Honoring Those Who Serve

By Rep. Mike Sanders

As we move through the business of life, it’s sometimes easy to forget what is truly important – the love of a spouse, watching our children play and grow, the importance of family and friends, living in a country where we are free to choose where to attend church, where to send our children to school, what careers to pursue, a nation where we can all have a voice in our government. We are so blessed.

Such freedom doesn’t come without cost. Unfortunately, all we enjoy in this nation comes at great sacrifice. It comes because men and women have been willing to lay down their lives for liberty.

As we approach Memorial Day, I want to say thank you to all of the men and women who have sacrificed for our freedom. From those who defended our liberty as far back as the founding of our nation, to those who served on either side in the Civil War, those who fought in World Wars I and II, in Korea and Vietnam and those who currently fight in the war against terrorism in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. More than a million military service men and women have died in all of these wars. I realize all that I love and hold dear is possible only because of the men and women who serve our country to ensure we stay free.

While Memorial Day was started as Decoration Day in the Civil War as a way to recognize and honor our military dead, it has since come to also be a day when we remember our family members who have preceded us in death. It has been three years since my own dear mother passed away, and I remember every day all of her personal sacrifice for me. I will always keep her memory alive and pray that her legacy lives through me.

As the flags fly this weekend, and the sound of “Taps” is heard at cemeteries across the nation, and flowers are placed on the graves of loved ones, I hope you all will join me in saying an extra prayer for our military and for their families who also sacrifice. Make sure to say thank you to all you know who have served in this capacity.

I’ll discuss the state budget in detail in my next few columns over the next few weeks. For now, please enjoy your Memorial Day.

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Sanders Comments on Trooper Academy

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Department of Public Safety today announced it will hold an Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy early next year thanks to funding from the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

The announcement was made at the state Capitol during a news conference.

“I’d like to thank the Turnpike Authority and Director Tim Gatz for making this happen,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I also appreciate House leadership and Oklahoma Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson for helping to facilitate this arrangement.”

“One of the top priorities of state government is protecting our citizens,” said Sanders. “The Oklahoma Highway Patrol was unable to fund an academy this year to hire new troopers. Currently, 790 troopers protect more than 112,000 miles of Oklahoma roads. Having new troopers on our roads will help keep Oklahomans safe.”

The 2018 Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy is estimated to cost about $5 million and will fund up to 30 recruits, including the school, training, equipment, salary and benefits for a year.

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Bills Signed Into Law; Budget Pending

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The governor in the past week signed into law House Bill 1833, which I authored. This measure moves the duties of the state Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. COFT works with all state volunteer fire departments to make sure our firefighters are ready for any emergency. It was critical to keep this council intact. This measure keeps COFT duties but returns the State Fire Marshal’s Office to non-appropriated status as it has been in the past, saving the state $1.4 million. This money is greatly needed in our current economy.

Also signed into law this week was my House Bill 1259, which increases the qualifications for sheriff’s candidates. The intent is to make sure those who serve as sheriff in Oklahoma are highly qualified for this important position.

Already signed into law is Senate Bill 324, which I authored. This creates the Oklahoma Awards Program. The Oklahoma Medal of Valor and the Oklahoma Purple Heart will be awarded to those in our Department of Public Safety and citizens who display heroic acts of valor or are injured or give their lives in the call of serving another or saving a life. I am very proud and honored to carry this piece of legislation.

In the meantime, we are still working our way through the budget process. Every year we work on the budget for months and months, and it comes to May and we’re still hashing out the final details. Despite our best hopes, this year has proven no different. A few reasons for this: when you allow 149 lawmakers to come to the table to work out a deal, you won’t get one until the pressure of deadline arrives. Try this little experiment at a family dinner sometime – throw out the question of how you solve a budget problem and see how long it takes to get consensus. Now imagine doing that with 149 different people. In the past, budget deals have not had as much input as under current House leadership. Under speaker McCall and his leadership team, we’ve had a much more robust and open dialogue with input from all 73 members of the Republican Caucus. I can’t say that for all leaders at the Capitol.

