By Rep. Mike Sanders
There was some good news this week in an otherwise gloomy revenue year. General Revenue Fund collections in March exceeded the estimate for the first time since July 2015. As the state’s main operating fund, it is the key indicator of state government’s fiscal status. It also means that it is less likely that we will see any more revenue failures in the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends in June.
March collections of $394.2 million were $3.1 million, or 0.8 percent, above the official estimate upon which this year’s budget was based. We did estimate a shortfall, so those collections are still $30.1 million, or 7.1 percent, below prior year collections. Total collections for the first nine months of FY 2016 were $3.7 billion, which is $323.8 million, or 8 percent, below the official estimate and $386.6 million, or 9.4 percent, below prior year collections.
I know that some constituents have been concerned about the increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma. While most are minor, some have caused damage to households. The Oklahoma Legislature has now sent Governor Mary Fallin a bill intended to clarify and increase the authority of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to respond to emergency situations that could have an environmental or public safety impact. House Bill 3158 allows the commission to take whatever action is necessary, without notice and hearing, to respond to an emergency. This follows on the heels of actions the governor took to increase funding to the commission and other agencies working on the earthquake problem.
The governor has signed several important bills into law. House Bill 3102 expands the number of hours an adjunct teacher can teach in Oklahoma classrooms from 90 to 270. These are teachers that have not gone through the teaching certification process, but are a necessary tool for school districts facing a teacher shortage.
Another measure signed into law was Senate Bill 1342, which modifies the Taxpayer Transparency Act. The change allows Oklahomans to see all federal funds received by state agencies and track how the monies are used.
We passed a measure on the House floor that authorizes a municipality to enter into agreements for used equipment that has been tested and certified as safe with a volunteer fire department. The measure exempts the municipality from liability for any damage caused by the use of such equipment.
Another important House bill approved by the Senate contains a budget reform. House Bill 3058 provides a process for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to reconcile all state agency revolving funds. This is an attempt to ensure excess funds to not remain in agency accounts when they might be needed in the budget process.
Finally, I always try to track child welfare reform bills. Another House Bill close to being signed into law is House Bill 2963. It provides that court approval of the affidavit disclosing all monies expended by an adoptive family during the process of adoption does not exempt a person, attorney or child placing agency from prosecution if it was fraudulent or false and specifies what constitutes reasonable fees of a child placing agency.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation to aid prosecutors in keeping drunk drivers off the road was approved today by the Oklahoma Senate.
House Bill 3146, by state Rep. Mike Sanders and state Sen. Greg Treat, creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record. Any municipality with a population of 60,000 or more would have the option to create a court of record. Arresting municipalities would still receive a portion of the fines.
There are 354 municipal courts in Oklahoma who handle a large volume of DUI arrests, but that are not ‘courts of record.’ Oklahoma City and Tulsa are the only current municipal courts of record.
“This is an important tool for prosecutors to be able to better flag and appropriately prosecute repeat drunk drivers,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “The security of Oklahoma families when they are driving on our roads should always be a top priority in public safety.”
“This bill closes a loophole that has put Oklahomans’ lives in danger by allowing repeat drunk drivers to get multiple DUI convictions in various jurisdictions without being held accountable,” said Treat, R-Oklahoma City. “There are 350 courts not of record in Oklahoma that don’t report DUI convictions to a statewide database. Therefore, someone could get arrested twenty or more times in multiple jurisdictions for DUI and because those convictions aren’t put on their record they’re treated like a first time offender and receive only minimal punishment.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths and the 51st (including states and territories) for improvement over the previous 10-year period (NHTSA, 2012).
“This legislation marks a watershed in the history of impaired driving in Oklahoma,” said Toby Taylor, Chairman of the Governor’s Impaired Driving Prevention Advisory Council, “by creating accountability for every impaired driving arrest in Oklahoma and providing law enforcement with a much needed tool to identify those individuals who are repeat impaired driving offenders. This is a critical piece of the puzzle in our efforts to reduce the incidence of impaired driving related traffic crashes in Oklahoma.”
Several legislators also praised the legislation.
“Drunk driving can result in terrible tragedy and repeat drunk drivers are among the most dangerous,” said Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, a former prosecutor. “This legislation fixes a system in which many repeat offenders were flying under the radar and allows us to catch more of them.”
