Bill to Expand Volunteer Firefighter Base Takes Effect Nov. 1

OKLAHOMA CITY – Volunteer fire departments around the state will be able to recruit new volunteer firefighters over the age of 45 when a new law takes effect Nov. 1.

House Bill 2005, by state Rep. Mike Sanders, eliminates an age limit that was put in place to address a pension dilemma. In order for the pension system to work, new enrollees must be under a certain age. His legislation gives potential volunteers the option to join without a pension if they are above that age.

“Basically, the law was keeping people from serving just because the state didn’t want to pay a pension for someone starting their firefighting career at 45; it just didn’t work,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “But there were men and women who would like to serve, even if it had to be without a pension. So, this law just opens that door to them. The men and women I talked to said that they already had pensions, that they were looking to serve and didn’t need to be part of the pension system.”

State Sen. AJ Griffin, who carried the bill in the Senate, said rural communities rely on volunteer firefighters.

“Our rural communities in particular rely on the service of volunteer firefighters. Not only do these courageous men and women save lives and property from fires, they are also first-responders in a host of other emergency situations, including tornadoes, flooding, and ice storms,” said Griffin, R-Guthrie. “Removing this unnecessary restriction will enable more Oklahomans to serve their friends and neighbors in communities throughout our state.”

Sanders said he hopes the new law will help address a nationwide and statewide decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters. Nearly 90 percent of the fire service in Oklahoma is all volunteer.

“This is one more tool in the toolbox to help our volunteer fire departments,” Sanders said. “I am grateful for the support of the governor and my legislative colleagues.”

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New Type of Legislative Study

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Policy and budgetary discussions are the major topic among state lawmakers, but occasionally we also look at the way we organize ourselves and conduct state business. As part of a new strategy, the Oklahoma House of Representatives came together Monday, November 2, to discuss some of the most pressing issues of the day in preparation for the 2016 legislative session.

Normally, legislative studies are conducted by committees made up of a small portion of the total body of the House. Their intent is to prepare lawmakers for the policy and budgetary work of the upcoming session. However, in order to work on issues that are often contentious, smallstudies do not really help build the coalition needed to move forward in some areas. On Monday, three of four studies took place with an invitation to all members of the House.

The first study focused on innovative education ideas and reforms from other states and other countries. Speakers from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Southern Region Education Board, along with a leading expert from Paris, presented information to lawmakers on education best practices from around the globe. I prefer to hear from my constituents, rather than experts on education issues, but it is good to know what others may be proposing in the future.

After breaking for lunch, we heard from water infrastructure experts on the state’s ongoing drought conditions and how we might better approach water policy. One of the contentious points about water policy is that different geographic parts of our state have different needs. Some parts are more prone to drought, while others have abundant water and are not eager to share what they have with others. Each geographic faction tends to hear only from their regional constituencies. In this study, we heard various ideas from water policy experts and agricultural and tribal representatives on how to ensure citizens across the state have adequate water supplies in the coming decades. The members also heard an update from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board on the Comprehensive Water Plan, which guides policymakers in water use and management decisions for the next 50 years. Now, all of us have received the same information, even if we may not be in complete agreement.

The third and final study presented an overview of Oklahoma’s court system and how appellate court judges and justices are chosen. I found this study very relevant in light of the issues we have seen with the decisions made by the state’s Supreme Court justices. According to one presenter, the basis for our current system was a Progressive-era push to put experts in charge of public life rather than the “masses.” It was a hard sell and most states did not agree to the judicial system we have in Oklahoma. In many states, citizens elect judges. In other states, there is a simple appointment process similar to the national-level appointment process. If we wanted to change our system, we can simplify our judicial process in a way that gives the governor more direct power or we could open it up to elections. Lawmakers can now discuss these ideas among themselves and see how we want to move forward in 2016.

The House is also meeting in joint session with the Senate in the House Chamber on Thursday, November 5. Capitol management best practices will be the topic. The hearing will focus on a management structure to care for and preserve the building to avoid the mistakes made throughout the nearly 100 years since the Capitol was built and allowed to fall into disrepair.

I am looking forward to discussing each of these issues with more depth during the 2016 session. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.

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District Transportation Projects

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

In my role as Chairman of the Oklahoma House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Transportation, I continue to track our state’s progress in updating our road and bridge infrastructure.