House Republicans have offered numerous proposals to solve the state’s ongoing budget problems. Time and again the Democrats have rejected these plans, while shifting the goalposts of what they say they will support. One week they tie their vote to Insure Oklahoma, the next week it’s an income tax increase, the next week it’s renegotiating gross production taxes.

Democrats claim that every other Republican plan for revenue reform is an unfair burden to the middle class or the working poor. They instead have asked us to increase items such as income tax. Take into consideration, however, that the state’s highest income tax bracket kicks in for those earning just $7,200 for a single tax filer and $12,200 for married couples filing jointly. How is raising this tax not a tax on the middle class and really the poor?

We’re in the final weeks of session, and many ideas are still being posited. The bottom line remains, however, that we must always look for efficiencies in state government first and cutting government waste.

House Republicans do, however, want to make sure we are paying our teachers a comparable wage to neighboring states. We want to make sure we are adequately funding our roads and bridges. We want to ensure we’re keeping our public safe and that we are taking care of the needs of the most vulnerable among us.

I’m still optimistic that a budget deal can be reached, but I would ask for your sincere prayers in helping us accomplish this task.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Goals in Sight

By Rep. Mike Sanders

We’re nearing the end of the Legislative session and several of my bills have either been signed into law or are headed to the governor’s desk.

Already signed into law is Senate Bill 324, which creates the Oklahoma Awards Program. The Oklahoma Medal of Valor and the Oklahoma Purple Heart will be awarded to those in our Department of Public Safety and citizens who display heroic acts of valor or are injured or give their lives in the call of serving another or saving a life. I am very proud and honored to carry this piece of legislation.

Headed to conference committee is House Bill 1116, which allows for the first time statements by vulnerable or incapacitated adults who alleges abuse, neglect, financial exploitation or any violent act to be admissible as evidence in court if a judge finds the statement to be reliable. This will help protect the vulnerable. I’m hopeful this moves forward.

On its way to the governor is House Bill 1833, which transfers all duties and responsibilities of the state Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. COFT is an agency that assists and works with all state volunteer fire departments. It was critical its duties remained intact. This measure keeps COFT but returns the State Fire Marshal’s Office to non-appropriated status as it has been in the past, saving the state $1.4 million.

House Bill 1259, which strengthens the qualifications of candidates seeking the job of sheriff, also is headed to the governor’s desk. The intent of this measure is to make sure those who serve as sheriff in our state are highly qualified for this important position.

Changing gears, budget negotiations are still ongoing with several measures being discussed between the parties in the House before we send them to the Senate. There is much talk about raising revenue right now. Keep in mind that to raise revenue in our state requires a ¾ majority vote in both the House and the Senate and or a vote of the people. In 1992, Oklahomans voted for this high threshold to keep the Legislature from increasing their taxes without their permission. Before we consider raising revenue, however, we must always look at efficiencies in state government first.

The House meanwhile continues to lead on major issues such as working to secure funding for a teacher pay raise, ensuring greater efficiencies in state government, shepherding a number of victims’ rights bill through the legislative process – many of which have become law, and protecting transportation funding.

Speaking of transportation funding, there are some in the Capitol that would like to cut $125 million or more from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) budget. Let me remind you that $323 million was cut from the agency’s budget last year. The Legislature did approve a $200 million transportation bond, but the agency still absorbed a cut, plus they have to pay back the bond.

Some also would like to cut or cap the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges Program (CIRB). This is a non-starter in the House. County roads and bridges are a lifeline for rural residents. I will continue to stand with our county commissioners and with ODOT. Transportation is a core service of government and needs to be treated as such.

In the coming weeks – two to be exact – we will have a budget. I am hopeful and optimistic this will occur. I would ask for your thoughts and prayers during this time.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Drafting the State Budget

By Rep. Mike Sanders

It’s the time of year when we hear a lot about the state budget. Here’s a brief review of the process.

