Kansas Common Sense
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Calling on OSHA to Stop Unlawful Regulation of Family Farms
Since 1976, Congress has exempted small, family-run farms from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, but in a 2011 memo OSHA asserted that on-farm grain storage and handling was not part of farm operations. This essentially expanded OSHA’s regulatory scope to nearly every farm in the country without going through the established rule making process that allows Congressional review and public comment, in defiance of the law.
Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska and I, along with a bipartisan group of 41 senate colleagues, recently called on OSHA to immediately stop its unlawful regulation of family farms. In a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez who oversees OSHA, we also directed OSHA to issue updated guidance correcting their misinterpretation of current law. This is not the first time this administration has proved that Washington’s values are not rural America’s values through regulatory over-reach into the family farm. I am committed to working with my colleagues to protect the individual rights of farmers and make certain OSHA does not continue to misinterpret the law. Click here to learn more.
Awaiting Presidential Action on the Keystone XL Pipeline
After five years of administrative review and President Obama saying he would make a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2013, it is now 2014 and still not any closer to becoming a reality. This project’s permit application has gone through the most exhaustive environmental review of any pipeline in our country’s history, yet we continue to wait on a decision from the Administration. If constructed, our country could take major strides toward increasing our energy security while creating thousands of jobs in the process. I agree with the majority of Americans who believe this needed energy infrastructure should become a reality as soon as possible.
USDA Agrees to Change Impractical School Lunch Program
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agreed to enact permanent changes to the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program requirements in response to a request I submitted along with several of my Senate colleagues. In December 2012, USDA made temporary changes to the School Lunch Program in response to a letter we sent to the Secretary of Agriculture. The letter raised questions about USDA’s calorie limit, whether 20 percent of daily protein at lunch is adequate for growing kids, whether poorer students will have to pay more out of pocket, and the need for flexibility. We also sponsored the Sensible School Lunch Act, legislation likely to pass this month that would make the changes permanent. In response to this legislation, the USDA will now make the requested changes administratively.
There isn’t any question that all of us want our children to eat nutritious foods, but the USDA rule contains impractical and unrealistic standards that leave students hungry and are cost-prohibitive for schools to comply with. School lunch program decisions should be made in schools at the local level – not mandated by Washington, D.C. This decision is good news for the parents, school board members, superintendents, and other concerned community members who expressed their frustration as the new rule was rolled out. Unfunded mandates like this one were making it even harder for schools to provide healthy meals to our kids. Click here to learn more about the decision.
Supreme Court Temporarily Halts Obamacare Mandate
On New Year’s Eve, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor temporarily blocked the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) requirement that most employer-provided health insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs from taking effect January 1st. Justice Sotomayor’s order responded to a request from a group of Catholic nuns in Colorado – the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged – who run a care facility for the elderly. To comply with the ACA mandate, the sisters would be forced to authorize their insurer to provide coverage that violates their religious beliefs. Justice Sotomayor’s order temporarily halts the requirement only for these sisters, but the outcome of this case could have far-ranging national repercussions. Religious-affiliated organizations from across the country have requested an emergency halt to the ACA mandate. Later this year, the Supreme Court will consider two cases involving private businesses whose owners oppose this mandate on religious freedom grounds. Americans should not be forced to violate their religious beliefs or face penalties if they refuse to do so. Targeting religious beliefs in this manner erodes the principle of liberty upon which our country was founded. I appreciate Justice Sotomayor recognizing the urgency and significance of this matter and hope the Court will defend religious freedom as it considers cases involving this matter later this year.
Visiting Sheridan County Health Complex in Hoxie
On Monday, I was in Hoxie to visit the Sheridan County Health Complex (SCHC). This facility consists of the Sheridan County Hospital, a rural health clinic – the Hoxie Medical Clinic, a 35-bed long term-care unit, and eight assisted living apartments. Opened in 1952, Sheridan County Hospital is a Critical Access Hospital (CAH) that operates an emergency department staffed 24-hours a day to provide trauma and sick care to adults and children, as well as care for stroke and heart patients. The hospital also provides radiology, lab, and blood banking services to patients. As a member of the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, it is very useful for me to visit Kansas hospitals and talk with health care providers to learn more about how they utilize resources to care for patients, many of which are spread across large areas.
During this visit, we discussed the importance of SCHC and other rural hospitals to the survival and success of many Kansas communities. We visited about concerns policies proposed by the Obama Administration that would reduce the number of CAHs in Kansas and across the country. CAHs and other rural hospitals make up a significant component of our state’s health care delivery system and are also one of the largest employers in their towns. Any policies that threaten the survival of these hospitals endanger Kansans’ access to health care in their own communities and could severely ration care in rural America. I continue to oppose these and other policy proposals that would disproportionately affect health care access in Kansas and other rural states. Thank you to SCHC CEO Jim Wahlmeier for hosting my visit. Click here to see a photo.
WaKeeney Listening Tour Stop
On Tuesday, I held another stop in Trego County at Western Cooperative Electric in WaKeeney. This was one of my Kansas Listening Tour stops as I make my way to all of Kansas’ 105 counties. Forty folks from around the area turned out to share concerns and give feedback on Ryan-Murray budget agreement, health care, the farm bill, education, new voting rules in the Senate and wind energy. I appreciated Kansans coming out on New Year’s Eve to pass along a good dose of Kansas Common Sense. Thank you to Western Cooperative Electric for hosting the tour stop. Click here to see a photo from the stop in WaKeeney.
Kansas Listening Tour
Thursday, Jan. 9 at 1:30 p.m.
Salina Chamber of Commerce
Friday, Jan. 10 at 1:30 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 10 at 3:30 p.m.
Municipal Building Trails Room
Kicking Off the New Year on the Kansas Ag Network
It was good to catch up with the Kansas Ag Network’s Greg Akagi on Thursday and visit about a number of issues as we kick off 2014. Our discussion covered the status of the Farm Bill, the Murray-Ryan Budget plan, as well as the upcoming omnibus bill and my work on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, and Subcommittee on Homeland Security. We also discussed the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and the debt ceiling. A good New Year’s Resolution for Congress would be to work together to address the overall fiscal issue our country faces. I encourage you to click here to listen to our conversation.
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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