Kansas Common Sense
Jan 29 2024
Happy Kansas Day
Happy Kansas Day! 163 years ago, Kansas became the 34th state. I am proud to represent the great state of Kansas and all the hardworking and kind people who live in it.
Passengers First: Prioritizing Airline Safety
Meeting with Boeing CEO
This week, I met with Boeing CEO and President, Dave Calhoun, regarding the Alaska Airlines investigation. This meeting followed earlier conversations with the Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and Spirit AeroSystems. The safety of the flying public must always be top priority, and I reiterated to Mr. Calhoun that for the thousands of Kansans who work in aviation, their jobs depend on passengers feeling safe to fly. I remain committed to identifying the root cause, rectifying the issue and legislating as needed to create a stronger aviation system. Thousands of jobs from the manufacturing giants to the small mom and pop shops are dependent on a robust aviation manufacturing sector. I remain committed to identifying the root cause, rectifying the issue, and legislating as needed to create a stronger aviation system.
Squawk Box Interview
I joined CNBC’s Squawk Box this week to address airline travel safety concerns. After the Boeing 737 Max 9 incident at the beginning of January, many passengers are feeling concerned about the safety of air travel. I discussed the ongoing investigations into the incident and Boeing’s manufacturing system as a whole. Congress has a role to make certain the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are properly conducting thorough investigations. Once these investigations are complete, Congress will pass any necessary legislation to make certain the aircraft manufactured here in the U.S. are safe and passengers feel comfortable flying.
You can watch my interview with CNBC here.
Introducing the Farm to Fly Act
This week I introduced the Farm to Fly Act, a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) bill that would utilize current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs to support the development of SAF, clarify federal definitions for SAF and enable greater collaboration between USDA and the private sector. The Farm to Fly Act will also help accelerate the production and development of SAF through existing USDA programs to allow further growth for alternative fuels to be used in the aviation sector, creates new markets for American farmers and increase domestic energy production and security.
You can read more about this legislation here in the Wichita Business Journal.
Ag Update on Agri-Pulse
This week, I joined Agri-Pulse to give an update on agriculture bills coming to the Senate Floor. Including the Farm to Fly Act, there are other important pieces of legislation that will help agriculture in Kansas and across the nation succeed, most importantly the Farm Bill. Passing more Continuing Resolutions (CR) will only prevent the swift and crucial passing of legislation like a Farm Bill, Ukraine funding and border security. I remain optimistic that Congress will be able to take action on important issues facing the agriculture industry.
You can watch my interview with Agri-Pulse here.
Strengthening Cybersecurity in Agriculture
This week, I joined my colleagues in introducing the Farm and Food Cybersecurity Act, which would strengthen cybersecurity within the agriculture and food critical infrastructure sectors. This legislation would give the Secretary of Agriculture additional tools to evaluate and protect the food and agricultural sectors in coordination with the United States Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and the Director of National Intelligence. Kansas is home to the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which is critical in securing our nation’s food supply.
Meetings with Health Directors
National Cancer Institute
On Tuesday, I met Dr. Kimryn Rathmell, the new director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). From our conversation, it was apparent that Dr. Rathmell is a qualified choice to lead our nation’s effort to reduce the burden of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families and one day, to hopefully find a cure.
National Institutes of Health
This week, I also met with Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world, supporting thousands of scientists in universities and research institutions in every state across the country, including The University of Kansas Health System.
Originally from rural Wyoming, I was pleased to hear Dr. Bertagnolli understands the challenges rural communities face in accessing medical care and participating in research and clinical trials.
Meeting with Kansans
Kansas Head Start
I met with leaders of Kansas Head Start this week to hear an update on their efforts to make certain children have the opportunity to begin their education at a young age. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education, I remain committed to supporting the resources necessary for Kansas Head Start to continue promoting early childhood education in our state.
Thank you to Kimberly Lackey, Susan Middleton and Bekki Piper for meeting with me and for their commitment to improving the education of Kansans.