House leadership starts looking at the state budget for the next fiscal year in about October when we start seeing state agency preliminary requests. This year, in January, we added public budget hearings with the five state agencies that receive almost 80 percent of the state appropriated budget.

Once session starts, the speaker forms the House appropriations & budget subcommittees, broken up into education, general government, health, human services, judiciary, national resources and regulatory service, public safety, transportation and other areas. This year, these subcommittees met with various state agencies to do a deeper dive into their budgets. Each member was asked to rotate through the various committees to get a better look at the state’s overall budget.

The House Appropriations & Budget Committee and the Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget, made up of House and Senate members, also have met multiple times, approving a number of bills that are now starting to move through the House and to the Senate.

The first of those measures passed the House last week.

House Bill 2343 removes red tape, making it easier to collect back sales taxes from businesses that are late on their tax payments. House Bill 2344 reduces the cap on film tax rebates from $5 million to $4 million annually. House Bill 2350 eliminates the sales tax exemption for certain sporting events, like tickets to the Oklahoma City Thunder games. Combined, these three measures are expected to generate about $20 million and are a step towards helping close the budget gap.

These are examples of bills that require 51 votes in the House to pass: bills that raise certain fees or end tax exemptions, deductions and credits. Bills that will raise taxes require two-thirds, or 76 votes in the House, to pass. Raising taxes is harder, as it should be.

Here’s a look at the budget breakdown. About 60 percent of the money in the overall state budget comes off the top, mainly for transportation and education; about 40 percent gets appropriated at the Legislature’s discretion. We’re working to move more money from the off-the-top category to the appropriated category to give the Legislature greater flexibility to better meet changing needs each year. But, there’s a reason that money was set aside in the first place, to protect things like transportation.

We hear a lot about education funding, but common and higher education and CareerTech gets about 52 percent of the appropriated budget. We have to fund the rest of government – more than 60 state agencies – with the remainder. Transportation as a whole only gets about 9 percent of the budget.

We’re working to craft a state budget this year that will adequately fund core government services but that will continue to force state agencies to spend conservatively and eliminate all waste. The taxpayer should get the greatest discretion of how their money is spent.

We are on track to have a balanced budget before session ends in May. I will keep you posted on our progress.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Saying Goodbye to a Friend

By Rep. Mike Sanders

My friend and fellow Representative, David Brumbaugh, passed away late Saturday night at his home in Broken Arrow. It was a shock to those of us who saw him in the House chamber and in committee meetings just a few days prior. 

David was the kind of man you liked to have on your side. If a lawmaker was struggling to explain a bill, David would stand and exactly sum up the legislation’s intent with the requisite question, “Would you agree?” I can’t tell you how many times this happened and what a relief it was.

David had a gentle approach. He was a gentleman and a statesman. He had a true love for representing his people and for the rule of law. He was a master at balancing individual freedom against serving all people. He was never afraid to disagree, but he was always respectful. A lot of politicians could learn a thing or two from such a man.

His life ended tragically short. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters. My thoughts are prayers are with them now and with the league of friends and colleagues he leaves behind at the Capitol.

David’s passing reminded me of the commitment this job takes – the time spent away from our families, our businesses and our homes. It is taxing. Legislators must answer to many masters – the people who elect us and who we represent, taxpayers at large, the state agencies that depend on us for funding to keep operating and offering services to Oklahoma residents, and other government officials. Then we must answer to fake news reports and try to help people distinguish between those and legitimate concerns. It can be frustrating mulling over the massive amount of false and true information. With that said, it is such an honor to have your trust to represent the constituency of District 59. 

This also makes me take stock of my job at the Capitol. Sometimes the legislative process is characterized as only so much nonsense. But without lawmakers, we have no public roads, no way to transport our goods and services to grow our economy, no public schools to educate our children, no assistance for health care, no mechanisms to keep the public safe.

