents who came out to share their thoughts on issues facing Kansas and the nation including the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, crop insurance and veterans’ access to health care, and the Girard Fire Department. Thanks to Craig Wilbert for hosting my visit at the new Craw-Kan Telephone Cooperative Inc. facility and to Girard Mayor Kurt Ziegler, city council members Kelly Peak and Sheldon DeLange, and Crawford County Treasurer Joe Grisolano for coming to join the conversation.
Kansans in the Office
Gary Stratton of Great Bend
Janet Stratton of Great Bend
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Vance Kelley of Topeka
Flint Hills Job Corps Center
Mario Morales of Manhattan
North America Meat Institute
Bob Ogren of Olathe
Jon Hixson of WaKeeney
Southwestern Kansas Coalition
Janet Doll of Garden City
Ashley Freburg of Garden City
Cherise Tieben of Dodge City
Tony Martinez of Liberal
Jason Zann of Olathe
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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