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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Boosting Education Funding; Preserving State Parks

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I hear every week about how our schools are struggling – struggling to pay teachers and struggling to buy new textbooks and other classroom materials to improve student learning.

Last week, the House approved several bills that would help K-12 schools. First was a measure to raise teacher pay by $6,000 over the next three years. This would make Oklahoma’s average teacher pay among the highest in the region and move us from 48th to 13th nationally when cost-of-living is factored. We still have to find funding for this raise; I believe we will.

A measure that could help is a bill to increase the Oklahoma Lottery’s contribution to education by $110 million over the next five years. Many public schools and education associations statewide supported the bill.

House Bill 1837 will allow bigger lottery prizes, which is hoped to increase lottery sales, which would send more money to public schools. We’ve long heard the lottery has not benefitted education as much as first promised. While the lottery has sent more than $750 million to education since it began in 2005, funding has declined in recent years and is expected be about 30 percent lower than 10 years ago. Part of the reason is thought to be low prize payouts. Other states have used this mechanism to successfully increase education funding.

Without this bill, education is projected to lose $25 million in lottery funding over the next five years. This would end the mandate that 35 percent of profits go to education. Instead, the bill guarantees common education would receive at least $50 million in lottery revenue each year as well as profits above $50 million for specific K-12 public school programs. Initiatives in reading, science, technology, engineering and math would receive $85 million over the next five years.

This funding comes without having to raise taxes. With our current budget conditions – a recent revenue failure and a gap in the amount appropriated last year vs. the amount available for fiscal year 2018 – such revenue raising measures are welcome.

There are other measures like this one that will help us close our budget gap and fund core government services in addition to education.

Lastly, I have received many phone calls regarding our state parks. Let me state this: I support our state parks and our tourism department. A memo was sent by our appropriations chairwoman to all state agencies, including the Department of Tourism, asking for opinions on potential cuts to agency budgets. As everyone is fully aware, we have our budget issues. We are trying to scrub and find ways to meet our state constitutionally mandated law to balance the books by the end of the fiscal year. The Department of Tourism responded that cuts might force it to close parks. I don’t believe any state parks will close. But, as I’m sure all of you would understand, we have to look at everything, even as families have to look at everything in their household budgets during tight times. I will point out that the Legislature does not line item spending for parks; that is a decision left to tourism. They must decide whether to keep parks open or cut services in Oklahoma City.

I want to thank everyone for their concern and their phone calls. I hear you, and I fully believe at the end of the day all state parks will remain open.

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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Blue Lives Matter Bill Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill that would increase the likelihood of the death penalty for people convicted of killing a law enforcement officer in the line of duty passed the House with a vote of 73-21 today.

House Bill 1306, by State Rep. Casey Murdock, creates the Blue Lives Matter in Oklahoma Act of 2017, which provides that any person convicted of, or who pleads guilty or nolo contendere to murder in the first degree of a law enforcement officer, correctional officer or corrections employee while in the performance of their duties shall be punished by death or life in prison without parole.

“Every time our law enforcement officers put on their uniform they are putting on a target,” said Murdock, R-Felt. “The least we can do as a legislative body is send a message to law enforcement that we value their lives, that if something happens to them while they are performing their duties we will punish their killers to the fullest extent of the law.”

Murdock said he was inspired to write this legislation after the tragic events that occurred in Dallas and around the country, where snipers were shooting at law enforcement. He also told a personal story of a friend whose son-in-law was shot and attacked in the line of duty.

Murdock worked with several other representatives to make sure the bill was constitutional yet still firm when it comes to dealing with criminals. The bill makes it harder to just get a life in prison sentence. Punishment would be either death or life without parole. The bill also requires that an overwhelming amount of mitigating evidence be shown for those convicted to just be given a life sentence.

“I applaud my colleagues that stood up today for the men and women that risk their lives protecting Oklahoma families,” said state Rep. Scott Biggs, R- Chickasha. “In an era where respect for law enforcement is at an all-time low, this body has sent a message to the law enforcement community that we will use the full extent of the law to protect them.”

Majority Leader state Rep. Mike Sanders said he was happy as well with the bill’s passage.

“If this law deters one crime against a law enforcement agent, then this bill is worth it,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I’m proud to support those who are willing to lay down their lives for the safety of me, my family and all Oklahoma residents.”

The bill now moves to the state Senate.

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Expanding Rural Health Care

By Rep. Mike Sanders 

A bill to allow nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurses to provide health care services in line with their education and training passed the House floor this week by an overwhelming majority. This will increase access to quality health care, particularly in our rural communities. This bill would free these nurses from the collaborative agreement they now sign with a physician. Many of the doctors do not see the patients or even their charts, resulting in little actual collaboration. Plus, doctors can only contract with only two nurse practitioners at a time, severely limiting the number that can practice in the state, adding to our health care shortage. These nurses are not replacing the role of the doctor. They would still have to refer patients to a doctor if necessary. Nurse practitioners, however, have many areas where they are trained. Plus, they must be nationally board certified in their area of training and are licensed and regulated by the Oklahoma Board of Nursing. They complete graduate-level education that leads to a master’s or doctoral degree.