So while my heart is heavy in grief for my friend’s family, I turn back to the business of legislating. The budget process is well underway, with the Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget and the House A&B Committee meeting this week to consider a number of measures that will save the state money or result in some revenue for our state. I’ll talk more about that in a future column. I want you to know we are working to close our budget gap,  but for now, I’d rather take the time to honor the memory of a friend.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407

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Rep. Mike Sanders Honored for Supporting Agriculture, Rural Oklahoma

House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, this week was presented with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau 100 Percent Club award for his support of farmers, ranchers and rural Oklahoma during the 2016 legislative session.

“This honor is presented to those legislators who stand with Farm Bureau in its core mission of improving the lives of rural Oklahoma,” said Tom Buchanan, OKFB president. “We’re grateful to these state lawmakers for their leadership and service at the state Capitol.”

Sanders received the award for a 100 percent voting record on Farm Bureau-supported legislation during the 2016 legislative session.

Legislators were scored on four pieces of legislation which included aiding the extermination of feral swine, increasing penalties for cattle theft, easing restrictions on prescribed agricultural burns, and granting driver’s licenses to temporary H-2A agricultural workers.

In honor of the award, Rep. Sanders received a OKFB 100 Percent Club coin to display in his office at the state Capitol.

“I am incredibly honored to have received this award again this year. I take great pride in advocating for our family farmers and ranchers and protecting private property rights, “Sanders stated.

Founded in 1942, Oklahoma Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization of farm and ranch families united for the purpose of analyzing issues and formulating action to achieve educational improvement, economic opportunity and social advancement in each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. As the state's largest general farm organization, OFB is committed to improving the lives of rural Oklahomans through advocacy, education and member benefits. To learn more, visit http://www.okfarmbureau.org/

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Rewarding Heroes

By Rep. Mike Sanders

A bill creating public safety awards to honor our state’s first responders as well as citizens who perform acts of heroism has been sent to the governor for her signature.

I was the House author of Senate Bill 324, which creates the Oklahoma State Award program. A nine-member committee will design the Oklahoma Medal of Valor and the Oklahoma Purple Heart Award. These awards will be given to those in our Department of Public Safety and citizens who display heroic acts of valor or are injured or give their lives in the call of serving another or saving a life. They will in no way resemble our military’s highest honor. 

The bill passed the House last week with a vote of 84 to 6, and now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.

The governor last week signed 11 bills into law, a good sign for early April.

This week in committee, I led the charge against Senate Bill 602, which would have allowed the state Department of Agriculture to siphon off up to 10 percent of the Rural Fire Protection Fund, wresting it from local control. This fund, which is intended for maintenance and operations needs, has already been cut 30 percent over the last five years. Both Republicans and Democrats stood together to shoot down this poorly worded bill in a 13-4 vote. I am always going to protect our rural way of life and those who serve our rural communities.

Also this week, the House and Senate convened a joint session on Tuesday to observe the 45thInfantry Appreciation Day, a time to honor our state’s National Guard for helping in times of emergency and tragedy. I appreciate all who are willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our country and our nation’s liberty. I also want to thank the families of these service members for their sacrifice.

Committee work, except for the full Appropriations & Budget Committees, wraps up this week. In the House, we continue to consider Senate bills and the same is happening with our House bills in the opposite chamber.

We are moving closer on budget negotiations. We have nearly seven weeks left in the legislative session. A budget has not been written yet despite some fake news accounts from two large newspapers. The House and Senate continue to work together on this issue. We’ve been meeting since last October. We held full budget hearings with five state agencies that receive almost 80 percent of the state’s appropriated budget before session began. We’ve moved on legislation that will restore money to the state’s General Revenue Fund and we continue to look at tax credits and incentives as well as other cost-savings and revenue measures. We will have a balanced budget before the end of session and protect things important in rural Oklahoma.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or(405) 557-7407.

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Budget a Priority

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This is a busy time in the House of Representatives as we continue to consider legislation and work on balancing the state budget.

Last week, the House voted to give the Department of Human Services $34 million in supplemental funding for this fiscal year. This allows developmentally disabled adults and seniors on Medicaid to continue to receive medicine and services in their homes instead of having to move into an institutional setting.