“It is hard to overstate what a victory this is for public safety,” said state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “Thousands of DUIs are falling through the cracks that could be used to get repeat offenders off the road. Congratulations to Representative Sanders and Senator Treat for working to get bipartisan support behind this legislation’s passage.”
“Repeat drunk drivers are individuals who are dangerous to the rest of us and who are unlikely to reform their ways without intervention,” said state Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso. “This loophole needed to be closed so we can get these individuals off the road.”
“This is the most significant advancement made in recent history in making our streets and highways safer from drunk or impaired drivers,” said state Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami. “It closes a huge gaping hole in the area of public safety. Representative Sanders and Senator Treat deserve credit for leading on this issue. This proposal, once signed into law, will save lives.”
The legislation was approved unanimously and now proceeds to the governor’s office to be signed into law.
OKLAHOMA CITY – A contract was awarded for asphalt resurfacing work in Canadian County, state Rep. Mike Sanders announced today.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the project will involve asphalt resurfacing on State Highway 3, about one mile south of the Kingfisher County Line in Okarche and extend south to State Highway 4 in various locations.
The State Transportation Commission awarded the nearly $460,000 contract to Schwarz Paving Co., Inc. The Oklahoma City company was the lowest of four bidders for the job.
Once construction begins, the project is estimated to be completed within one month.
“This project is one of the many reasons I continue to advocate for road and bridge funding,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “After years of neglect, we are very rapidly updating our infrastructure, which increases both public safety and economic activity in Western Oklahoma.”
By Rep. Mike Sanders
Bills are now in the late stage of the legislative process. If there is disagreement or final details to be worked out, there is a chance bills will end up in a conference committee near the end of session. But otherwise, they are nearing their final leg of the process.
This week marked the deadline by which legislation must be heard in the committee of the opposition chamber. That means House committees completed their work on Senate bills. Now, we will pass bills on the floor. Once passed on the floor, those bills will either go to joint House and Senate conference committees to work out disagreements or straight to the governor.
On the Senate side, we are finally getting to see some movement on the bills we approved and sent over to them. My legislation to improve the prosecution of repeat drunk drivers in Oklahoma has passed through the Senate committee process and now awaits a vote by the full Senate. House Bill 3146, the Impaired Driving Elimination Act, will require all driving under the influence offenses to be tried in district court. This addresses the problem in which many drunk drivers are prosecuted in municipal courts that are not statutorily required to be courts of record. That means that when these drunk drivers are arrested, the record of that offense is frequently not pushed to the district attorneys. Without a record of previous convictions, these district attorneys cannot prosecute repeat offenders.
The Senate also approved two important education bills in committee. House Bill 2957 would return flexibility to local school districts in the area of teacher and leader evaluations. This bill restores local control in the evaluation of their teachers and administrators. The goal in these evaluations is higher student achievement and teacher and leader excellence. I believe this bill achieves that while removing some of the burden under the existing state model. The bill received a do pass recommendation by the Senate Education Committee and is eligible to be heard on the Senate floor.
House Bill 1622 would eliminate education tests not required by the federal government. In Oklahoma, this would eliminate three end-of-instruction tests, five middle school tests and a state art test. Students in kindergarten through 12th grade currently are required to take 26 tests throughout the course of their schooling. This bill has been scheduled for a conference committee this week in the House. By eliminating some of these tests, we can free up millions of dollars that could potentially go back into the classroom for our teachers and our kids, where it belongs.
Meanwhile, we have approved several Senate bills in committee. For example, the House Appropriation and Budget Committee approved an important measure to catch uninsured motorists. Senate Bill 359 allows law enforcement to use automated license plate readers to run those plates by the Oklahoma Insurance Department to determine if the owner is insured. If the owner does not have insurance, they will be sent a letter directing them to contact the District Attorney’s Office.
We also approved a Senate bill that will make it easier to hunt and kill feral swine. It adds feral swine to the list of animals that can be hunted with a variety of hunting licenses currently available to Oklahomans. It also allows the use of vehicles and night-vision equipment to hunt feral swine.
A bill that has moved through the entire process and now heads to the governor’s desk will extend the termination date for local firefighter pension and retirement boards. Senate Bill 1021 changes the termination date for local firefighter pension and retirements boards from 2000 to 2016.
It is fitting to end this column with a bill that affects firefighters as I also wanted to take this time to thanks all of the firefighters who have gone out in recent weeks to put out fires in Northern Oklahoma and specifically Blaine County. Thank you so much for all that you do to protect lives and property.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
Last week, I told you about some of the major reforms approved by the session midpoint. This week, I want to talk about the budget and also highlight some additional legislation that we sent to the Senate.
