Kansas Common Sense


Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thank you for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.

My Washington, D.C., office has moved to a new location in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 521. If you are planning a trip to our nation’s capital in the near future please take note of the new location. Click here for a full list of contact information for my Washington and Kansas offices.

Call with FDA Commissioner After Listeria Outbreak
After learning of the listeria outbreak that claimed the lives of three Kansans, I had a discussion with FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg over the weekend to make sure everything possible was being done to prevent further spread of the food borne disease. I asked Dr. Hamburg to brief me on the unfolding situation, including whether proper protocol was followed by federal agencies and other parties involved.

Listeria primarily affects the most vulnerable in our society – older adults, pregnant women and their newborns, and people with immune systems weakened by other illnesses. The contamination was discovered in several Blue Bell ice cream products made on a particular production line at the Blue Bell Creameries in Brenham, Texas. Those products have been recalled. However, it is possible more cases will be discovered before all of the product is removed from freezers, as well as due to the long incubation period for listeria before some people show symptoms of illness. The FDA‎ has warned consumers about the potential contamination in Blue Bell Creameries’ products. More information can be found on the FDA website here.

The tragic news serves as a sober reminder of the importance of preventing food contamination. As Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I'm committed to working with FDA and USDA – the agencies that oversee food safety – to prevent further spread of the current listeria outbreak and of future food borne diseases. My thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost loved ones due to the listeria outbreak. 

Trafficking Legislation Stalls in Senate
The United States Senate this week agreed to proceed on the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act to address the scourge of modern slavery in our society. This legislation is bipartisan and was reported out of the Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote. Yet, progress was halted by Senate Democrats over objections about the bill including the Hyde Amendment, language that prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions. This language, which I support, has been approved by Congress every year since 1976, and 23 of my Democratic colleagues supported it last year.

Human trafficking is a serious problem that affects the lives of thousands of women and children. This bipartisan effort to protect them and punish those who enslave them ought not be delayed. More than 200 victims’ rights and law enforcement groups support this legislation. For this to move forward, Majority Leader McConnell offered Democrats an up-or-down vote on the Hyde Amendment, but that offer was refused. The Senate should function properly where amendments are offered and voted on regardless of party. For the victims who suffer such horrible abuse, we cannot afford to wait any longer moving forward and enacting the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act into law. 

Advocating for Fort Riley with Secretary of the Army
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to question the Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno during a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Hearing on the Army’s fiscal year 2016 budget request. I wanted to make certain the Secretary and Chief understood the immense capabilities and infrastructure – schools, homes and the new Irwin Army Community Hospital – on Fort Riley to serve and care for soldiers and their families. I reminded them that the Army Listening Session on February 9, 2015, in Junction City included 4,300 passionate and supportive Kansans who value Fort Riley and the soldiers who call Kansas home. I was pleased Secretary McHugh made it clear that the Army deeply appreciates Fort Riley and it’s one of the Army’s most important bases. General Odierno spoke about the value of training in Kansas, as the Army’s first combat operations of the Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that is currently deployed in Kuwait and stationed at Fort Riley. I invited the Secretary and Chief to visit Fort Riley when we welcome home Major General Funk and the 1st ID’s Division Headquarters element when they return from Iraq. Secretary McHugh and I will soon be meeting in my office in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of the Army and the contributions Kansans will continue to make in support of soldiers and their families. Click here to see watch an excerpt from the hearing.

First Hearing as Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman
This week, the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing to review the Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) fiscal year 2016 budget. As chairman of the subcommittee, I had the opportunity to raise a number of issues with FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg. 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which form the basis of federal nutrition policy, are reviewed every five years. A recent advisory committee report recommending what foods should be included in the new guidelines unwisely leaves lean red meat out of what it considers to be a healthy diet. At the hearing, I expressed my concern to the Commissioner regarding FDA’s final rules on nutritional labeling of restaurant menus. The Obamacare regulation – which requires chain food establishments to provide detailed nutritional information on anything considered a menu – is overly burdensome, inflexible, and has created significant uncertainty for small businesses owners. Although the compliance date is later this year, FDA is yet to issue guidance on many key portions of the rule. At the hearing, I urged FDA to delay the compliance deadline and work to make certain the regulations don’t cause unnecessary harm to small businesses.

Finally, I also discussed the rapidly growing personal mobile health device industry. It is important that FDA utilize a risk-based approach in evaluating applications that influence important medical decisions and digital devices that transmit health information. This will enable FDA to carry out its public health function without stifling technological innovation with over-regulation. Click here to watch the hearing.

