Kansas Common Sense
May 17 2021
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Record-High Lumber Prices
This week, I spoke on the Senate floor regarding record-high lumber prices across the country, the impact these high prices are having on home builders and home buyers and solutions for decreasing the cost of lumber.
Since last April, overall lumber prices are up over 300 percent. Lumber and wood products account for roughly 15 percent of the construction cost for a single-family home. The reality is that record-high lumber prices are putting the American dream of home ownership just out of reach for hundreds of thousands of potential home buyers and disproportionately harming middle- and low-income families across the country. Click here or below to watch my full remarks.
Following my floor remarks, I urged U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to take action to resolve the trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada on softwood lumber. Currently, a nine percent tariff exists on softwood lumber imports from Canada, which is contributing to record-high prices. At a time when residential home building is booming, it is essential that home builders and consumers have access to the materials they need at competitive prices, and the $36,000 average increase in the price of a single-family home and a $13,000 increase in the market value of a multifamily unit is making the reality of owning a home even harder for Americans. The full letter can be found here.
Monitoring Flooding in Natoma
It was horrific to see flooding again in Natoma over the weekend. I have been in contact with local officials and KDEM, and everyone in Natoma has been rescued or is in a safe location. While most of the water has receded and cleanup has begun, they are expecting more rain in the coming days.
I grew up just down the road and know the community well. Please join me in praying for Natoma and the first responders and volunteers who are working tirelessly to save lives and clean up before more rain arrives. Please be safe and use caution if you are in southern Osborne County and southeastern Rooks County.
Addressing the Labor Shortage
Throughout my conversations with employers across Kansas, it is evident we are facing a labor shortage crisis. Earlier this year, Democrats passed legislation without any support from Republicans that provided an additional $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits, creating a situation where many Americans are better compensated for staying unemployed rather than returning to work.
I know that Kansans value the dignity of work and employers shouldn’t have to compete with what is supposed to be emergency government aid. This week I cosponsored the Back to Work Bonus Act to allow states to utilize Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation funds to provide a one-time, lump sum payment to incentivize workers to return to the workplace rather than stay home and collect unemployment.
Learn more about the Back to Work Bonuses Act here.
Paying Tribute to Law Enforcement During National Police Week
As our nation recognized National Police Week, I want to share with you my tribute to the officers who gave their lives in the line of duty over the last year, including six Kansans.
I also visited the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. to reflect on the many sacrifices law enforcement officers make in order to keep our communities safe. This memorial honors officers from across the country that have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty; over 20,000 names are memorialized on its wall.
On Wednesday night, seven Kansans were added to its wall: six in honor of those we lost last year and one recognizing the 100th anniversary of his end of watch in 1920.
May God bless our law enforcement officers and protect them from harm as they faithfully perform their duties each and every day.
Senate Commerce Committee Passes My Bill to Support Advanced Air Mobility
On Thursday, during a U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation markup, the committee voted to pass the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Coordination and Leadership Act, my legislation that would facilitate collaboration between federal agencies and civil aviation industry leaders when developing policies regarding advanced air mobility (AAM).
The Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Coordination and Leadership Act would instruct the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation to lead a working group comprised of members from nine government agencies to engage and work with the civil aviation industry. The working group would review policies and programs to help advance the maturation of AAM aircraft operations and create recommendations regarding safety, security and federal investments necessary for the development of AAM.
American aviation is entering a new era of innovation and growth, and industry leaders should have a seat at the table as the federal government creates programs to advance the development of this technology and sets safety and operation standards. Advancing this legislation through the committee is an important step to make certain Kansas aviation leaders have a role in developing policies designed to shape a new chapter in aviation. I look forward to bringing this legislation for consideration by the full U.S. Senate.
Meeting with NCAA President Dr. Mark Emmert
This week, I met with the President of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), Mark Emmert, to discuss the modernization of rules related to a student athlete’s name, image and likeness (NIL) rights. The NCAA’s rules around NIL have not kept pace with an evolving world, and now is the time to bring these rules in line with the modern student-athlete experience. While I was encouraged to hear President Emmert ask the NCAA Board of Governors to change their own rules, a single federal standard is still needed.
In February, I introduced the Amateur Athlete Protection and Compensation Act that would create a national standard of guidelines to make certain student athletes can benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness without hurting their eligibility to compete as a student athlete. This bill strikes an appropriate balance as we work to empower amateur athletes while maintaining the integrity of college sports that we all know and love. Athletics teach young men and women many valuable skills that serve them throughout their life, and it’s important to protect their ability to pursue an education while allowing them to capitalize on their name, image and likeness as a student athlete. However, we must preserve the collegiate model that has allowed so many young men and women to leverage their athletic ability into an education. I remain committed to finding a solution that will provide student athletes with the equity they deserve while also preserving college sports.
