Kansas Common Sense
Jun 14 2021
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Urging A Full Reopening of the Eisenhower Museum
This week, I visited the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene to continue advocating for a for full reopening of the facility. Currently, it is open for limited hours and days, and ticketing is capped. I have written the leader of the National Archives, which oversees presidential libraries, to follow the science and local conditions to enable the library and museum to accommodate visitors beyond the 25 percent capacity limit. I appreciated the opportunity to hear firsthand from the library’s director, Dawn Hammatt, on plans for a full reopening. I expressed my concern that the guidelines published on January 24 are now out of date as our state and country ease restrictions. Ike is an important economic driver for Abilene and our state, and as conditions have significantly changed in the last few months, so should our policies. I will continue to press for a rapid and safe reopening.
Thank you to Director Dawn Hammatt, Dickinson County Economic Development Executive Director Chuck Scott, Mayor Brandon Rein and Eisenhower Foundation Executive Director Meredith Sleichter for your time.
Read more about my efforts to fully reopen the museum in the Salina Journal.
Modernizing College Athletics
This week, I participated in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on collegiate athletics and name, image and likeness (NIL) rights for amateur athletes. Over the years, college athletics have grown into an increasingly profitable, billion dollar industry, however the rules surrounding athlete compensation have not been modernized. In an attempt to fix this issue, 19 states have passed legislation on athlete compensation, which could lead to a confusing system of inconsistent state laws that would be cumbersome for schools and athletes to navigate.
Earlier this year I introduced the Amateur Athlete Protection and Compensation Act. My legislation 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 while at the same time protecting the existing model of college athletics that has afforded so many young athletes an opportunity to pursue an education. Athletics teach young men and women many valuable skills that serve them throughout their life, and Kansas has an unparalleled history of college athletics that includes several premier programs attracting student athletes from all over the nation and the world. I will continue to work with my Congressional colleagues to ensure NIL legislation strikes the appropriate balance of empowering amateur athletes while maintaining the integrity of college sports that we all know and love.
Protecting Access to Rural Telehealth
I introduced the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act with Senators Joe Manchin, Joni Ernst and Jeanne Shaheen to make current telehealth flexibilities permanent. Our bipartisan legislation would ensure rural and underserved community health care providers are able to continue offering telehealth services after the public health emergency ends. With a focus on initiatives that benefit rural providers and patients, this legislation would allow payment parity for audio-only health services for clinically appropriate appointments, permanently waive the geographic restriction in order for patients to be treated from their homes, allow rural health clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers to serve as distance sites for telehealth services and allows Critical Access Hospitals to directly bill for telehealth services. The COVID-19 pandemic reiterated the effective and efficient access to care telehealth provides to patients, especially those in rural communities. Even after the pandemic ends, our health care system should bolster telehealth services as a reliable option to serve patients and help expand health care options and availability in rural America.
Honoring Sergeant Carol Eugene Domer
On Memorial Day, I was honored to be at the Nemaha County Veterans Memorial to recognize Sergeant Carol Eugene Domer, a World War II airman who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country when his plane went down off the coast of Papua New Guinea in 1943.
I encourage you to watch the video below and learn more about our 16-year effort to recover a WWII airman’s ring from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Evaluating FY2022 Budget Requests
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to discuss the proposed International Affairs FY2022 budget. I asked him about our embassies and consulates overseas being appropriately staffed to process visa requests quickly for individuals who seek to come to our state temporarily to work in agriculture and other key industries. As State Department personnel are vaccinated, it is important they return safely to their desks to handle these requests. I also sought and received a commitment that the State Department will continue to assist in pursuing justice for Michael Sharp, a native Kansan murdered in the Democratic Republic of Congo working for the United Nations, and I pressed Secretary Blinken to hold Iran accountable for its refusal to uphold its international obligations and provide answers regarding its nuclear program at previously undeclared sites. The State Department and other agencies are vital for promoting peace and prosperity on behalf of Americans, and I will work with my colleagues in the coming months to ensure this budget serves American interests.
Department of Justice
On Wednesday, I participated in a hearing of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science to discuss and review the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) FY2022 budget request. The committee welcomed Attorney General Merrick Garland to discuss critical issues facing our country. Among those issues were the impact of President Biden’s executive order prohibiting DOJ from contracting with private detention facilities and the impact it is having on the U.S. Marshal Service’s (USMS) ability to effectively complete their mission. Without the use of private facilities, many who are awaiting trial will have to be housed hundreds of miles away, making it harder on both the USMS to transport the individual to and from trial as well as the individual and their families who must now travel much further to see or speak to their loved ones.