Senate Hearing on Religious Freedom
This week, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations held a hearing on the threat to international religious freedom. Nonpartisan research shows 76 percent of the world’s population “live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion.” I am disturbed by the widespread persecution of Christians and increasing anti-Semitism. I used the opportunity to ask the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein about our nation’s effort to secure the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American detained by Iran since 2012. He assured my colleagues and me that all diplomatic efforts are being undertaken, and it was good to hear other witnesses speak of Ambassador Saperstein’s commitment to bring Pastor Saeed home.

China is listed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as one of the worst persecutors of religious freedom. I asked another panelist, Bishop Oscar Cantu, on the plight of the Catholic Church in China. Despite the Vatican seeking better ties, the Chinese government continues to persecute Catholics who recognize the leadership of the Pope. Bishop Cantu noted the sensitivity of the subject and the need to tread carefully as Rome and Beijing negotiate. However, the United States stands ready to assist all who wish to profess their beliefs as they choose. Click here to view my exchange at the hearing.

Inviting Top Secretaries to Visit Kansas
This week, I formally invited Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to visit Kansas and learn more about our vibrant manufacturing sector, the Kansas business community and the transportation needs of our state. Earlier this month, both secretaries testified before the Senate Commerce Committee regarding their fiscal year 2016 budget requests. During that hearing, I explained some of the transportation challenges Kansas faces and need for a long-term highway solution. I also expressed my concern to both secretaries about the impact of the Administrations constant attacks on the aviation industry in Kansas. To view a video of my exchange with Secretary Foxx and Secretary Pritzker, click here.

ATF Rescinds Proposal to Ban M855 Sporting Ammo
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) rescinded its proposed framework to ban M855 ammunition. Without instruction from Congress, ATF intended to ban this ammunition – which has been used by law-abiding American citizens for decades – because it is “armor piercing,” and therefore poses a risk to the safety of law enforcement officers. The fact is, almost all rifle ammunition is “armor piercing,” and the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986 specifically exempts this ammunition for sporting purposes. The intent of this law was clear: law-abiding citizens should not be deprived of their right to use M855 ammunition for legitimate purposes such as target shooting, hunting, and shooting competitions. 

Last week, I joined Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley in outlining these concerns to ATF Director B. Todd Jones, and I am thankful it appears our message was received. In Kansas, we enjoy a rich tradition of hunting, target shooting, and other law-abiding activities protected by our Second Amendment rights. I will continue to monitor the Obama Administration’s actions and strongly oppose any effort that violates our firearm freedoms.

Speaking at South-by-Southwest
I took a detour on my way home from Washington, DC this week, to stop in Austin, TX where the South-by-Southwest Interactive Conference is held each spring. On Saturday, I spoke on a panel about the engagement between the startup community and lawmakers in Washington. Entrepreneurs are critical drivers of economic growth in America but too often bad policies in Washington make it harder for good ideas to come to market or for emerging companies to survive. Pro-growth policies can start with entrepreneurs and their success will result in improved products at lower prices, more jobs, and a growing American economy. While in Austin, I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of Kansans who traveled to SXSW. We had a great discussion about how things like Dodd Frank regulations, the visa system, and taxes affect small businesses and their prospects for success. These conversations are especially valuable because they offer insight on the state of American small business and the greater economy that is difficult to get from looking at raw economic data. I will continue to push for legislation in Washington that eases the path for Kansans with good ideas to launch a small business and compete in the free market system.

Supporting Short Line Railroads, Rural Economic Development
This week, I sponsored the Short Line Railroad Rehabilitation and Investment Act of 2015 – legislation to extend the short line railroad track maintenance tax credit, which expired in 2014. The short line railroad network is a significant component of our transportation system and plays an integral role in connecting farmers and factories with communities around the globe. I was proud to introduce the legislation that created this tax credit in 2004 as a Member of the House of Representatives to help support large areas of the country, including rural communities like those across Kansas, where short lines are the only connection to the national railroad network.

The tax credit encourages railroads, railroad customers and suppliers – who depend the most on short line railroads – to invest directly in maintaining the more than 2,000 miles of short line rails in Kansas, as well as systems across the country. Over the past five years, the short line railroad tax credit has generated $1.5 billion in railroad infrastructure investment, as well as created and preserved thousands of jobs. It is vital that we extend this tax credit so that rail operators will be able to increase their capacity and small businesses and agriculture producers across the country can continue to get their commodities and goods to market in a cost-effective and efficient way. Click here to learn more.