Read more about my thoughts on the meeting here in USA Today.
Health Officials Discuss Ongoing Efforts to Combat COVID-19
This Tuesday, during a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing, I appreciated the opportunity to hear from top federal health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding America’s ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19 and its variants. We need to ensure we are taking a hard look at the weaknesses in our health care infrastructure, and learn from this public health emergency as we look towards the future. As the HELP Committee focuses on laying the groundwork for legislation to improve America’s pandemic preparedness and response, the input of both federal and local officials is essential. Along with addressing the gaps in the government’s pandemic response, we must continue encouraging Kansans and Americans to receive the vaccine. On Thursday, the CDC updated its guidance for fully vaccinated people. This was good and welcome news, as fully vaccinated individuals can now forego wearing masks indoors and outdoors.
Learning about Alzheimer’s Research Developments in Kansas
Before heading back to D.C. this week, I met with doctors at the University of Kansas’ Alzheimer's Disease Center in Fairway to tour the facility and discuss the center’s work and research to improve the lives of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. I am a supporter of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) research on Alzheimer’s, and this program, established in 2004 by Dr. Jeffery Burns, is one of only 31 NIH-designated Alzheimer's Disease Centers nationally. I heard from Dr. Burns and Dr. Russell Swerdlow about how this illness impacts not just the patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s, but their friends and family as well, and how the center’s continued research will get us closer to decreasing the risk of dementia and cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Thank you to Robert McCormack, and to Dr. Burns and Dr. Swerdlow for speaking with me today.
Assessing COVID-19 Impacts on the Veterans Benefits Administration
This week, as the lead Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I joined Chairman Tester in holding a hearing to discuss how COVID-19 impacted the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) disability compensation claims process and the challenges they faced in providing veterans with exams and adjudicating their claims, as well as lessons learned and efforts to reform claims processing issues that preceded the pandemic. During the hearing, we discussed quality and timeliness controls for contract examiners, how the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) allocates resources for VHA examiners, and VA’s oversight of specialty claims, including: Toxic Exposure, Military Sexual Trauma, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have heard from Kansas veterans about some of the issues they have had during the pandemic in scheduling disability exams and getting their claims adjudicated in a timely manner, and this was a good opportunity for me to question Acting Under Secretary Murphy about how we can improve this process in Kansas and nationwide.
Appropriations Committee Hearing Discusses Domestic Violent Extremism
This week, I participated in the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Domestic Violent Extremism and heard from the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland. They testified and answered questions on a host of topics including the threat of violent extremists within the United States and the humanitarian and national security crisis at the southern border. I was pleased to hear an update from Secretary Mayorkas on what the Department of Homeland Security is doing to slow the current influx of illegal border crossings. Last month, I went to Texas to witness the crisis firsthand and what I saw was alarming: border patrol agents working around the clock to stop the flow of drugs and illegal activity while also caring for and processing the record surge of people who have already crossed the border. The open-door policies of the Biden Administration have elevated this crisis, leaving our law enforcement the untenable task of protecting our border and keeping our country safe. We must eliminate the “catch and release” policy in addition to enforcing our immigration laws and strengthening border security through a physical barrier, enhanced technology and additional agents to patrol the border. This isn’t just a humanitarian crisis – it’s a threat to the safety of our communities and our national security.
Meeting with KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas
This week, I met with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas to discuss the need for increased federal investment in infrastructure, the importance of Department of Justice (DOJ) grant programs to combat violent crime and other ways we can partner to bolster Kansas City and attract job-creating businesses to the region. Infrastructure remains a top regional priority on both the Kansas and Missouri sides of the state line, and I used our meeting as an opportunity to make certain Mayor Lucas knows I am committed to assisting local leaders in ensuring that Kansas City’s transportation and infrastructure needs are met. Additionally, Kansas City has experienced an increase in violent crime over the last few years that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The DOJ has a number of grant programs that Kansas City is working to access to stop this increase in crime. I appreciated Mayor Lucas coming to D.C. to discuss these important topics and will continue to work with him to benefit the Kansas City region.
Discussing Servicemember Training Programs with Microsoft
I met with Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft to discuss how we can support our nation’s servicemembers and veterans. Microsoft is an active participant in the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program. SkillBridge is a great program that provides technical skills training to servicemembers who will be leaving the military and entering civilian life. Their Microsoft Software and Systems Academy teaches servicemembers leaving the military critical computer and technical skills so they can find jobs in the technology industry. This type of nontraditional training is often appealing to servicemembers who do not wish to attend a four-year university after their service, but would instead prefer to work with their hands in a field that interests them. I have been a supporter of this type of career and technical education for our servicemembers, and it was encouraging to hear the steps that Microsoft is taking to support the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces.