First, budget discussions continue to include multiple scenarios and solutions, but at least one idea that has emerged and is worth mentioning is the idea of a transportation funding bond. Basically, road and bridge funding has been on the chopping block in the past several budget discussions. In order to get it off the block, we have begun discussing using a bond to fund it. With a more than $1 billion budget shortfall, a reasonable bond is one way to account for this anomaly year without sacrificing long-term transportation goals. This is still in discussion, but a plan is in the works. Transportation is a core service of government and should be treated as such.
Education is a top priority for all legislators and while we may not be able to hold it harmless, we have been working to reduce mandates and oppose ideas such as the school vouchers in such a tough budget time. Last week’s supplemental funding agreement was a first step in shoring up education funding due to the revenue failures. Hopefully, we can get more accomplished and set schools on a path to get through this oil and gas downturn. In two of the last three years, we have increased common education funding and held it harmless last year. The Senate has sent us a bill to eliminate End of Instruction exams. Senate Bill 1170 authorizes each school district to certify that graduating high school students had mastered the curriculum requirements. The state board of education, higher education and CareerTech will create a list of approved assessments that would comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act and measure mastery of the state’s subject matter standards. The state would pay for the exams.
Second, I want to tell you about another bond. We have committed to the idea of restoring the Oklahoma State Capitol, as it is the people’s building and putting off needed repairs would just make it a more costly project in the future. House Bill 3168 would allow the state to issue up to $125 million in bonds to complete the Capitol Restoration Project, which is scheduled for a 2022 completion date. The bond would be funded by tobacco tax revenues.
Third, we approved House Bill 2962 to require coverage of autism by a wide bipartisan vote last week. I think we must balance the need for accessible health care with reigning in insurance costs. This legislation did both. It requires health-benefit plans to provide coverage for autism, but limits the yearly maximum benefit to $25,000. It does not however limit the number of visits, as the cost is the important point.
Finally, I want to talk to you about a law enforcement bill approved last week. House Bill 2864 will place the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the Department of Public Safety under one Commissioner of Public Safety. The legislation is intended to make it easier for the public to know where the buck stops in public safety and have one individual to deal with on any issues that arise. The individual law enforcement units will continue to function as in the past, but a single leader will help with the coordination and accountability that should be a part of any government agency. The title is off this bill, which means it needs to be tweaked more as it moves through the Senate. I will keep you posted on its progress.
In my next column, I will begin to tell you about some of the Senate bills coming through my committees and about the progress of House bills in the Senate. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Conservative Union Foundation Announcing Ratings for the 2015 meeting of the Oklahoma State Legislature
WASHINGTON DC – In the 2015 Ratings of Oklahoma, lawmakers continued to enact conservative reforms that support both individuals and families. “The Sooner State could be held as a model for other states seeking to enact conservative reforms on education and legislation to support strong families,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “We were glad to see that school choice was expanded and that population requirements on charter schools were lifted. Now families can send their children to the very best performing schools no matter what district they live in.” Additionally, Oklahoma passed several Pro-Life reforms that protect the unborn, supporting our belief that abortion is a human tragedy.
Elected officials also sent a strong message to unions by passing legislation prohibiting the automatic deduction of union dues from state employee paychecks. “Liberal union bosses were reminded in Oklahoma that they are not a collection agency and they do not have a vice-grip on the state workforce,” said Schlapp. Unfortunately, some legislators voted to favor programs that lead to cronyism such as SB 71, Cash for Chicken Egg Producers. “The handing out of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to government favored businesses is simply wrong. In order for free markets to flourish, these sweetheart deals must end,” Schlapp stated.
ACU announced today the results of our ratings for the 2015 meeting of the Oklahoma State Legislature. Like our Congressional ratings, ACU’s State Ratings reflect how elected officials view the role of government in an individual’s life. Oklahoma legislators with the strongest scores consistently voted with the ideals articulated in our U.S. Constitution.
Rep. Mike Sanders of Kingfisher was selected as one the Oklahoma Lawmakers to receive this honor.
ACU researches and selects a wide range of bills that reflect a member’s adherence to conservative principles. We select bills that focus on former President Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of the “three-legged stool”: 1) economic: taxes, budgets, regulation, spending, healthcare, and property; 2) social and cultural: 2nd Amendment, religious freedom, life, welfare, and education; and 3) government integrity: voting, individual liberty, privacy, and transparency. The range of issues selected have been specifically designed to convey to voters the most accurate assessment of Oklahoma’s elected officials who can be counted on to defend the principles of a free society: Life, Liberty, and Property.