Council for Christian Colleges
I met with Tabor College President Dr. David Janzen, First Lady of Tabor Karen Janzen and Friends University President Dr. Amy Carey Bragg to visit about the latest developments in Hillsboro and Wichita. Presidents Janzen and Bragg were in Washington, D.C. to participate in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
I look forward to seeing these presidents continue to lead their schools through mission-based education and prepare individuals for a life of learning, work and service.
On Thursday, I met with Kansas wheat farmers and researchers who are enjoying the winter moisture back in Kansas but are concerned about the lack of certainty on the reauthorization of the farm bill. We also discussed Kansans' role in feeding the world by providing wheat and grain to those in areas of the world under challenging conditions.
Thank you to Marsha, Antonina, Brian, Clay and Shayna for visiting with me in Washington, D.C.
Kansas Chiropractic Association
Later on Thursday, I spoke with members of the Kansas Chiropractic Association (KCA). KCA is the oldest chiropractic association in the U.S. and works to promote chiropractic medicine across the country. During our discussion, members of the KCA thanked me for my support of The Chiropractic Medicare Coverage Modernization Act, which I recently co-sponsored in the Senate. Once passed, this legislation will expand access to all chiropractic services for Medicare beneficiaries.
Thank you to Dr. Brian Asbury, Dr. Katie Benson, Dr. Jessica Loveless, Dr. Logan Null, Dr. Brad Pyle, Brenden Bickel, Karyn Leihy, Chia Okoro, Emma Rolf, and Hannah Styczykowski for taking the time to speak with me and for their dedication to providing medical services to Kansans.
Examining Artificial Intelligence Development at the VA
On Wednesday, Senator Jon Tester and I led a roundtable for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee regarding VA’s use of artificial intelligence (AI). During our discussion, we focused on the potential of this technology to create new opportunities for veterans and their families and make it easier for VA employees to do their jobs.
During the roundtable we also discussed the Federal AI Risk Management Act, which I introduced to require federal agencies like VA to incorporate the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) safeguards into their AI management procedures to better support and protect veterans and others.
Addressing EV Batteries Concerns
This week, my colleagues and I sent a bicameral letter to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman, calling for the withdrawal of the Biden administration’s proposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks. The proposed standards, which would require automakers to more than double average fleet-wide fuel economy in less than 10 years, do not comply with federal law and would effectively mandate the mass production of electric vehicles (EVs) and a phase out of gas-powered cars and trucks. Americans should be able to keep the ability to choose the vehicle that best fits their needs and that they can afford rather than having the federal government dictate what they can and cannot drive.
You can read the full letter here.
Confirming Amtrak Nominees
This week, the Senate considered and confirmed three nominees for the Amtrak Board of Directors. Five of President Biden’s original six nominees for the board hailed from states serviced by the Northeast Corridor (NEC), however, I authored a provision in Surface Transportation Reauthorization requiring a geographically diverse board where at least half of the eight board members be from outside the NEC. Amtrak trains serve over 525 stations across the country, and most of these stations are located in rural communities.
The White House confirmed they intend to comply with the law and nominate individuals to fill the remaining open seats with people outside the NEC. I urge the White House to hold their commitment in the future and continue to nominate individuals who understand the needs of rural America.
Expanding Affordable Rural Housing
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed my legislation introduced with Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to extend the loan window for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Section 524 Rural Housing site loan program. The Section 524 program provides loans to non-profits and local and tribal governments to acquire and develop land to be subdivided into building sites for low and moderate-income families. This legislation would extend the loan repayment window from two years to five years, increasing flexibility for borrowers.
You can read more about the Rural Housing Site Loans Term Extension here in WIBW.
Urging Federal Regulators to Reconsider Harmful Regulations
I sent a letter to financial regulators last week with Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) urging them to consider the harmful impact the proposed Basel III Endgame regulations would have on agriculture and energy industries. The proposal would drive up the cost for farmers co-ops and energy producers to use futures and options contracts for hedging against price fluctuations and market shocks. Hedging is a critical way for anyone from grain processors to cotton shippers to lock in future prices and continue offering stable prices for consumers.