Meeting the Kansas Delegates to the United States Senate Youth Program
On Thursday evening, I had the opportunity to visit with Stefan Petrovic of Lawrence High School and Britt Leake of Wichita East High School, the Kansas Delegates to the Annual United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP) in Washington, D.C. The USSYP, established in 1962 by U.S. Senate Resolution, offers delegates the opportunity to learn about their government and the legislative process, and helps ensure a generation of well-rounded citizens. I commend the outstanding achievements of these remarkably talented and engaged young Kansans. It was a pleasure to visit with young people like these who take a strong interest in the issues facing our country. You can read more about Stefan and Britt below.

  • Britt Leake attends Wichita High School East and serves as the president of the National Forensics League. He is active in his school’s French National Honor Society and National Forensics League. After high school, Britt plans to further his studies in Arabic and Hindi to prepare for a career in diplomacy or international development.
  • Stefan Petrovic is vice president of the Student Body at Lawrence High School. In addition to presiding over several school clubs, he has been involved in Habitat for Humanity, Lawrence’s Boys and Girls Club and a National Science Foundation’s project on sustainability. Stefan participates in debate, forensics and the Model United Nations. He would like to obtain a Ph.D. in political science or economics and law degree and specialize in sustainable development and regulatory policies, and hopes to eventually enter a career in public service.

City Visits
This week, my staff and I met with elected leaders from the communities of Olathe, Shawnee, Ottawa, Lenexa, Emporia, Prairie Village, Manhattan. We discussed numerous issues including a long-term highway authorization bill and the deductibility of interest from municipal bonds.

Speaking to National Business Aviation Association
On Thursday, I spoke to leaders of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) about the importance of general aviation and prospects for passing legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2015. Founded in 1947, NBAA is a leading organization for companies relying on general aviation aircraft to help their businesses be more efficient and productive. General aviation is the largest industry in Kansas, generating nearly $3 billion in annual exports and manufacturing 40 percent of all GA planes.

Federal funding for FAA expires on September 30, 2015, and legislation to reauthorize the agency is expected to be introduced this spring. During the last reauthorization cycle, Congress resorted to nearly two dozen short-term extensions before ultimately passing a long-term bill. At Thursday’s event, we discussed several issues that will be central to Congressional consideration in this year’s effort, such as modernization of our air traffic control system and the commercial use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems. As a member of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Aviation Operations, with full jurisdiction over FAA reauthorization efforts, I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle these important issues. Many thanks to NBAA and CEO Ed Bolen, a University of Kansas graduate, for the opportunity to speak and hospitality.

Kansans in the Office
Thales ATM
Jerry Johnson of Lawrence 

Kansas Credit Union Association
John Beverlin of Overland Park
Rick Blue of Augusta
Freddie Braconnier of Leavenworth
Erik Breckenridge of Wichita
Chuck Bullock of Wichita
Jason Carlson of Wichita
Bob Church of Augusta
Larry Damm of Wichita
John Davis of Wichita
Darrin DePriest of Wichita
Randy Doerkson of Wichita
Darrell  Elkinton of WichitaLea Ann Gabbert of Wichita
Mike Green of Wichita
Jane Hammil of Wichita
Jim Holt of Wichita
Don and Molly Homan of Leavenworth
Vickie Hurt of Topeka
Amy Jasnoski of Wichita
Andrea Kaberline of Topeka
Sarah Knolla of Wichita
Jay Lewis of Augusta
Bob Mayes of Overland Park
Chad McCluskey of Augusta
Dan McFadden of Hutchinson
Brentt Moon of Topeka
James Nastars of Wichita
Paul Oliver of Augusta
Barbara Patterson of Augusta
Carol Perry of Leavenworth
Greg Peter of Wichita
Kyle Schmidt of Leavenworth
Larry Schmitz of Wichita
Liz Steffen of Topeka
Garth Strand of Hutchinson
Raymond Stroud of Garden City
Jamie Taulbee of Wichita
Mike Welli of Wichita
Tammy Wilson of Augusta
Greg Winkler of Topeka
Corey Winter of Wichita
Ron Smeltzer of Topeka
Mike Augustine of Leavenworth 

