Kansas Common Sense
Jul 27 2020
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Passing the NDAA and MOMS Leave Act
The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, which authorizes funding for the Department of Defense and supports programs that support the men and women who serve in our military. This marks the 60th year in a row that the Senate has passed a bipartisan bill to strengthen our national defense. The men and women serving in our military work every day to keep us safe here at home and to defend our freedoms from threats around the world. The NDAA includes a pay raise for our troops, invests in the development of new technology, weapons and cybersecurity and provides resources to help our military families thrive. The bill also supports Kansas military bases and industries by investing in hypersonic weapons and prioritizing improvements to the KC-46 tanker.
A number of my priorities were included in the bill, which will help servicemembers and veterans in Kansas and throughout the nation. This includes the Mothers of Military Service (MOMS) Leave Act, which will grant maternity leave to women serving in the National Guard and Reserve. This legislation would make certain that women serving in the National Guard and Reserve can take maternity leave without worrying about how it will affect their creditable military service. Women who serve our country should not be penalized for having a child, nor should they be expected to return to drill duties in the weeks following childbirth.
The NDAA also included my bill, the FIRST Act, to allow the names of fallen Big Red One soldiers to be added to the First Division Monument that is located on the White House grounds. There are over 600 names of fallen soldiers dating back to Desert Storm that need to be added to this monument, and we are now closer than we’ve ever been to seeing this happen. The bill also includes a study on unemployment issues facing women veterans of the post-9/11 era. The results of this study will inform future legislation to help strengthen the employment opportunities for women in this cohort. I also co-sponsored amendments that will improve access to mental health care for members of the National Guard and Reserve and enhance the country’s ability to compete in the global semiconductor market.
I am pleased that we were able to come together to pass this bipartisan bill that improves our national security and supports our servicemembers and their families.
Protecting Americans from COVID-19 Scams
As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade and Consumer Protections, I convened a hearing on Tuesday to examine the rise of scams that are occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss what more can be done to protect the public from falling prey to these scams. I questioned witnesses, including the Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Federal Trade Commission, on how they are cracking down on these predators and helping consumers become better informed. During this time of national emergency and coordinated recovery, there are fraudsters and scam artists that seek to take advantage of consumers, especially the most vulnerable communities like our nation’s seniors. The variety of these increasingly complex and innovative scams remains exceedingly difficult for any consumer to wrap their head around, much less defend themselves against. Whether it be unsubstantiated health benefits advertised for certain products, illegal robocalls pitching low-priced health insurance, fraudulent donation solicitations, or even imposters claiming to be from federal agencies collecting mandatory payments, raising awareness to these harmful practices is critical to educating consumers in protecting themselves. I look forward to continue working with my Senate colleagues in protecting American consumers from these fraudulent practices.
Introducing the RAMP-UP Act to Expand Markets for Small Meatpackers
On Thursday, I introduced the Requiring Assistance to Meat Processers for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act, a bill that would provide grants to meat processors to make the improvements necessary to become federally inspected. Currently, meatpacking facilities can only make sales across state lines if they are federally inspected. Facilities that are state inspected can only sell their products within the state they are located, and custom-exempt processors can only process livestock for the exclusive use of the livestock owner.
The RAMP-UP Act would provide grants to meatpacking plants for planning activities, facility upgrades and other necessary improvements to meet the standards necessary for federal inspections, increasing their market opportunities and encouraging interstate commerce. The importance of meatpacking facilities in Kansas has been especially clear during this pandemic as they work to meet a growing, nationwide demand for quality meat. By increasing small packer capacity and production, this legislation will strengthen the food supply chain for consumers and give cattle producers in Kansas more options to market their livestock.
I recently introduced the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief COVID-19 Act that would support small, federally-inspected meatpacking plants that are operating longer hours during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep our supply chain moving. I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to strengthen small meatpackers and improve markets for livestock producers.
Speaking to the Artemis Generation: Organizing a Student Q&A with Kansas Astronaut Nick Hague
This week, I partnered with the Cosmosphere, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Kansan and NASA Astronaut Nick Hague to host a virtual Q&A for Kansas students interested in learning about careers in STEM fields and what it takes to be a part of the Artemis generation. Students were able to learn about the Artemis program, NASA’s current mission to return Americans to the moon, and the jobs of several panelists, all with ties to the Cosmosphere.
Through my role as chairman of the committee that funds NASA, I have the opportunity of working with Administrator Bridenstine to ensure the agency has the appropriate supplies and tools needed for the critical missions they conduct. One vital component NASA depends upon is talent. The Cosmosphere plays a critical role in teaching and inspiring our next generation of space explorers, in Kansas, and across the nation. I’m grateful to our panelists who participated in the event: Astronaut Nick Hague, Theresa Sindelar, and Charlie Garcia who dedicated their time in answering student questions. I am also grateful for Administrator Bridenstine for moderating the panel and the Cosmosphere for hosting this great event. I look forward to our continued work together in inspiring students in Kansas and across the nation.