This letter to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Board sends the message that these banking rules would have widespread negative effects on derivatives end-users and consumers alike.
Honoring the Life and Legacy of Cecil O’Brate
This week, I spoke on the Senate Floor to honor the life and legacy of Cecil O’Brate. Cecil was a strong advocate for Kansas and was committed to helping others succeed. In 2013, Cecil and his wife Frances established the O’Brate Foundation which awards college scholarships and teaches life skills to students, most of whom grew up in the foster care system or below poverty level. Despite achieving great means and influence himself, he remained dedicated to the Kansas and midwestern values he learned on the farm fields in Hamilton County. Cecil always conducted himself with humility and authenticity and will be dearly missed.
You can watch my floor remarks here.
Visits Across Kansas
This week, I toured Bombardier – a global leader in aviation, focused on designing, manufacturing and servicing the world’s most exceptional business jets. In 2022, Bombardier designated Wichita as its new U.S. headquarters and launched a defense program that partners with the military.
Thank you to Bombardier Head of U.S. Strategy Tonya Sudduth, Vice President of Engineering Tom Bisges, General Manager Derek Penn, and Director U.S. Strategy and Community Relations Jessica Istas for the tour of your facility.
Newton High School
On Monday, I stopped by Newton High School to tour the campus with student leaders. While on the tour I was shown some of the facilities and programs that the students were most proud of at their school including the wrestling program, business and journalism courses and the automotive technology building. Senior Abby Koontz shared with me how she was successful in fundraising for and securing much-needed Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) for the school district through her involvement with the HOSA – Future Health Professionals Club at Newton High.
Thank you to the student leaders and staff who took the time out of their day to visit with me and show me around their school.
Clearing the Backlog for Veterans’ Service Records
I was pleased to learn on Tuesday that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has eliminated the backlog of requests for military service records. This has been a problem for veterans, in Kansas and across the country, seeking their records to access health care and benefits for the past three years. Pandemic-era restrictions caused the backlog of requests at NPRC to grow to more than 600,000, impacting burial benefits, VA home loan applications and veterans enrolling in VA health care.
Starting in December of 2020, I led bipartisan efforts urging creative solutions to increase NPRC operating capacity, expand collaborative records digitization efforts between NARA and VA, and boost directed funds to improve these challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. I applaud the dedicated workforce of the NRPC, of whom many are veterans themselves, for their years of service toward the goal of eliminating the records backlog through expanded shifts, overtime and holiday work, and deploying innovative solutions so that our nation’s veterans’ timely access to their records is restored.
Addressing Antisemitic Comments from VA Attorney
Last week, Senator Manchin (D-W.V.) and I sent a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough demanding answers regarding the department’s handling of antisemitic conduct by an attorney in VA’s Office of General Counsel. The attorney mocked Israel’s demands for the release of hostages in a post on social media in November 2023. Ultimately, the department decided the suitable punishment for this propagation of disdainful antisemitic material is simple counseling. Antisemitic conduct by a department attorney cannot be tolerated and should be met with far stronger disciplinary action than counseling.
This incident provides yet another example of why Congress should pass my bill, the Restore VA Accountability Act, to strengthen VA’s authority to hold bad employees accountable, while providing good VA employees – who make up the vast majority of the department’s workforce – with a healthier workplace. We are looking forward to the department’s response and explanation of the acceptance of this misconduct, which reflects poorly on the honesty and integrity of the department as a whole.
Thanking Senate Page Johnny Honnold
This week, my fall Senate Page, Johnny Honnold, graduated from the U.S. Senate Page Program and is returning to Pembroke Hill to complete his Junior year. Johnny was the main speaker and master of ceremonies for his class and did exceptionally well in his schoolwork. He won awards as best student in American History, Science and American Literature.
Congratulations Johnny on this accomplishment, and thank you for serving as an outstanding page this session.
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