Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks 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.
Postal Reform Passes the Senate
Throughout my time representing Kansans in Congress, I have advocated for the preservation of rural post offices and sensible reforms that ensure the Postal Service’s stability. This week, the United States Senate passed H.R. 3076, the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022 to help improve and sustain the United States Postal Service (USPS).
For rural Kansans and older residents, the Postal Service is the glue that keeps them connected to the rest of the country. Kansans have always detailed to me the adverse impact the declining quality of USPS has on their lives and expressed the need for reforms to improve its efficiency. In 2015, I first introduced the Postal Service Reform Act and again introduced this legislation in 2018 and 2021. The Postal Service is an indispensable piece of infrastructure that can reach nearly every address in America, and I am pleased we are one step closer to getting this critical reform across the finish line. Click here or below to watch my remarks.
To read the Kansas City Star’s report on postal reform passing the Senate, click here.
Putin’s Unjust War with Ukraine
Russia’s war in Ukraine has raged on for nearly three weeks, and Russia’s brutality is on full display. There is evidence of maternity wards at hospitals being bombed, and hundreds of civilians have been killed. I joined my colleagues in introducing a resolution that encourages investigations into war crimes by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders responsible for these outrages. There are now 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict, with many more who are displaced from their homes within Ukraine. When the war first started, I called for humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians, and Congress passed more than $13 billion in aid to Ukraine, with $6.7 billion going specifically for humanitarian purposes. The United States will continue to support Ukrainians in their fight for freedom.
Responding to President Biden’s Announcement to Ban U.S. Purchase of Russian Oil
On Tuesday, President Biden announced a ban on the U.S. purchase of Russian oil. My colleagues and I made clear the United States cannot continue subsidizing Russia’s aggression by purchasing Russian oil. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine must be a wake-up call to the Biden administration to maximize home-grown energy and not diminish American energy independence. We need an all-of-the-above approach to energy independence, and it can’t be accomplished without enabling our oil and gas producers to play a larger role.
Banning the purchase of Russian oil is a good first step, but now President Biden must immediately reinstate the Keystone pipeline, allow for new drilling leases on federal lands and waters, and retreat from proposals that would install burdensome regulations and tax increases on domestic oil and gas producers. Until we take these actions to unleash American energy, gas prices will continue to rise and we will remain reliant on our adversaries for energy production.
Ahead of the State of the Union, Sen. Marshall and I teamed up on a letter to President Biden calling for an embargo on Russian energy and introduced legislation that would ban the import of Russian oil. Read the full letter here.
Protecting and Supporting Kansas Law Enforcement
Securing Critical Resources in FY2022 Appropriations Package
This week, Congress passed its FY2022 Appropriations Package. As the lead Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, I secured new resources for Kansas law enforcement in the FY2022 Appropriations Package, in addition to increased funding for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program and Community Oriented Policing Service Hiring Program.
At a time in which certain groups are calling to defund the police, in which the work and dedication of men and women in blue is questioned, I have and will continue to be an advocate for our law enforcement officers. After attempts to gut law enforcement programs, my committee was able to protect and increase vital resources for our men and women in blue. This includes new funding to make certain police officers receive the best training, the newest technology and the tools they need to protect our communities and keep our officers safe.
I appreciate the county sheriffs, chiefs of police, state troopers and officers who speak with me frequently about what their departments are facing on a daily basis and inform me of the resources they need to be successful in our communities. I stand with our law enforcement and will continue to do everything I can to support them in the United States Senate. Our police need to know that we care about them; we respect them; and we’ve got their six.
Kansas Congressional Delegation Honors Olathe East High School Heroes
This week, I joined Congresswoman Sharice Davids and members of the Kansas Delegation, including Sen. Marshall and Representatives Tracey Mann and Jake LaTurner, in recognizing the heroic actions of Olathe East High School School Resource Officer (SRO) Erik Clark and Assistant Principal Kaleb Stoppel on Friday, March 4, 2022.
The heroic actions and quick response of Officer Clark and Dr. Stoppel saved lives at Olathe East High School last Friday. The outpouring of support for the Olathe East community has been inspiring, and this resolution is one more way in which we can honor the actions they took to protect others and thank them for the love, care and sacrifice they showed towards their students and fellow educators. Full text of the resolution can be found here.
Investments to Advance U.S. Space Exploration
As the lead Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS), and Related Agencies, I was pleased to continue my strong support of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) within the FY2022 Appropriations Package.
This bill reflects my commitment to accelerate NASA’s missions and cement America’s leadership in space exploration. Since the creation of the Artemis program, I have worked to lay the foundation to return American astronauts to the Moon, and I’m pleased this legislation advances this goal by supporting each key element of the Artemis program.
The legislation also continues to invest in NASA’s STEM education programs, critical science missions and aeronautic research. Thank you to Sen. Shaheen for her strong partnership in crafting a bipartisan bill that includes investments across multiple arenas and prioritizes the important work at NASA and their commercial partners.