We also discussed the insufficiency of the DOJ’s budget request with respect to our federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Our federal law enforcement agencies have seen dramatic declines in personnel over the last several years, and this year’s budget request does nothing to remedy this. As the lead Republican of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, I’m committed to working with Attorney General Garland and my colleagues to make certain our nation’s law enforcement have the support and tools necessary to keep our communities safe.
Air and Space Force
Also on Wednesday, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense held a hearing on the Air Force and Space Force budgets for FY2022. Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth, Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Charles Brown and Chief of Space Operations General John Raymond testified about their priorities for the Air Force and the Space Force, focusing on developing cutting-edge technologies to modernize our Air Force and maintain a winning edge in space. Several of these technologies have a strong research or manufacturing presence in Kansas, from hypersonics, to Agility Prime, to new airframes like the B-21 Raider and the F-35 Lightning. Additionally the Air Force is prioritizing procurement of the KC-46 tanker, which is largely built in Kansas and is being flown out of McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita.
I also had the opportunity to ask about programs that are important to Kansas, like the Air Force’s Skyborg program. Skyborg will be an unmanned aircraft that will serve as a wingman for fighter aircraft and take on risky aspects of combat missions. Wichita State University, in a partnership with Spirit AeroSystems, is one of the few organizations the Air Force selected to create prototype components, and I am looking forward to seeing the talent Kansas has to contribute to our national security.
Food and Drug Administration
On Thursday, the Acting Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Dr. Janet Woodcock testified before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA Appropriations regarding the FDA’s FY2022 budget request. During the hearing, I expressed my concerns about the extended amount of time it takes to get animal feed ingredients approved by FDA for livestock feed, including new feed ingredients that may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. Dr. Woodcock also committed to working to modernize FDA standards of identity, which regulate certain food labels. The amount of time it currently takes for FDA to update standards of identity hinders research and development of more nutritious and healthier foods. I also asked Dr. Woodcock about direct-to-consumer COVID-19 test kits, and ensuring FDA fairly considers consideration of both nasal swab and saliva-based COVID-19 tests. I look forward to working with Dr. Woodcock to ensure our country continues to have the safest and most effective food and drugs available.
Discussing VA’s Longstanding Infrastructure Problems
On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the VA’s longstanding and systemic infrastructure problems. More than 7.2 million veterans received care in the VA's health care system last year at aging hospitals, clinics and health care facilities. Currently, the age and condition of VA facilities demand that we do better.
During the hearing, I raised questions about the White House’s fact sheet aimed at addressing the immediate needs of VA health care facilities, creating jobs for veterans and expanding opportunities for small veteran-owned businesses. I shared my concerns about how this plan’s $18 billion proposal for VA will be used and how it aligns with the department's FY2022 budget request for construction of $2.2 billion. I understand the VA is "in the process" of identifying projects and facilities, but I have unanswered questions regarding how much they cost and how funding will be prioritized.
The administration is requesting money now with the promise to provide a plan for where and how to spend it later, an entirely backward approach. My position regarding the importance of VA health care is clear and on the record. I am wholeheartedly committed to the maintenance, continued development and improvement of a VA health care system.
Hosting a Listening Tour Stop in Dickinson County
It was great to see more faces in Dickinson County on Friday to listen to the thoughts of Abilene community members during my Listening Tour stop. We talked about voter integrity, border security, inflation and the need for workers as the economy rebounds from the pandemic. We also discussed my work on the Senate VA Committee and my work to bolster veterans mental health, including the John Scott Hannon Act.
Thank you to Mr. K’s Farmhouse Restaurant for hosting our discussion, Rep. John Barker, Mayor Brandon Rein (pictured below) and Retired Lt. Gen. Perry L. Wiggins for stopping by, and to everyone who shared their concerns with me.
Facilitating a Discussion Regarding Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer Extension Proposal
This week, I brought Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn and Amtrak President Stephen Gardner, and local leaders – Kansas Senator Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick County Commissioner Pete Meitzner and Newton City Manager Kelly McElroy – together for a conversation regarding the proposed extension of the Heartland Flyer passenger service into Kansas. The current proposal would extend the Heartland Flyer route from Oklahoma City into both Wichita and Newton, which would then connect passengers to the current Southwest Chief passenger route. Conversations surrounding the Heartland Flyer are ongoing, and I look forward to continuing to discuss Amtrak’s plans and priorities moving forward.
Thank you to Carolyn McGinn, Pete Meitzner and Kelly McElroy for being a part of this discussion.