Kansas City Area Transportation Authority
Dick Jarrold of Overland Park 

National Bicycle Dealers Association
Jeff Koenig of Manhattan 

American Diabetes Association
Marta Howell of Gardner

American Speech Language Hearing Association
Jane Wegner of Lawrence

Melanoma Research Foundation
Kimberly Rubio of Wichita
Larry Rubio of Wichita

Kansas Geological Society
Susan Stover of Topeka
Rex Buchanan of Lawrence 

Kansas State Council of Fire Fighters
Matthew Jackson of Junction City
Chris Booth of Junction City
Nathan Coffman of Lawrence
Dean Garrison of Lawrence 

Kansas Association for the Education of Young Children
Deb Crowl of Emporia
Amber Tankersley of Joplin
Christina Quigley of Manhattan
Kasey Kile of Manhattan 

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Rachel Bender of Wichita
Tara Chettiar of Overland Park
Frances Grimstad of Fairway
Kari Hamlin of Chanute
Nelson Johnson of Overland Park
Margaret O’Hara of Wichita
Evan Schwenk of Wichita
Rabiya Suleman of Overland Park 

National Association of Postal Supervisors
Larry Ewing of Tecumseh
Kelly McCartney of Lawrence
Will McIntyre of Gardner
Dawn Neece of Mulvane
Gary Townson of Rose Hill
Sherrie Hanneman of Mission
Kit Rogers of Wichita

Afterschool Alliance
Kim Chapelow-Lee of Shawnee
Marcia Dvorak of Lawrence
Mike Haire of Topeka
Kelli Hoffman of Topeka
Breanna Howser of Topeka
Tracy Keegan of Topeka
Michael Lemon of Roeland Park
Chavis Lickvar-Armstrong of Lawrence
Gary Richmond of Topeka
Sheila Stephens of Pittsburg
Rachel Willis of Lawrence
Kerstin Womble of Pittsburg
Tamara Huff-Johnson of Wichita 

American Urological Association
David Bock of Leawood
David Duchene of Fairway 

City of Manhattan
Ron Fehr of Manhattan
Usha Reddi of Manhattan 

City of Emporia
Danny Giefer of Emporia
Blaise Plummer of Emporia 

City of Lenexa
Andy Huckaba of Lenexa 

City of Prairie Village
Ashley Weaver of Prairie Village
David Morrison of Prairie Village
Nolan Junderman of Prairie Village 

City of Topeka
Erik Sartorius of Topeka 

City of Salina
Randall Hardy of Salina 

City of Ottawa
Blake Jorgensen of Ottawa
Richard Nienstedt of Ottawa
Shawn Dickinson of Ottawa
Kinley Jorgensen of Ottawa
Kelly Jorgensen of Ottawa
Mike Skidmore of Ottawa

City of Olathe
Mayor Michael Copeland of Olathe

American Federation of Teachers
Deena Burnett of Wichita

Kansas Municipal Utilities
Colin Hansen of McPherson
Doug Allen of Sabetha
Tim Maier of McPherson
Greg Dumars of Lindsborg
Mick Muirhead of Garden City
James Ging of Winfield
Stan Luke of Burlington
Randy Riggs of Newton
Sam Mills of Overland Park 

Kansas Global Trade Services
Karyn Page of Wichita
Jeff Blubaugh of Wichita
Lavonta Williams of Wichita
James Clendenin of Wichita
Bob Layton of Wichita 

Kansas City Kansas Board of Public Utilities
Joe Diek of Kansas City
David Alvey of Kansas City
David Mehlhaff of Kansas City
Don Gray of Kansas City 

Americans for Prosperity
Jeff Glendening of Olathe 

National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Tami Greenberg of Prairie Village
Susan Engel of Overland Park
Mary Reed Spencer of Alma 

American Diabetes Association
Marta Howell of Gardner 

Kansas PTA
Debbie Lawson of Lenexa
Tammy Bartels of Tonganoxie
Debbie Sultz of Overland Park 

Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges
Ralph Richardson of Manhattan
David Renter of Manhattan
Michael White of Abilene 

National Teachers Hall of Fame
Carol Strickland of Emporia
Lindy Whetzel of Emporia

University of Kansas Medical Center
Executive Vice Chancellor Doug Girod of Kansas City 

Capitol Tour
Karl Detrich of Abilene
Jean Detrich of Abilene
Vanessa Kirk of Bucklin
Glenn Kirk of Bucklin
Stuart Kirk of Bucklin
Dustin Kirk of Topeka
Ken Torgler of Overland Park
Scott Hatfield of Williamsburg
Judi Stork of Topeka
Paul Fox of Olathe
Cole Fox 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.

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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