"I am incredibly humbled to have received this honor from the ACUF. I have championed measures for individual freedoms, the unborn, free-market ideas and for property rights,” Representative Sanders states. “To have been recognized in the likes and legacy of former President Ronald Reagan means a great deal to me and I cannot thank the ACUF enough for this.”
“The ACU’s ratings reflect how elected officials view the role of government in an individual’s life,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “Representative Sanders is receiving our Award for Conservative Achievement because of his strong, consistent record of voting in support of ideals articulated in the U.S. Constitution. The range of issues selected have been specifically designed to convey to voters the most accurate assessment of Oklahoma’s elected officials who can be counted on to defend the principles of a free society: Life, Liberty and Property. I have worked with Mike and know him to be a dedicated conservative champion,” said Schlapp.
Legislators who scored above 80% in ACU’s 2015 Ratings of the Oklahoma Legislature will receive awards for their hard work toward passage of legislation that reflects conservative principles. As Reagan stated, “The person who agrees with you 80% of the time is a friend and an ally.”
To view our Oklahoma ratings guide, visit http://acuratings.conservative.org/state-ratings-2015/ and click on Oklahoma.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
The Oklahoma House of Representatives is busy reviewing Senate legislation in committee while trying to keep an eye on House measures in the Senate. We have also been busy voting on academic standards and a supplemental funding bill for education and corrections.
New academic standards were required by a 2014 law that overturned Common Core Standards. The Oklahoma Legislature had until this month to approve the new English and mathematics standards. The House approved the standards with recommendations for improvement as they are implemented. If the House and Senate do not agree, the standards will go into effect automatically. These standards do not mandate what materials a teacher uses, but simply set guidelines for what the student should know at the end of each grade level.
I will mention the supplemental funding measure again, because of how important it is to local schools. The supplemental funding will provide $51 million to schools to help them get through the end of this year after the midyear cuts that resulted from the drop in oil prices. Our prison system was already running on a skeleton crew and could not absorb automatic cuts so we also provided $25.6 million to get the Department of Corrections through the end of the year.
Domestic violence continues to be a problem in Oklahoma and nationally. Two bills of interest are Senate Bill 1249 and Senate Bill 1491. The first requires final protective orders to be resolvedwithin six months of service on the defendant. The second broadens the definition of domestic violence. Current statute defines it as a pattern involving three or more incidents of abuse. This measure would make it two or more and remove a stipulation that it occur within a 12-month period.
The Real ID Act was a federal law put in place in response to the increased incidents of terror in the United States. Oklahoma has been non-compliant with the law, though we have asked for extensions. Senate Bill 1362 would make us compliant with the federal law.
The final piece of legislation from the Senate I want to tell you about is Senate Joint Resolution 65. It would make the Oklahoma Labor Commissioner an appointed position. Currently, the labor commissioner is among the list of statewide elected officials. If we approve this constitutional amendment it would go to a vote of the people.
Lastly, I want to wish everyone a safe and wonderful Easter. This is a time of renewal, family and the celebration of the gift of life and our Christian faith.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
This week, House lawmakers completed the work of passing major reform proposals to the Senate. Our next task is to review Senate proposals in committee in the coming weeks.
I want to start by announcing a supplemental funding agreement for schools and prisons. Legislators and Governor Mary Fallin have agreed on a plan to provide $57 million to K-12 schools and $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections to finish out this fiscal year. In order to make this happen, we took money from the state “rainy day” fund, which was created for emergencies such as this year’s automatic cuts that came after the revenue failure.
The major reform I proposed this year was to push drunk driving prosecutions out of municipal courts. With only two municipal courts of record in Oklahoma, we have multiple drunk drivers who are flying under the radar. Basically, when they are prosecuted in municipal courts, a record of their arrest and prosecution does not pass on to the district attorney or municipality that prosecutes them for a subsequent offense. Without a record of their offenses, they cannot be tried as a repeat offender.
House Bill 3146 creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record. The measure also directs the Commissioner of Public Safety to create a statewide impaired driver database with the assistance of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths and dead last in making progress on the issue in a 10-year period.
This was a bipartisan bill and I had help from many of my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle. Ultimately, I received wide, bipartisan support. Safe roads is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is an Oklahoma issue.
