Kansas Common Sense
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Serving as Senate Aerospace Caucus Co-Chair
On Tuesday, I was honored to be selected to co-chair the Senate Aerospace Caucus. I will be replacing Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia who is retiring from Congress. The Senate Aerospace Caucus, founded in 2010, provides a forum for Senators and aerospace industry representatives to discuss issues of importance to the nation's defense, civil aviation and space sectors. This caucus strives to: provide critical oversight of the U.S. government’s aerospace defense industry program; promote increased government investment in U.S. aviation infrastructure and development; ensure a competitive industrial base; and promote education and workforce development programs that prepare Americans for careers in the aerospace industry.
Safeguarding our nation for future generations means both a strong national defense and a strong economy. The aerospace industry is where these two priorities converge, and has a direct impact on the livelihood of many Kansans and particularly the Wichita community. Wichita is known as the “Air Capital of the World” with roughly 32,000 Kansans who support hundreds of aerospace companies – from large companies like Airbus, Spirit AeroSystems, Bombardier and Textron, to smaller suppliers – and their work contributes more than $7 billion annually Kansas’ economy. Wichita ranks third in the United States for the highest concentration of engineers with more than 7,000 engineers and engineering technicians, and students continue to be attracted to Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR). Promoting education, workforce and research development, as well as increasing manufacturing within the aerospace industry is vital to our Kansas and national economies.
Kansas’ impressive record of accomplishment in aerospace did not happen by accident – it took hard work and innovation. I look forward to bringing those same attributes into my work as co-chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus to make certain this historical and innovative American industry remains strong, secure and globally competitive.
President Signs Moran-Jenkins Rural Health Legislation into Law
On Thursday afternoon, President Obama signed into law H.R. 4067, legislation that prevents the federal government’s enforcement of unreasonable and inflexible regulation on the provision of outpatient therapy services in Critical Access Hospitals and other small, rural hospitals in 2014. I introduced the original version of this bill, S. 1954, and it passed the Senate on February 10. Congresswoman Jenkins introduced an identical version of the bill in the House of Representatives and she advanced it to passage in the House on September 9.
In 2009, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – the federal agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid – unexpectedly mandated new rules for “direct supervision” of outpatient therapeutic services, which include services such as drug infusions, blood transfusions, casting or splinting fingers, outpatient psychiatric services, wound debridement, and cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation. These new rules require that a supervising physician be physically present in the hospital department at all times when Medicare beneficiaries receive outpatient therapy services. Imposing an unrealistic and clinically unnecessary supervision policy jeopardizes patients’ access to important therapy services in their own communities. Many Kansas hospitals have had to consider cutting services for their patients or limiting hours of operation in order to comply with this inflexible regulation. H.R. 4067 prevents CMS’ enforcement of these rules so that a reasonable policy can be implemented that more adequately reflects the realities of providing care in rural areas.
This commonsense legislation helps preserve patients’ access to important therapy services in Kansas communities and across the country. Passage of this law is a positive development, and I plan to reintroduce legislation in the new Congress to address this therapy supervision issue on a permanent basis. Thanks to Congresswoman Jenkins for her extraordinary efforts on this legislation in the House. Click here to read more about passage of this legislation.
House Passes the ABLE Act
On Wednesday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act) by a 404-17 vote. As a sponsor of the ABLE Act since 2012, I am pleased the House approved this legislation and urge Senate leadership to bring the measure up for vote in the Senate as soon as possible. The ABLE Act would enable the creation of tax-exempt ABLE Accounts to assist an individual with a disability in saving to pay for qualified disability expenses. These accounts would be structured similar to the 529 tax-advantaged savings program that allows families to save for college education.
ABLE Accounts will allow individuals with disabilities or the parents of a child with a disability to save money to cover long-term expenses such as education, housing, transportation, employment training and assistive technology. By allowing individuals to save their own money to support the unique needs of a loved one with a disability, the ABLE Act encourages personal responsibility and eliminates barriers to work that can exist within federal entitlement programs. Thanks to Jawanda and Rachel Mast of Olathe, the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City, and the Down Syndrome Society of Wichita for visiting with me about this legislation over the past few years. Click here to read an article about Jawanda and Rachel’s efforts in support of the ABLE Act that ran in The Kansas City Star.
Greeting Made With Code Award Winner
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to meet Adrienne Cox, an impressive young woman and Topeka High School student who helped develop the coding for this year’s Kansas State Christmas tree decoration in front of the White House. Adrienne and other Topeka High students were part of a national Google project called Made with Code intended to recruit girls into coding, a field that many computer experts and educators – as well as Senators like myself – are hoping more female students will consider. She was in Washington, D.C., along with her teacher Anne Hageman to see their coding in action at the National Christmas Tree Lighting. Congratulations to Adrienne and her Topeka High classmates on a job well done! To read more about the Topeka High School coders, click here. To learn more about Made With Code, click here.