In 2004, there were 1,168 structurally deficient bridges in Oklahoma – an all-time high. For decades, transportation funding had been stagnant. In 2005, Republican candidates came into office in a wave and began to prioritize infrastructure investment. State lawmakers joined Secretary ofTransportation Gary Ridley in taking politics out of the decision of howprojects were prioritized. By doing so, we allowed the professionals at ODOT to prioritize and schedule the projects that would have to most effect on safety and freedom of movement for our citizens.

Since then, state lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin have worked to accelerate the schedule of these projects. We enacted legislation and appropriated money to eliminate all structurally deficient bridges by 2020.

The investment in roads and bridges in Oklahoma since 2005 has led to a lot of improvements in my legislative district, House District 59. I want to give you an update on district projects.

The current eight-year plan includes 23 projects and approximately $67 million of infrastructure investment in Kingfisher County alone. I want to provide you with a sample of those projects below.

Two bridge and approaches projects along SH-33 are complete now and open to traffic. The first bridge is over Campbell Creek, about 12 miles east of the junction of SH-33 with US-81. The second bridge is over Uncle John’s Overflow and unnamed creeks. The total investment in these two projects was nearly $7 million.

Some other recently completed projects include:

  • ·         a $5.6 million bridge and approaches project over Turkey Creek on SH-51, 1.6 miles west of US-81;
  • ·         a $780,020 pavement rehabilitation project within the city limits of Kingfisher on US-81;
  • ·         a $189,783 pavement rehabilitation project within the city limits of Okarche on US-81;
  • ·         a $1.65 million resurfacing project on SH-3/SH-33 from 9.7 miles east of the Blaine County line to the junction with US-81;
  • ·         and a nearly $4 million resurfacing project on US-81 beginning 9.6 miles north of SH-33.

 

Some upcoming projects include:

  • ·         a $4.7 million bridge and approaches project on SH-51 over Skeleton Creek,
  • ·         a $11 million grade/drain/bridge/surface project on SH-51 in Hennessey, from US-81 east 7.53 miles,
  • ·         a $4.5 million bridge and approaches project on US-81 over Kingfisher Creek,
  • ·         a $7 million bridge and approaches project on US-81 northbound and southbound bridges over the Union Pacific Railroad,
  • ·         a $600,000 pavement rehabilitation project on SH-33 from US-81 junction to Second Street,
  • ·         three shoulder improvement and resurfacing projects on SH-33 totaling $20 million,
  • ·         a $1.2 million resurfacing project on US-81 from just north of SH-51 to the Garfield County line,
  • ·         and a $930,000 bridge and approaches project over Foreman Creek on SH-33.

I believe transportation funding is a priority in the state because of its effects on our economy and public safety. Old, unsafe roads are a hazards just waiting to rear their ugly heads and they are also an eyesore that keeps business away from the state, especially in rural areas. They benefit every taxpayer they serve and are therefore a core state government service.

In the coming weeks and future columns, I will be discussing interim studies that are on-going here at the Oklahoma State Capitol as well as the 2017 budget. I also want to discuss other priorities for the 2016 session.

As always, I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407 orMike.Sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Speaking at a District School on Constitution Day

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I had the great honor of talking to Lomega Elementary School students on Constitution Day, which was September 17. I was so impressed by these young students who were extremely well-behaved and thoughtful in the questions they posed to me. They are a testament to their parents and educators.

This year marked the 228th birthday of the U.S. Constitution. The document was created in about 100 days during the Constitutional Convention that started in May of 1787. The Continental Congress invited all 13 colonies to send representatives to draft it, but Rhode Island failed to send delegates. George Washington led the delegates, half of which were veterans of the American Revolutionary War.

I talked to the Lomega students about the importance of the Constitution and how it protects our free speech, free practice of faith and right to bear arms. I noted that it was a testament to its enduring qualities that it has only been amended 17 times in 228 years.

I received a variety of intelligent questions. First through third grade questions included:

  • What kind of things does the Constitution allow kids to do? I told them that examples include free speech and freedom of religion. Of course, these rights refer to restrictions on the government. Of course, parents still have the final word on their children’s behavior.
  • How did the first president get elected? I told them that electors were selected by the individual states, and each cast one vote for Washington.
  • Who’s your favorite president? I said President Ronald Reagan.