My drunk driving legislation was not the only major reform we passed this week. We also approved legislation to allow voters to remove a portion of the state constitution that was cited in a ruling that caused the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from state Capitol grounds.
House Joint Resolution 1062 removes a portion of the Oklahoma State Constitution known as the Blaine Amendment. These amendments were added to state constitutions around the country at a time of anti-Catholic sentiment. It prohibits the use of state property or state monies for religious purposes. Many of us did not feel this would include the Ten Commandments monument, because it is a historical basis for American law.
However, with the recent Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, the Blaine Amendment could now be interpreted to prohibit a broad variety of artifacts. Concerns include that Native American artifacts and municipal Christmas displays could be challenged.
The Blaine Amendment does not mirror anything in the U.S. Constitution. If anything, our U.S. Constitution upholds freedom of religion, including religious expression.
A third bill that will create more health care opportunities in rural Oklahoma was approved unanimously. House Bill 2549 allows hospitals in Oklahoma to own nursing homes. This will create the opportunity for rural hospitals to increase their service, both helping their bottom line and increasing access to health care in rural Oklahoma.
In my next column, I will go through the latest budget discussion and some of the other major reform proposals moving through the process. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 email@example.com.
Rep. Sanders Praises Passage of Constitutional Amendment to nix Language Cited in Ten Commandments Monument Ruling
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Sanders praised today’s passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate a portion of law cited in the ruling against the display of a Ten Commandments monument on Oklahoma State Capitol grounds.
House Joint Resolution 1062, by state Rep. Randy Grau, removes a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution that provides that “public money or property cannot be used directly or indirectly for any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”
“When we learned that the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the Ten Commandments monument removed from the Capitol, everyone was surprised,” said Grau, R-Edmond, an attorney and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “The ruling went against clear legal precedent supporting the placement of such monuments on government property. Our state’s highest court misinterpreted the Constitution, and we had no choice but to send the question to the people of Oklahoma regarding the public display of such monuments. Today, the House voted overwhelmingly to do that. ”
Sanders said most Oklahomans were astounded by the ruling of the court against the display of the Ten Commandments monument.
“A ruling against the display seemed crazy in light of U.S. Supreme Court rulings in favor of Ten Commandment monument displays on government property,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “We are undoing that damage by striking the language cited in the ruling.”
The proposed constitutional amendment was approved by a vote of 86-10 and now proceeds to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration. If approved by the Senate, a state question will be submitted to the Secretary of State to be placed on the November 2016 ballot.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
State legislators are a step closer to final policy solutions as we enter into March. The Oklahoma House of Representatives have reduced our total legislation to 383 bills and joint resolutions after beginning with 983 bills filed this year. We are now spending all day on the House floor discussing and voting on those 383 proposals.
In the area of education, we moved bills forward that do not contain final language, but will serve as vehicles for three important policy discussions this year. First, strong support exists for the elimination of End of Instruction tests. Bills advanced in both the Senate and House to reduce or eliminate these tests. Second, there is support for reducing the planned teacher evaluation implementation. Third, with the hope that we will find funding, we advanced legislation that will contain a teacher pay raise. If not, we have several other bills such as House Bill 2247 to try to address the teacher shortage with more targeted incentives.
In the area of health policy, we approved legislation by a Grove emergency physician who strongly believes that Medicaid includes too many able-bodied adults. Even a liberal health economist like Jonathan Gruber has estimated that as many as six out of every 10 enrollees added to Medicaid would otherwise have private coverage. House Bill 2665 will further limit Medicaid, which would likely improve the service for the remaining Medicaid enrollees.
In the area of public safety, we approved a bill to shore up the state’s 9-1-1 system on the House floor. House Bill 3126 increases the transparency and accountability for 9-1-1 fees and provides state coordination for improved 9-1-1 service delivery. The measure also replaces the funding that has been lost due to the drop in the use of landline phones with an increase to the individual 9-1-1 fee on each cellular contract. Just like with transportation infrastructure, public safety infrastructure is critical to maintaining the safety of all Oklahomans.
We also advanced several child welfare proposals. One would require parents to show up for hearings if they want to have a say in custody and other child placement decisions. Another would allow the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to discontinue operations if a child has been shown to be appropriately placed with a safe family. Currently, by statute, if a judge does not close a case, the agency has to continue to provide evaluations and other services, even when they are no longer necessary.