Hosting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director in Kansas
On Saturday, I hosted the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Aurelia Skipwith in Sedgwick and Stafford Counties to discuss ongoing FWS efforts in the state and to meet with farmers, ranchers and partners of our state’s agricultural and natural resource associations.
We began the day with a tour of the Great Plains Nature Center (GPNC) in Wichita, which serves as a resource of conservation and environmental education for the community and local school districts. Thank you to GPNC Director Marc Murrell for leading an informative tour and Kansas House Majority Leader and Senator Dan Kerschen for joining.
Our next stop was at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), which includes a water basin important for the local agriculture and regional economy. We had the opportunity to meet with staff and local stakeholders, as well as tour the refuge. Thank you to Kansas Senators Carolyn McGinn and Mary Jo Taylor, as well as Representative Alicia Straub, for being with us..
Read more about my visit here in the Hutchison News.
Emphasizing the Importance of Veteran Mental Health on the Senate Floor
On Tuesday, I spoke on the Senate floor to call attention to the growing issue of suicide among our veterans and to encourage my colleagues to support the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. Now is the time for the Senate to take a stand to protect the lives of veterans who have given so much for our nation. They have protected us and we need to protect them.
Veteran suicide prevention has been one of my top priorities as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC), and I have been working closely with the VA and the White House to improve upon and advance this legislation which will make necessary investments in suicide prevention services, innovative research and improvements to mental health care. We know there is not one single explanation or reason for suicide and there is no one single treatment or prevention strategy. While post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries are prominent among veterans and are known as an invisible wound of war, we now realize other conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorder also contribute to suicide among veterans and all Americans. Our veterans are fighting new battles, and the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues
The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will strengthen community organizations already providing support to veterans, bolster research efforts on brain and mental health conditions, expand upon telehealth partnerships to deliver better care to our veterans in rural areas, allow veterans to take advantage of emerging, complimentary and integrative treatments, and so much more. This bipartisan bill received a unanimous 17-0 vote in the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs earlier this year, and the time for the full Senate to act is now.
Sending Legislation to the President
Expanding Veteran SAH Grant Eligibility in Honor of Kansan Paul Benne
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed my bill, the Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act. This bill is now on its way to President Trump to be signed into law.
My bill, named after Spring Hill, Kansas native Army Colonel (Ret.) Paul Benne and Captain (Ret.) Ryan Kules, will expand Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant eligibility for blind and seriously injured veterans. It will allow blind veterans to access this grant program and double the maximum number of awarded grants from 3 to 6 per veteran. It will also increase the number of authorized applications per fiscal year from 30 to 120. My bill will allow veterans to utilize vital SAH grants in a way that best fit their needs – providing greater support and improving the quality of life for many of our nation’s veterans.
In 2013, Col. Benne developed a medical condition that led to his retirement from the U.S. Army after 23 years of service. Col. Benne was rated 100 percent disabled at the time of his retirement. In 2016, Col. Benne was fitted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a wheelchair and applied for an SAH grant, as neither the Benne’s home nor vehicle could accommodate his new wheelchair. After more than a year of navigating the VA, Col. Benne and his wife, Christine, contacted me for assistance. Within three months of working with Col. Benne to engage the VA, Col. Benne was given a favorable decision on his adaptive housing claim and provided SAH grants.
I want to thank both the Benne and Kules families for their service and advocacy. Their willingness to share their stories significantly contributed to this legislation being passed by Congress. Sadly, Col. Benne passed away in December, 2019 due to complications from his disability. While he was unable to personally see this legislation signed into law, I spoke with Christine after it passed the House of Representatives to let her know that its passage was in Col. Benne’s honor. I look forward the President Trump signing this bill into law to help blind and disabled veterans adapt their homes and improve their quality of life.
Providing Legal Protections for Servicemembers During COVID-19
This week the U.S. House of Representatives passed S. 3637, my bipartisan legislation, which I introduced with SVAC Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT), to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and provide additional legal protections for members of the military impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The bill now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law. This legislation expands SCRA protections to servicemembers who were previously issued orders to change duty stations but, due to the pandemic, received a stop movement order from the Department of Defense (DoD) and now may have a housing or car lease in two different locations.
This will positively impact our military members in Kansas and across the nation and ensure they are not financially burdened by two leases due to DoD’s stop movement orders. I am pleased the U.S. House of Representatives voted to advance my legislation and look forward to it arriving on the president’s desk.