Kansas Listening Tour Continues
This week, I continued my Kansas Listening Tour with two stops. Before my flight to Washington, I held a town hall meeting in Anderson County at the Garnett Public Library. There, I met with area residents who expressed concern about the role and U.S. involvement in the United Nations. We also discussed the Keystone XL Pipeline, concerns about EPA overreach, government spending and veterans' issues. Thanks again to the staff at the library for hosting this conversation.
From Garnett, I headed to Coffey County where I held a town hall meeting in Burlington at the Lyon-Coffey Electric Cooperative, where Kansans came out to share their thoughts. Topics ranged from veterans issues and the EPA's proposed navigable waters rule, to tax reform and concerns with Obamacare. In attendance were Coffey County Commissioner Kimberly Skillman, Burlington Mayor Gene Merry, and Coffey Health Systems CEO Randy Lindauer. It was also good to see Craig Meader, chairman and president of First National Bank of Kansas. Thanks again to Scott Whittington and Lyon-Coffey Electric Cooperative for hosting.
New Horizons RV in Junction City
Back from Washington this weekend, I had the opportunity to tour and visit with employees of New Horizons RV in Junction City. In the photo below, some of those employees are proudly standing in front of one of the quality homes they build. We visited about a number of issues, but the conversation focused on how the VA is failing them in their health and disability needs.
New Horizons is a family owned and managed company that has been building RVs for more than 25 years. Thanks to New Horizons President and CEO Phil Brokenicky for the informative tour.
Touring Mercy Regional Health Center
I also had the opportunity to visit Mercy Regional Health Center (MRHC) in Manhattan. MRHC is a 150-bed hospital providing a wide range of health care services to the Manhattan community and the surrounding area. Throughout my time representing Kansans in Washington, D.C., I have had the opportunity to visit each of our state’s 128 community hospitals. As Ranking Member of Senate Appropriations Health Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over funding for most agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, meeting with Kansas hospital administrators and other health providers gives me insight on the unique challenges they face caring for diverse groups of patients across wide areas.
During my visit with MRHC administrators and staff, we discussed various topics including the impact of the Affordable Care Act and other federal policies on community hospitals and other health care providers. Thanks to MRHC CFO Jim Frazier for guiding my tour and to Jana Bowman for coordinating my visit.
Pictured here: Back row (left to right): Joan Hoch, RN; Michelle Palmer, Sterile Processing Supervisor; Charisa Slingsby, RN; and Kristen Allen, Surgical Coordinator. Front row (left to right): Joe Buser, Surgical Assistant; Kathleen Foy, Unit Clerk; Sara Myers, RN; and Katee Nelson, RN.
Cheering on the Jayhawks
To end the week, Robba and I were pleased to join University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little in Allen Fieldhouse as the Jayhawks hosted the Florida Gators. The atmosphere was electric for the marquee game, which the Jayhawks won 71-65. Coach Self’s team is once again establishing itself as one of the nation’s best. Thanks to Chancellor Gray-Little for inviting us to the game, and I wish the students good luck as they prepare for finals.
Honoring Retiring KFB President Steve Baccus
Kansas Farm Bureau this week honored outgoing president Steve Baccus on his retirement reception in Manhattan. Steve is retiring after serving on the KFB Board for the past 17 years, the last 12 as its President. I met Steve many years ago when he was on his local farm bureau board, and over the years we grew to be friends. As agricultural issues repeatedly come to the forefront of debate in Washington, Steve has always been someone who I could count on to give me trustworthy advice and counsel.
As I said on the Senate floor, Steve embodies many traits we can all admire, including a deep love for the great state of Kansas, and gratitude for the many hard working families who provide the food, fuel and fiber Americans rely on. These traits have earned Steve the respect of his peers across the country. Steve has been a true public servant to agriculture and he did it all for the right reasons.
We all owe Steve a debt of gratitude for his service to Kansas agriculture. I wish him and his wife Patricia well as they enter into the next chapter of their lives. I look forward to working with incoming president Richard Felts of Montgomery County. Click here to watch the full speech.
Kansans in the Office
Randy Hrabe of Plainville
Ron Ryckman of Meade
Mary Ryckman of Meade
Gary Haulmark of Topeka
Dan Hawkins of Wichita
Jawanda Mast of Olathe
American Cable Association
Jeff Nourse of Lenexa
Kansas State University
Kirk Schulz of Manhattan
Sue Peterson of Manhattan
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation
Liana Onnen of Mayetta
Wichita State University
Andy Schlapp of Wichita
John Tomblin of Wichita
Daryl Davis of Junction City
Brenda Davis of Junction City
Molly Davis of Junction City
Madison Davis of Junction City
Ismael Perez of Shawnee
Jetzel Perez of Shawnee
Isabel Perez of Shawnee
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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