Banking Committee Work
Speaking at the American Bankers Association Conference
On Wednesday, I spoke at the American Bankers Association’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. We discussed the consequences of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the disruptions to global financial markets and energy prices. Additionally, we discussed the Enhancing Credit Opportunities for Rural America (ECORA) Act, legislation I introduced to benefit borrowers of agricultural credit and rural home mortgages through lower interest rates and increased access to credit. With increasing inflation significantly affecting farmers and ranchers, Congress needs to do everything we can to help agricultural producers and our rural towns. Thank you to Kansas Bankers Association President Doug Wareham for moderating our conversation and to ABA for inviting me to participate.
Meeting with the Kansas Bankers Association
I also welcomed the Kansas Bankers Association (KBA) leadership team to Washington, D.C. this week. In order to support the credit needs of local families and businesses, community banks need tailored regulations which decrease the cost of credit. We discussed legislative efforts to bolster the competitiveness of rural and agriculture-focused banks and encourage growth. Another key issue we covered is the Community Bank Leverage Ratio (CBLR). In response to the large amount of deposits banks received through pandemic stimulus funds, I introduced legislation to allow small lenders greater regulatory flexibility in meeting the financing needs of their local communities. As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I will continue to advocate for the local lenders which are often the backbone of communities across Kansas.
Announcing Grant for Fort Hays State University to Recruit STEM Educators
This week, I announced a grant to Fort Hays State University to recruit and prepare STEM teachers to work in rural areas with a high need for STEM educators.
Effective and passionate teachers play an important role in inspiring young people to pursue careers in STEM, and these fields are critical to American competitiveness on the global stage. This federal grant will increase the number of science teachers equipped to teach in Kansas’ rural school districts, while also contributing to national research on how to better train STEM educators to serve in rural America. I have a been a longtime supporter of STEM education, and this federal grant will contribute to making certain more of our next generation of engineers, scientists and technology professionals call rural Kansas home.
Good News for Kansas: NAIR-WSU Contract to Benefit Wichita
The National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) at Wichita State University has been awarded the largest contract award in the school’s history.
Read more about my work to highlight Kansas’ strong aviation capabilities from the Wichita Business Journal here.
Veterans’ Affairs Committee Work
Meeting with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough
This week, I met with Secretary McDonough to discuss our collaborative work over the last year to deliver health care and benefits to veterans exposed to toxic substances during military service. The Senate unanimously approved my Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act last month which would enable Post-9/11, combat-deployed veterans to enroll in the VA health care system. This was the Senate’s first step in a multi-pronged approach to address this issue. The remaining steps we discussed are a bipartisan path forward on creating a framework for the secretary’s quicker decisions on toxic exposure presumptions, as well as establishing actual presumptions of service-connection for certain diseases which can now be linked to military service.
The secretary and I also covered the receipt of nominations from the administration to fill vacancies in the important positions of VA Under Secretary for Health, VA Under Secretary for Benefits and at the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission. The secretary gave me a rundown on each nomination for these positions, which the Senate received on March 10. I wrote to President Biden last month on the need to fill these long-overdue vacancies so I was pleased the secretary was able to deliver this good news. I’m looking forward to learning more about the nominees during the upcoming confirmation process.
Finally, the secretary and I discussed his recommendations for review by the AIR Commission to be made public on March 14. His recommendations on facility realignments, openings and closures around the country will serve as the AIR Commission’s starting point in an effort that will modernize VA’s infrastructure to ensure veterans have access to world-class medical facilities for decades to come. I will be following this statutorily-mandated process closely, particularly as they impact Kansans.
Annual VSO Hearings
On Tuesday, the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees held our final joint hearing with testimony from the American Legion and several other veteran service organizations (VSOs). These hearings are an important feature of the committee’s work, affording us opportunities each year to hear directly from veteran advocates about their priorities and their work on behalf of their members. We discussed the Emporia American Legion Post’s ATLAS pod I announced last March, which will begin hosting VA clinical appointments by the end of this month. I am pleased that Kansas veterans in the area will now have better access to VA telehealth and I am grateful for the VA, American Legion and Philips partnership to reach veterans where they are with VA care.
As the Ranking Member of the Senate VA Committee, I also discussed the importance of caring for the health needs of toxic-exposed veterans without further delay. My legislation with Sen. Tester, the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act, would get veterans in need of health care into the VA quicker than any other bill in Congress, and I urged my colleagues in the House to send it to the President’s desk for signature. I look forward to continuing to work with the VSO community, as well as across the aisle and across Capitol Hill, to craft the next phase of our approach to fix the system for toxic-exposed veterans.
Remembering Roger Kemp
This week, I spoke on the Senate Floor in memory of Roger Kemp, a passionate member of the Kansas City community and a staunch women’s advocate following the tragic murder of his daughter, Ali.
