Kansas Common Sense

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Although many pressing issues remain unaddressed in Washington, the Senate is out of session for August recess. I believe my colleagues and I should be in Washington working to solve the country’s problems but unfortunately Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada sets the agenda and the floor schedule. I spent the week in Kansas attending several events across the state. I always appreciate the opportunity to be back in the state and appreciated the chance to have conversations with Kansans.

Latest VA Inspector General Report
This week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) inspector general released a report on operations at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. The latest findings by the VA inspector general confirm what we have known all along – systemic dysfunction and lack of leadership at the VA caused harm to our nation’s veterans. Along with the IG report, the VA released new statistics about the change in direction of the VA; unfortunately this information raises more questions, and makes is clear that the failures were preventable.
If it was possible to reduce the new enrollee appointment request list by more than 60,000 veterans in two-and-a-half months, there is little excuse for the list ever reaching that level in the first place. If, in one month, the VA can schedule 200,000 new appointments, why had these same veterans already waited several months simply to see a doctor? The short time frame in which these issues were addressed indicates these same problems were allowed to grow for years without greater efforts being made to fix them.
Although the VA has taken many actions in recent months to address the issues plaguing veterans’ health care, it is important to target the root of these problems. The VA’s dysfunction has never been a funding issue – in fact, their budget has increased by more than 60 percent since 2009. President Obama himself said, “We’ve resourced the Veterans Affairs office more in terms of increases than any other department or agency in my government.”
The Senate and House have taken action and called on the VA to live up to its commitment to care for those who have sacrificed for our country. While H.R. 3220 offers hope to veterans by including some of the most significant reforms that have been made within the VA in decades, Congress now has the even tougher job overseeing the implementation of these vital changes at the VA. Veterans have made great sacrifices for our nation, and I will continue working for a Department of Veterans Affairs that is worthy of their service.

Touring the NBAF Site with Homeland Security Officials
This week, I toured the Central Utility Plant and the future home of the National Bio-and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) with Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Under Secretary Dr. Reginald Brothers and members of the Kansas Congressional Delegation. I am grateful Under Secretary Brothers accepted our invitation to visit Kansas along with other officials and get and update on the current status of construction. Developing these relationships is vitally important to our state as this essential part of our national security apparatus moves forward. NBAF will be a state-of-the-art bio-containment facility for the study of foreign animal and emerging and zoonotic (transmitted from animals to humans) diseases that threaten the nation’s livestock, agriculture and public health.
Visiting the future site of NBAF not only gave us a chance to get an update on construction – it also let us see firsthand the real opportunities being created for the talented young men and women of Kansas. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I was committed to making certain NBAF remained a top priority, and there is no longer any question about the project’s future. Kansas will become a research epicenter, and the construction of this modern, world-class facility will ultimately create jobs for Kansans in the fields of engineering, science and technology. NBAF will create up to 1,500 construction jobs and 450 permanent jobs, and will generate an estimated economic impact of $3.5 billion in its first 20 years. Final funding to complete construction of NBAF must be approved and signed into law. In Fiscal Year 2015, $300 million has been included in House and Senate appropriations bills. This winter, Congress is set to debate an omnibus spending measure containing the final funding for NBAF and other measures.

Kansas Students Head Back to School
Over the past few weeks, thousands of Kansas students have returned to classrooms across our state. Each school year, students are challenged to work hard so they can develop the skills needed to pursue their dreams. Dedicated parents, teachers and administrators are committed to supporting our students in their efforts to achieve success in the classroom and in life. Unfortunately, Congress has failed to share in this commitment by neglecting to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the primary federal law relating to K-12 education.

Initially enacted in 1965, the ESEA was most recently amended and reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). I opposed passage of NCLB because I believe a one-size-fits-all federally-mandated approach to education is not in the best interest of Kansas students and schools. NCLB was a major expansion of federal influence upon significant aspects of public K-12 education. Kansas schools have no problem being held accountable – they simply ask that the federal government afford them sufficient flexibility to tailor education plans to the unique needs of their students. Rather than being forced to teach to a standardized test, schools need to have the flexibility to raise the bar and focus on preparing students for careers and higher education. Decisions about how our students are taught in the classroom should be made by the individuals in the best position to know the unique needs of our students – parents, teachers, administrators and local school boards – rather than federal bureaucrats in Washington.

Most ESEA programs have not been reauthorized since expiring in 2008, so updating this law is badly overdue and needs to be a priority. The U.S. Department of Education has granted Kansas and other states waivers from certain requirements of NCLB; however, the Department is dangling relief from federal mandates in front of states in exchange for agreeing to adopt Administration policies. I have long believed that education functions best as a local and state function, and this is far from restoring local control over education policy.

