My Hate Crimes Legislation Passes the Senate
This week, the Senate passed my legislation with Senator Blumenthal, the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act (Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act), which was included in the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
Collecting information on hate crimes across the country will help us better understand the daily threats facing racial, religious and ethnic communities in the U.S. Hate crimes are unacceptable, and it’s important that state law enforcement officials have the resources to report hate crimes to the FBI to help end the senseless and targeted violence aimed at minority communities. I appreciate my colleagues who have worked diligently to bring this to the floor and for quickly passing our legislation. Prior to this bill’s passage through the Senate, I spoke on the Senate floor regarding the need for hate crime data collection. Click here or below to watch my full remarks.
Working to Improve the Health of America’s Veterans
Tackling Veteran Homelessness
This week, as the lead Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I hosted a roundtable discussion with Chairman Tester focused on veteran homelessness amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccination efforts for this difficult-to-reach population, the allocation of funding and resources, and steps to effectively end veteran homelessness. We were joined by officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and veterans’ advocates from across the country, including Catholics Charities Wichita Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program Director Eric Arganbright.
Tackling veteran homelessness will require partnerships across federal departments and with organizations that are also working to serve the homeless population. Throughout the pandemic, additional resources have been allocated through the CARES Act and the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020. Furthermore, Congress gave authority to the VA to waive limits on grant amounts in the Grant Per Diem (GPD) Program for temporary housing in order to maximize social distancing as well as provide more funding flexibility for the VA to make greater use of telehealth equipment and personal hygiene items to help fill critical gaps in services. Veterans often return home facing mental health conditions, physical injuries and the challenge of returning to civilian life. This roundtable served as an opportunity to determine whether we are on the right track, what has worked, what hasn’t and what additional steps we may need to take to ensure a better future for all our veterans.
Urging Veterans to Get Vaccinated and Stay Protected
As bipartisan leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Tester and I teamed up with committee members and Veterans Service Organizations to encourage veterans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Together, we’ll keep working to get more veterans and their families the protection they need to put this pandemic behind us. Click here or below to watch the full video and learn more about getting vaccinated.
VA to Host Walk-In Vaccination Clinic in Emporia on Wednesday
Veterans Affairs of Eastern Kansas will offer a walk-in vaccination clinic in Emporia this Wednesday, April 28.
Due to my SAVE LIVES Act signed into law last month, veteran spouses and caregivers can now receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Click here to learn more about Emporia’s walk-in clinic.
Sign up to get a COVID-19 vaccine through the VA by clicking here.
Strengthening the Federal Trade Commission’s Authority to Protect Consumers
This week, during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, I questioned the current member of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding the FTC’s Section 13(b) authorities, the recent spike in Kansas gas prices and the BOTS Act. In 2016, I introduced the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, which provides the FTC the authority to target scalpers who utilize “ticket bots” that purchase mass quantities of tickets and who later re-sell those same tickets at higher prices. This practice harms consumers by making them pay artificially inflated prices for tickets to popular entertainment events. The BOTS Act was signed into law in 2016, and earlier this year, the FTC used the authorities granted to it under that legislation to target three ticket brokers in New York who purchased tens of thousands of tickets using these ticket bots, and then sold them at higher prices. I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues and the FTC to ensure that costs to bad actors who harm consumers are greater than any potential reward.
Questioning NASA and FTC Nominees
I also questioned the nominees to be the next NASA Administrator, FTC Commissioner and General Counsel of the Department of Commerce. I asked questions regarding social media companies’ moderation of content, the recently-struck down US-EU Privacy Shield agreement and the need for IT modernization within the federal government in the wake of last year’s SolarWinds compromise. My MGT Act, which was enacted in 2017, created the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), which allows federal departments and agencies to upgrade their aging technology infrastructure. Around 75 percent of the approximately $80 billion the federal government spends annually on IT is used to maintain archaic systems. Upgrading these systems ultimately saves money and helps to ensure our federal systems are secure from intrusions. I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to make certain the federal government is spending its money wisely and is properly securing its IT systems.
Streamlining Service Documentation for National Guard and Reserve Members
I introduced legislation to help members of the Reserve and National Guard to receive the benefits they have earned following their retirement or completion of service by ensuring they receive the same DD-214 form as other members of the military.
Over the past year, the men and women of our National Guard have been called to action numerous times and are still working to keep our country safe. Unlike active duty members of the military, these guardsmen and guardswomen are not provided the same comprehensive report documenting their service when they leave the military. They do not receive a single document that encapsulates their time in the military, but instead receive numerous documents from each of their activation periods. This makes it difficult for them to navigate the benefits process.