Remembering Sgt. Wesley Kubie
This week, three Kansas Air National Guardsmen were in a training accident, resulting in two injured airmen, and the tragic death of Staff Sgt. Wesley Kubie. Robba and I are extending our heartfelt condolences to his wife, three children and the entire Kansas National Guard. We are praying for the recovery of the two injured airmen.
Wesley will lie in state on Wednesday, June 16, at 2 p.m. Funeral services will be held on Thursday, June 17, at 10 a.m. He will be buried with full military honors. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Brennan-Mathena Funeral Home: 800 SW 6th Ave., Topeka. To learn more about Wes’ life, click here.
Requiring Greater Transparency from Big Tech Platforms
Last week, I introduced the Filter Bubble Transparency Act with Senators Thune, Blackburn, Blumenthal, Warner and Schatz. “Filter bubble” is a term referring to a state of intellectual isolation that can result from the personalized search results and information that is provided to consumers by the algorithms of internet service companies.
This legislation would require large-scale internet platforms to provide greater transparency to consumers and allow users to view content that has not been curated as a result of a secret algorithm. Platforms would be required to clearly notify its users that their platform creates a filter bubble that uses algorithms and allow them to view information without the filter bubble. In an increasingly complex tech economy, consumers want to know what personal information about them is being collected and how it is being processed and repurposed. This legislation increases consumer awareness of how algorithms are manipulating what they view online and allows them to decide what they see on their screens by providing increased user control of algorithms used by Big Tech. I encourage my Senate colleagues to support this legislation and will continue to pursue providing appropriate controls and protections to consumers without disproportionately harming innovation.
Exposing Keystone XL Job Loss
This week, I joined 10 of my Senate colleagues in introducing the Defending Keystone Jobs Act, legislation which would require the Department of Labor (DOL) to submit a report to Congress on the number of jobs lost as a direct or indirect result of the Biden administration’s move to cancel construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This project was expected to provide approximately 11,000 direct high-paying jobs and up to 60,000 indirect and direct jobs, generate tax revenue, increase renewable-energy demand, reduce emissions and strengthen North American energy independence.
Canceling the Keystone XL Pipeline has cost our country thousands of good-paying jobs and made us more dependent on foreign countries to supply our domestic energy needs. The Biden administration must reverse this policy, especially in light of its decision to waive sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and reprioritize the needs of American workers and energy consumers. I will continue to support the thousands of Americans who work in the energy sector and vehemently oppose policies that diminish U.S. energy independence.
Restoring Byron Walker Wildlife Area
Big news for waterfowl hunters and outdoor enthusiasts: Ducks Unlimited and Phillips 66’s efforts to support and restore Byron Walker Wildlife Area includes a North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grants Program (NAWCA) grant of $1 million and increased wetland habitat to benefit Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and south central Kansas. Click here to learn more about this restoration project.
Information for Students
High School Juniors: Become a Senate Page
Senate Pages play an important role in day-to-day operations of the United States Senate. High school students who are selected for and participate in the Senate Page Program are afforded a unique opportunity to work in the Senate and learn about Congress and the legislative process while maintaining their regular coursework. The Senate Page Program is administered by the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Secretary of the Senate and the party secretaries.
After the program’s temporary halt due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, I am excited to announce that the Senate Page Program will restart this September. Summer Page eligibility is limited to students who have completed their sophomore year of high school and who will be 16 or 17 years old on or before the date of appointment. More information on the program, eligibility and application can be found here. Applicants are encouraged to apply early.
Now Accepting Fall 2021 Internship Applications
An internship in my office provides a unique opportunity for students to work closely with my staff on behalf of Kansans, and applications for the Fall 2021 Intern Session are now available. Interns witness the workings of Congress from a unique perspective, and develop knowledge and professional skills that will serve them in their future career pursuits. My office is accepting applications for the Fall Session through June 24. Please visit my website to hear from past interns, find the application link and learn more about this opportunity by clicking here.
Recognizing Women Veterans Day
On Saturday, Women Veterans Day and the anniversary of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, we celebrated the contributions of women in the military. To all women veterans, thank you for your service and your sacrifice.
I have been working to honor two distinct groups of women that have served our country: the Hello Girls of World War I and the women who served in the Six Triple Eight Central Postal Director Battalion during World War II.
U.S. Army Celebrates 246 Years
Today marks the 246th birthday of the U.S. Army. To those who have answered the call to defend and protect our nation, I say thank you.
Happy Flag Day
For over 200 years, the American flag has been an enduring symbol of freedom. On Flag Day, we honor those who have sacrificed defending the stars and stripes, and the unity and hope it represents.
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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