In 2002, Ali was murdered at the age of 19 while she was working as a pool life guard. Living through every parent’s worst nightmare, Roger channeled his grief into bringing his daughter’s murderer to account for his heinous crime. Roger demanded nothing less than absolute justice for his daughter. He worked tirelessly, including through a billboard advertisement campaign, to find Ali’s killer. This campaign not only worked to bring her killer to justice but led law enforcement—both locally and nationally—to adopt a similar strategy that has been credited with helping apprehend hundreds of other suspected killers.
Over the nearly 20 years since its founding, the Ali Kemp Educational Foundation and its T.A.K.E. Defense programs have trained more than 70,000 girls and women across the country, ranging in age from 12 to 90 – no doubt saving more than one life. He was a loving father and husband, a dedicated member of his community and a man who created good from the devastating loss of his daughter.
My prayers are with Kathy, Tyler and Drew, and all that knew and loved Roger in this time of sorrow. I’m honored to have considered him a friend, and it comforts me to think that he has reunited with Ali once more.
Meeting with Aviation Leaders
I joined Harlow Aerostructures, Spirit AeroSystems and Honeywell this week to discuss their contributions to Sikorsky helicopters that carry out critical missions for our military. We discussed their work on the CH-53K Super Stallion, the Marine Corps’ heavy-lift helicopter, and the UH-60 Blackhawk, the Army’s aviation workhorse. As we look at the crisis in Ukraine and toward potential conflicts with China, we need the most capable and efficient helicopters to defend American assets. I am proud that these Kansas companies are partnering with the military to provide our servicemembers with the best technology that is available. As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I will continue to support our suppliers and manufacturers who serve our military men and women.
Meeting with Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation of Kansas
Executive Director Pat Jones and I met virtually this week to discuss the inspirational work being done by the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation in Wichita. Pat provided an update on the Timbers, a 100-unit, ADA accessible housing community located in northeast Wichita. The Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation of Kansas understood the need to support independent living options for individuals with disabilities and in response, created the Timbers apartment units. I appreciate the work Pat is doing to renovate the Timbers and look forward to following its success as the project expands.
Remembering George Nettels Jr.
George learned from his father that life is a gift and the length of it was not guaranteed. He took that lesson to heart, making sure that while he was on this Earth, he bettered his hometown of Pittsburg, made countless memories with his family and friends, and was always ready for an adventure.
This week, I spoke on the Senate Floor in memory of George Nettels Jr. Robba and I extend our sympathies to his family and friends, and all those who knew and loved him.
Meeting with Dianne Macheers
It was great to meet with Kansan Dianne Macheers in Washington, D.C. this week. We had the opportunity to discuss the future of assisted living homes as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dianne serves America’s senior citizens in her position as Vice President of Corporate Communication at the Ridge Senior Living and her expertise was appreciated as I continue working to ensure Kansas’ seniors receive quality care. Over the past year, I have continually advocated to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Provider Relief Fund (PRF) emergency assistance to be directed to assisted living homes. HHS has been focused on sending PRF funding assistance to Medicare and Medicaid facilities, but it is essential to ensure assisted living homes are not left behind.
Visiting with Kansas Collegiate Leaders
Visiting Donnelly College in KCK
Before heading to Washington on Monday morning, I visited Donnelly College to receive and update from President Monsignor Stuart Swetland and tour new buildings on campus. We also took time to discuss issues relevant to my role on the Senate Committee with jurisdiction over educational issues, such as federal Pell Grants, and steps they took to increase access to their nursing program. Training new nurses for the workforce is extremely important to all areas of our state but especially for our rural hospitals.
Special thanks to Monsignor Swetland for the tour and CCO Lisa Stoothoff, CFO Bernard Barry and Donnelly Board Member Maureen Mahoney for joining us.
Meeting with President Ben Schears of Northwest Kansas Technical College
I was pleased to meet virtually with President Ben Schears of Northwest Kansas Technical College (NWKTC) this week. President Schears updated me on the college’s interest in expanding educational offerings to further aid development of the high-skilled workforce Kansas employers and communities desperately need. We also discussed how federal resources can help support the college’s efforts to educate students in high-demand fields and prepare them for quick and successful entry into the workforce. I thank President Schears for his leadership and clear attention to the educational and workforce needs of our state.
Visiting with Members of the Truckers Convoy in Washington, D.C.
This week, I met with Kansans who drove to our nation’s capital with the truckers convoy. Our conversation touched on the concerns with COVID-19 vaccine mandates and the negative impact these mandates have had on a variety of industries, including health care and transportation. We also discussed the need for the Biden administration to increase America’s domestic oil production. Our nation is safer when we are not reliant on volatile regions or hostile nations in order to support our nation’s energy needs. I’m grateful to have met with fellow Kansans who understand the importance of vocal engagement in public policy.