Kansas delegation renews push for Kelsey Smith Act to aid search for missing people

House member presses for more diversity in small-business investments

By: - October 28, 2021 9:34 am

From left, Rep. Jake LaTurner, Rep. Sharice Davids and Sen. Jerry Moran (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas congressional delegation renewed the bipartisan campaign to convince Congress to imposed at the federal level a law requiring wireless communication companies to promptly share cellular telephone data with law enforcement officers searching for people at risk of physical harm.

The legislation was adopted in Kansas and a total of 30 states, but U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, R-Kan., and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., are working to gain traction in Washington, D.C., with companion bills to take the mandate nationwide. The proposed bill is the Kelsey Smith Act, which would honor the Johnson County resident abducted and murdered in 2007.

Her parents, Greg and Missey Smith, said in a statement they appreciated persistent work by lawmakers on House Resolution 5655. Their daughter was kidnapped in Overland Park, an event captured by a retail store’s security cameras. Her body was located four days after she disappeared when her wireless provider agreed to release information from her cell phone.

“The bipartisan Kelsey Smith Act would ensure law enforcement officers have the resources they need from cell phone providers to locate missing or abducted children. The fear of legal liability should never stand in the way of rescuing a child from a life-threatening situation,” LaTurner said.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat who represents Johnson County, said the commonsense legislation would honor Kelsey Smith’s legacy by affirming law enforcement had this tool to locate and rescue people.

“In life-or-death situations it is paramount that our law enforcement officers have access to lifesaving resources,” said U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, a Republican serving the 1st District.

Then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed the first Kelsey Smith Act into law in 2009. Here is the progression in neighboring states: Nebraska, 2010; Missouri, 2012; Colorado, 2013; and Oklahoma, 2021.


Small business oversight

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the Democratic lawmaker from the 3rd District of Johnson and Wyandotte counties, chaired a U.S. House committee on small business that examined the Small Business Investment Company, which provided early-stage financial support of companies such as Apple, Tesla and FedEx.

SBIC is a privately owned and managed investment fund licensed and regulated by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“If we’re going to actually deliver needed capital to small businesses, particularly manufacturers and minority-owned businesses, we need to be conducting proper oversight to ensure these programs are effective,” Davids said.

Davids, chairwoman of the Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax and Capital Access, urged colleagues to improve efficiency and broaden diversity in the SBIC. It was created by Congress in 1958 and aided companies that became big players in the economy, but the program has more recently struggled to live up to the promise of bridging the gap between venture capitalists and businesses in need of investment.

SBIC lending to minority-owned businesses has been static since 2007, Davids said. About 5% of total financing in 2020 went to businesses owned by minorities, and less went to companies owned by veterans or women.

“I’m going to continue using my position as chair to listen to local businesses who work daily with federal programs like SBIC, so that we can improve those resources and ensure small businesses have the tools they need to thrive,” she said.


Mental health assistance

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is funneling $500,000 into a state agriculture department program to help farmers, ranchers and others in the industry secure mental health aid.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture intends to make use of the grant to develop a statewide campaign to raise awareness of the KansasAgStress.org website. The project will attempt to destigmatize the idea of seeking mental health therapy and seek to lower incidence of suicide in the agriculture economy.

“Farmers, ranchers and those working within the agriculture industry … depend on factors largely outside their control, from the weather to volatile commodity prices, creating stress that can be challenging to face alone,” said U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, the Kansas Republican.

He was a champion of the FARMERS FIRST law that was incorporated in the 2018 farm bill. The initiative provided the nation’s agriculture workforce with access to mental health programs funded by the federal government.

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, also a Kansas Republican, said empowering the state agriculture department to reduce suicide among farmers and ranchers was “some of the best money USDA has ever spent.”

“Farming is one of the most uncertain, stressful jobs in the world,” Marshall said. “This meaningful investment by USDA will provide local farmers with assistance as they cope with these ongoing challenges, while spreading mental health awareness throughout the Kansas agricultural community.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.