House appropriations and budget subcommittees are meeting with state agencies to get an in-depth look at their fiscal year 2018 budgets. All representatives have been asked to rotate through each committee so they have a better appreciation of the state’s overall budget. We have to consider not just our current budget but long-term restructuring.

The House Appropriations & Budget Committee met this week to consider almost 20 Senate Bills. Other House committees also are meeting in advance of approaching deadlines. April 13 is the deadline for all Senate bills to pass in House committees, except for those considered by the full A&B Committee. That deadline is April 20. The floor deadline for third reading of bills and resolutions from the opposite chamber is April 27. If a bill passes as is, it goes to the governor. If it is amended, it goes back to the chamber of origin. If the amendment is not accepted, the bill could go to conference committee, where representatives and senators discuss final language.

The speaker of the House and the Senate president pro-tempore as well as full A&B committee chairs can bring bills at any time.

Also this week, the House observed National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. I am a primary author of House Resolution 1009, which honors the men, women and children who have been victimized in the state of Oklahoma and the strength they exhibit as they work to overcome adversity.

According to recently released statistics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Oklahoma experienced 16,506 violent crimes in 2015, including 234 murders and non-negligent manslaughters, 1,849 reports of rape, 3,005 robberies and 11,418 aggravated assaults.

These victims deserve equal rights in our justice system. Earlier this session, we passed a number of bills that will help victims receive rights and protections co-equal to those provided to those accused and convicted of crimes. This week creates awareness for victims and lets them know we hear and remember their cause; we stand with them; we will treat them with fairness and respect.

On a final note, I along with many others in my district am thanking the good Lord for the recent rain! I know many people in Western Oklahoma are struggling to recover from the recent wildfires that took several lives and many animals as well as caused major property damage. If there is anything at all I can do to assist you, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or(405) 557-7407.

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Protecting Life

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This week, I voted in support of House Bill 1549, which creates the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2017 that would prohibit abortion solely based on the unborn child being diagnosed with either Down syndrome or a genetic abnormality or who has the potential for a genetic abnormality. The bill passed the House with a vote of 67-16 and now heads to the state Senate.

I have always been a staunch supporter of life and have a 100 percent voting record of supporting pro-life legislation. Our unborn are the most defenseless of our citizens. I will always do all I can to protect them. I understand that women sometimes face surprise or even unwanted pregnancies. I will do all I can to support them, but we must end the murder of our unborn.

In the meantime, budget negotiations are ongoing. House budget leaders, including myself, are meeting with state agencies to determine funding needs and to encourage greater efficiencies. We also are continuing to evaluate underperforming and non-performing state assets as well as tax credits and incentives as we work toward crafting next year’s budget.

Several measures in the House this week moved gross production tax apportionments from off-the-top earmarks into specified funds within the General Revenue Fund. This measure gives the Legislature a greater role in appropriating this funding. When House Speaker Charles McCall met earlier this year with national bonding agencies, they indicated the state’s credit rating would be downgraded in part because of the portion of the state’s revenue that is unavailable for appropriating. These measures help the state start to correct that problem but still allow us to meet priorities such as transportation and education funding.

Recently, I sent my annual You Speak I Listen survey to constituents throughout my district asking you to give me your thoughts on pending measures before the House. I’ve received a number of responses; I would love to see more. I don’t represent me at the state Capitol; I represent you. I use these responses to help guide me in voting on or drafting new legislation. Remember to sign your name and include contact information if you would like to hear back from me.

Unfortunately, I must deal with some unsavory news released over the past week of a state senator accused of engaging in despicable behavior. This embarrasses the state and all lawmakers who are working hard on your behalf. I’m thankful the senate took quick action to strip this person of his office, his vice chair position and all of his committees. He resigned Wednesday. Legislative efforts should now be taken to disqualify him from any state pension.

On one final note, this week is the deadline for all bills originating in the House to be considered in the House and the same for Senate bills. Next week, committees will resume considering bills from the opposite legislative chamber.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or(405) 557-7407.

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