Questions from the fourth through sixth grades included:

  • When was the Declaration of Independence started? In September 1774, the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia to began work on what would become the Declaration of Independence.
  • Have you ever seen the actual Constitution? Yes, during my time in Washington, D.C., during the President George W. Bush Administration, I visited the National Archives, where it is on display.
  • What was your job at the White House? I was the Director of White House Interns.
  • What age do you have to be to run for president? I told them thirty-five. The kids seemed crushed by this.

I received several invites this year to speak on Constitution Day. Thank you for the kind invites and I apologize if I could not make it this year. I will make a point of making Constitution Day visits to those of you I missed in years to come.

The U.S. Constitution has endured, and through it, so has our country. We must always respect and honor this precious document. It is a contract between all Americans that clearly states our rights, freedoms and liberties. It has served as an example to the world.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.

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Firefighting Grants Announced for Local Communities

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Sanders said today that local fire departments will receive operational grants through the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

“Rural lawmakers know how important the fire service is to our communities that rely on it for public safety and property protection,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “Although I was disappointed that money going to fire departments was reduced this year, I am glad that there were still substantial grants.”

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture awarded $4289.96 in grants to the following House District 59 entities:

  • Town of Dover for Dover Rural Fire Department
  • Town of Hennessey for Hennessey Fire Department
  • Town of Loyal for the Loyal Fire Department
  • Town of Okarche for Okarche Fire Department
  • Big Four Fire Association
  • City of Kingfisher for Kingfisher Fire Department
  • City of Watonga for Watonga Fire Department
  • Town of Canton for Canton Fire Department
  • Town of Greenfield for Greenfield Fire Department
  • Town of Hitchcock for Hitchcock Fire Department
  • Town of Longdale for Longdale Fire Department
  • Town of Okeene for Okeene Fire Department
  • Town of Omega for Omega Fire Department
  • Eagle City Rural Fire District
  • City of Seiling for Seiling Fire Department
  • Oakwood Volunteer Fire Department Inc.
  • Taloga Fire and Ambulance
  • Town of Camargo for Camargo Fire Department
  • Town of Leedey for Leedey Fire Department
  • Town of Mutual for Mutual Fire Department
  • Town of Sharon for Sharon Fire Department
  • Town of Vici for Vici Fire Department

“Around 90 percent of Oklahoma’s fire service is volunteer,” Sanders said. “It is critical that they receive the equipment they need to continue to protect our communities. I plan to continue my support for fire service in the budget again in 2016. It was a legislative initiative that ensured volunteer fire departments received aid in the first place and legislators will continue their support, if not increase it.”

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Legislators Prepare for 2016

By Rep. Mike Sanders

State lawmakers have begun their legislative studies, which will help shape the policy proposals put forward in 2016. Legislative studies are conducted in House committee rooms, where legislators hear from state agencies, think tanks and policy researchers on ideas for improvements to our laws and state services.

Although I will participate in multiple studies, my primary focus will be organizing a study on addressing DUIs. The October study will include the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and a representative from the Governor’s Impaired Driving Prevention Advisory Council. The issue at hand is what to do about repeat DUI offenders who have not yet been convicted, but are committing multiple violations over the course of a short period. Potential legislation, depending on the feedback we receive from our policy experts, could take many forms, but at least one idea I am considering is linking municipal and state DUI tracking systems to help officers identify repeat offenders. The ultimate goal is to protect Oklahomans from individuals with serious substance abuse problems that are on our roads.

I am also interested in a September study on uninsured motorists. These motorists include illegal immigrants who cannot get insurance, individuals who have little money or individuals who are not legally allowed on the road. When an uninsured motorist injures another motorist or damages personal property, they do not have insurance to help pay for medical treatment and repairs. We have worked to make laws to deter this behavior, but it persists. The study should inform us of the scope of the problem today and present potential solutions.

After creating the open carry law in Oklahoma, there continues to be discussion over how to reduce the costs and increase the convenience of obtaining an open carry license. Another September study will examine the fees and procedure involved in getting an open carry license with the intent of removing some of those barriers.

Many legislators are eagerly anticipating a large budgetary study that will examine areas of spending in the budget known as “pass-throughs.” These pass-throughs often represent non-essential funding that could allow Oklahoma state government to become more efficient. Optimum budgeting requires a lot of information. As your elected officials, our goal is to maximize the value of your tax dollars. 

I will spend many of the upcoming columns telling you about these and other fall studies. As always, I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407 or by email at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov.