Working Towards Equity for Women and Minority Veterans
On Wednesday, I hosted a Senate VA Committee roundtable discussion on issues faced by women and minority veterans with key partners and stakeholders from across the federal government and numerous veteran service organizations. We discussed the challenges that these veterans face in getting VA care and services and the disparities in utilization of VA benefits among minority veterans and their non-minority counterparts. Women and minorities have served in our military to defend our nation since the first days of our republic, and as they serve in greater and greater numbers, it is important that today’s VA works for them. This roundtable discussion was substantive, candid and afforded an opportunity to learn a great deal, from both the VA and from veterans themselves, which will help us create better and more equitable outcomes for veterans, regardless of their race or gender. I look forward to continuing to work with the VA, veterans’ advocates and my colleagues in Congress to make certain that every veteran who has served our nation gets the care and service they have earned.
Condemning Human Rights Violations in China
Additional information on the Chinese government’s treatment of its Uyghur minorities, primarily Muslims, have recently come to light that are shocking. A video emerged showing Uyghurs being loaded onto trains to be sent to camps for forced labor and “re-education” emerged, and reporting has provided the dehumanizing details on life inside these camps. Uyghur women, for example, are subject to forced sterilizations and abortions in an effort to reduce the population. What is happening is appalling, and Chinese officials must continue to be held accountable. I am pleased that the Trump Administration has imposed sanctions provided for by the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act passed in May, which I co-sponsored, but additional sanctions should be forthcoming. I will continue to work with my colleagues to defend human rights around the world.
Introducing Kansan C.J. Mahoney to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to introduce Ambassador C.J. Mahoney before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A native of Russell, C.J. is currently the Deputy United States Trade Representative and has been nominated to become Legal Adviser for the Department of State. Over the past two years in his current role, C.J. was instrumental in brokering the USMCA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, as well as working with both sides of the aisle in Congress to get the agreement passed. I shared with the committee that I was recently in Russell, and many were asking about C.J., a testament to how fondly he is remembered in his hometown. Endorsed by numerous former Legal Advisers, I assured my colleagues on the committee that C.J.’s education, professional experience, and character will make for an outstanding Legal Adviser. I expect the committee will approve his nomination quickly, and I look forward to actively supporting C.J. on the Senate floor.
Introducing Legislation for National Guard Survivors
This week, I introduced S. 4287, the COVID-19 Benefits for Active Duty Servicemembers, the Reserve Components, and their Survivors Act of 2020, alongside my colleagues on the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees. This bipartisan legislation would expand survivor benefits for family members of the Reserve Components, who are activated under federal orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and pass away in their line of duty. This bill would also create an avenue for our nation’s Reserve Components to apply for a service-connected disability due to their service in response to COVID-19.
All of our servicemembers, whether active duty or as a member of our Reserve Components, have stepped up and served their fellow Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, risking exposing themselves to the virus. I have introduced this bill to make certain that any servicemember who dies or is medically impacted due to their service during this pandemic, may now be entitled to the VA benefits they deserve. I will work to get this legislation passed and signed into law quickly to provide servicemembers and their families more certainty during this time. As chairman of SVAC, I will continue to prioritize the health and lives of our servicemembers who consistently put their lives on the line for our safety.
Participating in a Senate Commerce Hearing on Spectrum
As a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, I questioned witnesses in a hearing on Thursday about the federal government’s role in telecommunications spectrum management and policy. For the United States to be a leader in 5G mobile technology, spectrum must be commercialized for development by the telecommunications industry. Government agencies need to coordinate to free up spectrum expediently and responsibly for this purpose, and there must be an effective and transparent process to govern this decision-making. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to make certain the government is effectively working to allow innovation to take place while promoting economic competitiveness.
Meeting with KFB Board Members
On Sunday, I stopped by the Kansas Farm Bureau’s office where I visited with President Rich Felts and the Board of Directors during their quarterly board meeting. We discussed the current state of the agriculture economy in the midst of COVID-19, including the several disruptions in markets and supply chains due to COVID-19 and the significant economic damage to Kansas producers. Thank you to President Felts and the Board members for the opportunity to join you.
Recognizing Olympian and Former Congressman Jim Ryun
My former colleague Jim Ryun was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday. From being the first high schooler to break the 4-minute mile while at Wichita East High School, to standing on the podium at the Olympic Games, to serving as a Kansas Congressman, Jim has combined his passion and incredible work ethic to represent and serve both Kansas and the country.
This past week, I saw Jim running (what looked like a 4-minute mile) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was great to congratulate Jim in person on this well-deserved honor. You have made Kansans proud.
Read more about Jim here in the Wichita Eagle.
On Friday, I stopped by Hays and had the opportunity to speak with local business owners and their employees. We discussed how their business has been impacted by COVID-19, their ideas for additional federal relief and how the Paycheck Protection Program helped local businesses keep employees on their payroll. I also spoke to Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin and Court Deputy John Walz. Thank you to everyone who took the time to speak with me..
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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