Last summer, the House of Representatives passed an ESEA reauthorization bill by a 221-207 vote. A year has passed, and unfortunately the Senate Majority Leader has shown no interest in prioritizing ESEA reauthorization. It is well past time for the Senate to fulfill this responsibility. This measure needs to be brought to the Senate for a full debate where senators will have the opportunity to offer amendments.

Discussing Importance of Research with Kansas State University Researchers
On Friday morning, I met with Kansas State University (K-State) researchers to discuss the importance of biomedical research for saving and improving lives, reducing health care costs, and driving economic growth for our state and nation. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the focal point of our nation’s medical research efforts, supports basic and clinical research in medical centers, hospitals, and research institutions throughout the United States, including at K-State. During my visit, I had the opportunity to tour K-State research laboratories that utilize NIH support and meet students assisting in these labs’ research initiatives. Thanks to Professor of Biology Dr. Clem and Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristin Michel for leading my tour.

I appreciated the opportunity to visit with K-State about the importance of NIH support for groundbreaking research taking place in Manhattan. By investing in research, we are investing in our future. Given the vast amount of progress made over the last century and the great potential current research holds, now is not the time for our nation to waiver on its commitment to advancing scientific research. In Kansas, the bioscience industry has grown at an impressive rate compared to the national sector. This growth opens the door for new medical and technological advancements and drives economic growth. As Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NIH, I will continue working to prioritize NIH’s budget to produce more research advances that are helping create a brighter future for Americans. Thanks to Dr. Karen Burg, Vice President for Research and Dr. Brian Spooner, interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for hosting my visit. Here, I'm pictured with K-State Undergraduate Student Cody Simmons of Leonardville.

Listening Tour Stop in Thomas County
I continued my Kansas Listening Tour across the state this week in Thomas County with a visit to the Kiwanis Club meeting open to the public at the Colby Community College Student Union. It was good to see so many local residents come by to have a conversation, including students from the local FFA chapter, Kansas Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer and Former-U.S. Sen. Shelia Frahm. The conversation focused on concerns of overreach by the federal government including the EPA with the Clean Water Act and the UFWS with the lesser prairie chicken. We also discussed President Obama’s attempts to legislate from the oval office and the importance of keeping rural America alive and flourishing. Thanks again to Colby Community College for letting us use their campus for the conversation and to the Kiwanis Club for hosting me.

Goodland Community Visit
On my way to Colby, I stopped in Goodland and visited with folks at City Hall, Black Hills Energy, Sherman County Courthouse, Goodland Regional Medical Center, The Goodland Star News, and Cure & Bain, PC. I also stopped at the Butterfly Café and visited with the large coffee crowd. They shared lots of concerns with me and I appreciate the conversations. 

Labor Day
I enjoyed seeing the area residents of Louisburg on Monday and participating in their Labor Day parade. Several communities across the state celebrated American workers with parades and festivities this weekend. I have always been proud that Kansans know the value of a hard day’s work and appreciate the prosperity our state gains from that work ethic.

The Louisburg parade is well known throughout the area, and it was an honor to participate. Thanks to Colby Jones for driving Robba and me, and to Ted Halpin for the loan of his classic Oldsmobile convertible for this event. It was great to see folks and listen to what the residents had on their mind as I visited with the crowd before, during and after the parade. Thanks to Chuck Hammeke for coordinating participation in this event.

Now Accepting Spring 2015 Internship Applications
I am now accepting applications for paid congressional internships in my Washington, D.C., and Kansas offices for spring 2015. An internship in my office – either legislative or communications – provides a unique opportunity to work closely with Senate staff on behalf of the state of Kansas. Legislative interns will gain a better understanding of the legislative process in the U.S. Congress, and develop knowledge and professional skills valuable to future career pursuits. Communications internships offer an intern the chance to learn about how political communications and the legislative process intersect, and gain practical knowledge about the inner workings of a fast-paced press office.

The application deadline for spring 2015 is November 1, 2014. Applications may be obtained and completed under the “Services” section of my website at www.moran.senate.gov. Applicants should submit a completed application form, resume, academic transcript, two letters of recommendation, and a cover letter explaining their interest in public service and addressing a policy issue of personal importance and a suggested recommendation to resolve that issue. Please submit required materials to: internships@moran.senate.gov.

Service Academy Nomination Application Deadline
With students headed back to school this month, I want to remind interested students that the application deadline for nominations to the U.S. Service Academies will be here soon. I consider appointments to the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy one of my most treasured responsibilities as a U.S. Senator. Each fall I appoint a 20-member selection board to interview the applicants and help me make the tough decisions. This year’s application are due to my Olathe office on Friday, September 12, 2014, and if qualified, applicants will interviewed at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene on Saturday, October 18, 2014. For more information about eligibility and the application process please check my website. For additional questions please contact Lisa Dethloff in my Olathe office by email or by calling 913-393-0711.

Kansas in the Office
Lorraine Durie of Leawood

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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