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NW Oklahoma Rep. Mike Sanders Receives Highest Score from Taxpayer Watchdog Group

OKLAHOMA CITY (Aug. 6, 2015) -- State Rep. Mike Sanders, of Kingfisher, is one of only three Oklahoma lawmakers to receive a perfect rating for his votes during the recent legislative session on issues related to taxpayer interests. 

Sanders earned a grade of 100 percent on the legislative scorecard released by OCPA Impact, a nonpartisan organization that serves as the advocacy partner of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank. 

"Each day, hardworking Oklahomans are facing more and more hurdles placed in front of them by their federal government," Sanders said. 

"We have the opportunity and responsibility, then, to make Oklahoma a more welcoming place for families, taxpayers and job creators. This includes applying common sense and accountability to our state government so it doesn't get too big and unaffordable." 

OCPA Impact advances legislation at the Oklahoma Capitol to help grow the private-sector economy and jobs climate statewide. The organization is based in Oklahoma City. 

The scorecard released in June by the organization looks at how Oklahoma's 149 state legislators voted during the 2015 session on key bills related to issues of economic freedom, free enterprise, individual opportunity, limited state government and encroachment by the federal government. 

Bills featured on the scorecard include measures to prevent in Oklahoma what has recently taken place in Denton, Tex., where energy producers and mineral rights owners have been barred from drilling for oil and natural gas. 

The scorecard also looks at bills aiming to responsibly reduce Oklahoma's tax burden and spend taxpayer dollars more effectively and efficiently. 

In addition, the scorecard lists as a negative vote the general appropriations bill for Oklahoma government's new fiscal year. The bill was part of a budget agreement that will reduce funding for road and bridge maintenance while increasing funding for other government agencies. Sanders, who chairs the House Appropriations & Budget Transportation Subcommittee, voted against the bill. 

All totaled, in 22 opportunities during session, Sanders voted each time in the best interests of growth-minded taxpayers, according to the scorecard. 

"Some lawmakers go to the Capitol in Oklahoma City and do a good job representing taxpayers in their districts back home, and some have other priorities," said Dave Bond, OCPA Impact's CEO. 

"Taxpayers and voters in Northwest Oklahoma should be glad to know Rep. Sanders consistently votes to keep the burden of state government spending and taxes low and to limit the amount of government in our daily lives. His votes reflect an emphasis on sustainable jobs instead of the priorities of government bureaucrats." 

For more information about OCPA Impact and to view the full scorecard, including bill summaries, please visit www.ocpaimpact.com/2015-legislative-scorecard. 

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Welcome Back Students and Educators

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The school year is starting again and I want to take this opportunity to praise the educators for their diligent work on behalf of Oklahoma children. Your hard work ensures young Oklahomans’ ability to thrive in their adult lives.

I use the word educators because there are many players involved in a young person’s education. Their teachers have a direct impact on their progress during their school years. Administrators and support staff help to ensurestudents have an optimal environment for learning. And, of course, study after study has shown the important impact parental involvement has on a child’s scholastic success.

Teacher quality is one of the most significant factors related to student achievement. Unfortunately, in the U.S., 14 percent of new teachers resign by the end of their first year and 50 percent leave by their fifth year. It is a tough job, a fact that is often reinforced to me by my family members who have worked or currently work as teachers. For those of you who have made a long career of educating students, I salute your endurance and strength of character.

Reading is an important key to your child’s ability to learn throughout their school years. Parents can help encourage strong reading habits. Looking online, one of the most frequent suggestions are allowing children to have a period in which they are allowed to read in their room after bedtime. Other suggestions include having a large variety of books at home for your child and reading alongside your child.

Science and math are increasingly the foundational skills for careers in Oklahoma’s most lucrative industries. You can help raise your child’s interest by conducting simple science experiments at home and showing them practical applications for math, such as family budgeting.

In Oklahoma, as in much of the country, public education is a hotly debated area of public policy. Every year, my colleagues introduce proposals to tweak education policy. I personally believe that local school boards should make many of these decisions with the input of parents in the district. For that reason, I restrict my own legislation to other areas of law. Even so, it would be irresponsible for me not to weigh in on those discussions brought forth by other legislators.

I try to navigate tough education policy questions by consulting the parents and educators of my district. For that reason, I want to encourage you to contact me with your concerns and your thoughts. I also want to wish every teacher and administrator good luck on the new school year. I pray that they will have a great and productive year. As always, I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.