Questioning the Federal Transit Administrator Nominee
On Tuesday, I raised my concerns with the nominee to be the Federal Transit Administrator about the bias in federal transit authority programs favoring grants for more costly, less-effective electric public transit vehicles over other low emission vehicles using alternative fuel sources – such as conventional and renewable natural gas – which provide similar environmental benefits at a much lower cost. Despite analyses from the National Renewable Energy Lab and the International Energy Agency demonstrating that the environmental, social, and cost-saving benefits of public transit vehicles powered by these fuel sources often exceeds those of electric public transit vehicles, too many of these program awards continue to fund electric technologies exclusively. Most importantly, public transit is not exclusive to urban areas and most transit authorities in Kansas will not have the electric vehicle infrastructure necessary to compete for these grant awards for many years, or even decades. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Kansas to make sure these transit programs are effective for the entire country – not just coastal metropolitan areas – and that the government is not picking winners and losers based on political whims instead of scientific analyses.
Discussing the Importance of Local News with Kansas Broadcasters
This week, I met with the Kansas Association of Broadcasters to discuss issues facing local broadcasters. Not only do local broadcasters provide reliable news about our communities, but they also play a critical role in providing tens of thousands of hours of essential local news and weather information during times of national emergencies and natural disasters. Together, we discussed the impact of Big Tech on local broadcasters, as well as the detrimental impact an advertisement tax would have on small, local businesses. I remain committed to promoting the longevity of local news stations and will continue to work to support them through my role on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Visiting with Cecil and Francis O’Brate
It was great to see my friends Cecil O’Brate in the office this week with his friends and family. I was pleased to be able to congratulate him in person for being inducted into the Kansas Business Hall of Fame last year for his success in building operations in the farming, oil, ethanol and banking industries, along with others. I also appreciated hearing an update on the O’Brate Foundation he started nearly a decade ago to help children as they leave the foster care system.
Announcing Resources for Kansas Airports
Local airports help bring economic opportunities and critical resources to communities across Kansas. That’s why I’m pleased to announce $5.3 million in U.S. Department of Transportation grants from the FAA’s annual Airport Improvement Program to Kansas airports today.
- Emporia Municipal Airport
- Colonel James Jabara Airport in Sedgwick County
- Salina Regional Airport
These grants are an investment into regional Kansas airports to make certain these airports are running safely and efficiently to support interstate commerce and travel to and from Kansas.
Speaking at the Kansas American Legion State Convention
I was pleased to speak at the Kansas American Legion’s 103rd Annual State Convention this weekend to update them on my work in Washington, D.C. as the lead Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The Senate VA Committee is known for working on a bipartisan basis, and we use our ability to work together to try to make life better for our nation’s veterans. Recently, the committee has been focused on creating a standard of care for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service, as well as overseeing the implementation of the John Scott Hannon Act by the VA to provide expanded mental health care and suicide prevention services.
Thank you to the National Executive Committeeman Dan Wiley for the kind introduction and Commander Marri Krupco for hosting me. As always, my office is ready to help if you are experiencing issues receiving care or benefits through the VA.
Recognizing My Spring 2021 Interns
This spring, three impressive college students dedicated their semester to working on behalf of Kansans in my office. It was during my internship in Congress that I became interested in public service, and I appreciate these interns choosing to serve their fellow Kansans this season and through a year like none other. Our interns come from all over Kansas and are some of the finest young people this country has to offer. I appreciate their hard work and ability to adapt to the unusual circumstances surrounding COVID-19, and I am proud to have them on my team.
Thank you to Ashleigh of the University of Kansas, Gladys of Wichita State University and Stephen of Northwestern University. I have appreciated the opportunity to get to know each of you throughout your semester. For more information regarding my intern program, please click here.
Recognizing the Anniversary of the Dole-McGovern Program
On the 19th anniversary of the Dole-McGovern International Food for Education Program on Thursday, I recognized Senator Bob Dole's incredible legacy in addressing global hunger. The Dole-McGovern program, named in honor of his efforts to eradicate hunger, has helped millions of young children in dozens of countries around the world. As chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, I’d also like to thank Kansas farmers and ranchers for the important role they play in feeding the world and our partners like World Food Program USA for the work they do in carrying out this program's mission.
Recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s important to know you are not alone. If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health challenges, learn more about where you can find help by clicking here.
VA Now Accepting Walk-In Appointments for COVID-19 Vaccinations
Good news for veterans! The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is now accepting walk-in appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations nationwide. All veterans, along with their spouses and caregivers, are eligible to receive the vaccine through the Veterans Health Administration due to my SAVE LIVES Act that was signed into law in March.
The COVID-19 vaccine is our best shot at getting back to normal, and it has been my priority to ensure every veteran has easy access to the vaccine. Find a VA location near you offering vaccines by clicking here.
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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