This legislative change would provide members of the National Guard and Reserve components a comprehensive service document that they can utilize to more accurately reflect their entire service. I have heard from Kansans who served in the National Guard and Reserve that a standardized and comprehensive document similar to the DD-214 that Active Duty servicemembers receive when they retire will help them receive the benefits and health care they are entitled to from the VA. I thank all Reserve and National Guard members for all they have done to keep America safe over the past year, and I will continue to work on their behalf.
Grants to Support Regional Airports Reach Kansas
Kansas airports play an important role in our local economies and help connect rural areas to the rest of the country. This week, I was pleased to announce grants for 14 Kansas airports through the U.S. Department of Transportation, funded by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which I supported in the Senate and was signed into law by President Trump in March of 2020.
- Allen County Airport
- Atkinson Municipal Airport in Pittsburg
- Fort Scott Municipal Airport
- Freeman Field Airport in Junction City
- Garnett Municipal Airport
- Larned-Pawnee County Airport
- Mark Hoard Memorial Airport in Leoti
- Norton Municipal Airport
- Ottawa Municipal Airport
- Philip Billard Municipal Airport in Topeka
- Russell Municipal Airport
- Sabetha Municipal Airport
- Topeka Regional Airport
- Tribune Municipal Airport
While our airports have worked hard to provide safe flying opportunities for Kansans and visitors, they have been severely impacted by decreased travel throughout this pandemic, and these grants will help support them with costs associated with COVID-19.
Receiving an Update at NBAF
On Friday, I toured the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan to assess the progress of construction at the facility. I also received updates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the progress of preparing the facility for safety and procedural certification in preparation for the eventual transfer of the operations from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) in New York. We discussed the attraction NBAF will create for scientific professionals and private industry partnerships to come to Manhattan and the surrounding areas, as well as the benefits NBAF will have for K-State, Manhattan Technical College and other education institutions. Thank you to DHS and USDA for facilitating the tour, including NBAF Director Dr. Alfonso Clavijo, NBAF Coordinator Dr. Ken Burton and NBAF Communications Director Katie Pawlosky, as well as local officials who joined me for the visit.
Meeting with Members of the American Veterinary Medical Association
I met with the American Veterinary Medical Association this week with my daughter Alex, a veterinarian at Candlewood Veterinary Clinic, to discuss issues facing Kansas veterinarians. Not only do veterinarians help keep our pets healthy, they also play a critical role in keeping our food system safe by assisting livestock producers and reducing the spread of zoonotic diseases. I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the harmful impact the Fairness for Pet Owners Act would have on veterinarians if enacted into law. We also discussed the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, which helps reduce student debt for veterinary students who agree to serve in high-priority, veterinary-shortage areas. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding at the USDA, I work to prioritize funding for this program to help more veterinarians serve in rural areas of Kansas. I also sponsor the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, legislation to eliminate withholding tax on the program so that more students may benefit from the program. I look forward to continuing to support veterinarians in Kansas and across the country.
Discussing Power Distribution with Kansas Electric Coop
This week, I met with representatives from Kansas Electric Cooperatives (KEC) and electric cooperative leaders from across the state. Electric cooperatives distribute power to customers in 103 of the 105 counties across Kansas and are a critical part of the electrical grid. During our meeting, we discussed the importance of strong energy infrastructure, solutions to expand rural broadband, and incentives for renewable energy. Additionally, we discussed the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, legislation I have cosponsored which would allow electric cooperatives and small, rural telecommunications providers to refinance their Rural Utilities Service (RUS) debt at current market rates without penalty, allowing them to take advantage of today’s lower interest rates. I appreciated our conversation and will continue to seek ways to support the mission of Kansas Electric Cooperatives and their service to communities across Kansas.
Congratulations to Kansan Margaret McMullen
On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Kansan Margaret McMullen won first place in this year’s National Junior Duck Stamp Contest. Across the country, 9,000 other young artists submitted entries, but her acrylic painting of a pair of hooded mergansers was chosen for the 2021-2022 Junior Duck Stamp. The stamp will go on sale on June 25. Read more about Margaret and the Junior Duck Stamp here.
Happy Birthday to the Army Reserve
Friday was the U.S. Army Reserve’s birthday. Throughout 113 years, the men and women of the reserve have never failed to meet the challenges of every emergency, both at home and abroad.