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Ag Department Cuts Rural Firefighter Money

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry got my attention this summer when they reduced the funding they will provide that benefits rural volunteer fire departments. I knew that they received a cut this year, but I was surprised that they decided to redo their budget in a way that reduces the public safety service provided in rural communities.

Operational funds are provided through the agency for each of the more than 850 certified rural fire department with each receiving equal portions. Prior to 2010, this money was never raided to balance the agency budget. This year, each volunteer rural fire department will lose about $200, on top of raiding that has already occurred in past years. Rural Fire Coordinators provide technical advice and assistance to rural fire departments in communities whose population does not exceed 10,000 residents through the Oklahoma Forestry Service Rural Fire Defense Program. The coordinators are funded through a contract between the agency and the Oklahoma Association of Regional Councils. This program has seen no increase in contract funding since 1999 and has received funding cuts since 2010. This year, they are receiving a 5 percent cut. The 80/20 grants has also been cut down to an estimated $200,000. Two additional programs that helped get surplus equipment to rural firefighters have been eliminated.

I decided not to be rash and to talk to Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese before I drew any conclusions about the agency’s actions. I understood that the agency budget was going to look different than in past years. The budget shortfall was created from a combination of the slowdown of the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma and longterm budgetary problems, such as the use of one-time revenues in past years and off-the-top obligated monies for higher education, roads and bridges and state retirement systems. With that shortfall, it made sense that they would review their budget and look for ways to save money.

When I met with Secretary Reese, one of the questions I had for him was whether or not any full-time employees were cut under the agency. The reason I asked this was that a common practice among agency administrators is to target a popular program in order to make legislators “feel the pain” of any cut to appropriations. If the agency did a thorough review of its overall spending and cut from multiple areas, I can accept that the cut to rural firefighters was a purely budgetary position. If, however, he cut only that program, while not releasing even a single full-time employee, I will be suspicious that his actions are due to politics.

Secretary Reese’s response to me in person was that he didn’t have that information in front of him but that he would get it to me shortly. Generally, I do not nitpick every agency decision, but I think any reduction to core services such as public safety or road and bridge funding warrant my interest. If the Ag Department is protecting secondary services on the backs of core services, I will be very disappointed. 

In the coming weeks, I will let you know what I have learned about the Ag Department’s budgeting decision. As always, I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407 or by email at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Federal Highway Reauthorization

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I have recently talked with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and his staff, who are working to get reauthorization of federal funding for highways. The job of all elected officials is to work together for the common good of their constituents. For that reason, I want to help explain the need for this important federal legislation and for a robust and continuing investment in this country’s infrastructure.

A measure to reauthorize federal funding for six years will soon be on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Through his leadership, it was approved unanimously in Senator Inhofe’s committee in late June. Unlike many federal programs today, highway funding is a core service which benefits all of the public and falls very strongly in line with the constitutional duties of Congress. The U.S. Constitution calls for the federal government to support interstate commerce. Nothing is more central to that goal than our interstate transportation infrastructure.

There are 47,000 miles of interstate and 18 billion tons of freight worth $17 trillion moving across the country annually. A strong, well maintained and efficient local, state and national transportation network is the only publicly accessible infrastructure that can directly impact our quality of life, our economic viability and our very strength as a State and a Nation. Every year, Oklahoma produces more than $6 billion in exports to more than 25 countries. Our goods travel across multiple states to get to ports such as Long Beach, which we use to export to Asia.  Eighty percent of the tonnage shipped annually from sites in the state are carried by trucks and another seven percent are carried by courier services or multiple mode deliveries, which include trucking. Highway accessibility consistently ranks among the top site selection factors that drives the decision making of corporate executives.  Sound investments in transportation infrastructure add travel and access value and provide a tangible, immediate and easily quantifiable return.

The proposed reauthorization bill provides almost $100 billion in additional funding for the next six years. Lesser amounts over shorter authorization periods constrains our ability to develop our best investment strategy and would force states to give up larger, longer projects. The bill also streamlines the project delivery process to improve the speed at which projects can be started and completed. The bill also specifically targets bridge safety and the interstate system. Finally, it provides for more local control over which projects are priorities.

I have written at length about the need to prioritize infrastructure funding. No doubt, the administrative burden and overreach of the federal government needs to be downsized, but when it comes to road and bridge funding, the opposite is true. Investing in transportation infrastructure is a primary and constitutional responsibility of the federal government that cannot and should not be ignored. 

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.

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