On another subject, I want to touch on the governor’s proposal to tax 164 currently untaxed services. Some fear the Legislature is mulling these tax increases. This idea came only from the governor. Frankly, there is little to no support for these ideas among the conservative majority in the House. Before we would ever consider these kinds of tax increases, we must make sure we have looked at and realized all efficiencies in state government. There are things being requested in agency budgets for fiscal year 2018 that can certainly wait for more prosperous times. There are still areas of state waste. Recently we learned from the Government Modernization Committee that the state has saved $3.1 million, for instance, by selling underutilized state government properties. This is just one example of finding revenue in a lean economy.

The state Senate this week passed House Bill 1845, which will give Oklahomans options of getting a REAL ID compliant with federal law or keeping their current driver’s license. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk. She’s indicated she will sign it. A REAL ID will allow access to federal buildings, military bases and commercial flight. For those concerned about the security of the information on the card, however, they will have a choice of retaining their current state ID.

I had the opportunity last week to assist the Speaker of the House as he gave his weekly update to the media. This is part of my new role as House majority leader. I was able to talk about the serious issues that are important to the people in House District 59. These include having a balanced budget, giving teachers a pay raise, passing REAL ID legislation and other issues.

This was the last week for committee work and now all remaining bills hit the House floor. We have two weeks to consider these measures before passing them to the Senate. Our primary focus is still on the budget and will be as these negotiations are ongoing.

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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Blue Lives and Victims’ Voices Matter

By Rep. Mike Sanders

A bill I will be co-authoring this session is the Blue Lives Matter in Oklahoma Act of 2017.

House Bill 1306 provides that any person convicted of murder in the first degree of a law enforcement officer, correctional officer or corrections employee while in the performance of their duties shall be punished by death or life in prison without parole. This bill was written after the tragic shooting deaths of police officers in Dallas and around the country. It’s reprehensible that people would purposefully shoot to kill those who work tirelessly to keep our citizens safe. This bill ensures these perpetrators will be punished to the fullest extent of the law and removes even the possibility that they would get a lesser sentence.

Also this week, I presented House Bill 1116 on the House floor, which passed by a vote of 76-17. This measure allows for the first time statements, made by a vulnerable or incapacitated person 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. The bill now moves to the Senate.

I also co-authored House Joint Resolution 1002, Marsy’s Law. This puts to the vote of the people a proposed constitutional amendment to give victims rights equal to those of the accused. These would include the right to: privacy; reasonable and timely notice of all proceedings; be heard in any proceeding during which a right of the victim is at issue; reasonable protection; notice of any release or escape. We heard heartbreaking stories from victims who have been denied these protections in the past. I am honored to help give them these added rights.

In other business, a teacher pay increase measure passed the House Appropriations & Budget Committee with overwhelming support. House Bill 1114 would grant teachers a $6,000 pay raise over three years. Voters gave legislators a clear message in November when they voted against raising taxes to increase teacher pay, even while saying they support a raise. We still have to find a funding source for this – a difficult task when a new state revenue failure has just been declared – but, legislators showed with their vote that they are willing to make this raise a reality.

Finally, a bill to allow nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurses to provide health care services in line with their education and training is expected to be heard in the House in the next few weeks. This will increase access to quality health care, particularly in the rural areas of our state. The bill does away with the need for a collaborative agreement with a physician. Many times, these agreements cost thousands of dollars but result in no actual collaboration. In many cases, doctors do not see the patients or even their charts. Plus, doctors can only contract with two nurse practitioners at a time, severely limiting the number that can practice in the state. Nurse practitioners must be nationally board certified in their area of training and are licensed and regulated by the Oklahoma Board of Nursing. They complete graduate-level education that leads to a master’s or doctoral degree. Several amendments have been added to the bill to further protect patients. People deserve to have this choice.

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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Bill to Allow Statements by the Vulnerable Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill to allow statements made by vulnerable or incapacitated victims passed the House today with a vote of 76-17.

House Bill 1116 by state Rep. Mike Sanders allows a vulnerable or incapacitated person who alleges abuse, neglect, financial exploitation or any violent act to be admissible as evidence in a criminal or juvenile proceeding if the court finds the statement to be reliable.

“This bill allows people who may be incapacitated during the commission of a crime against them to make statements against their perpetrators,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Victims should not have their voices further silenced because of a restriction in the law.”

To be admissible, the adverse party must have been notified of the intention to offer the statement at least 10 days in advance of the proceedings. 

The bill will now be sent to the state Senate.

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Keeping the Public Safe a Priority

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Early next week Public Safety Day will be observed at the state Capitol. Lawmakers in the House will be considering a number of bills related to public safety.

Most of the bills I’ve passed in my nine years as a legislator have been aimed at promoting publicsafety, whether it is protecting children from sexual predators, protecting motorists from drunk drivers, or protecting rural firefighters or law enforcement officers that in turn protect the public.

There are a number of bills I support this year that will enhance public safety.

I authored House Bill 1116, which allows statements, made by a vulnerable or incapacitated person who alleges abuse, neglect, financial exploitation or any violent act to be admissible as evidence in a criminal or juvenile proceeding if the court finds the statement to be reliable. To be admissible, the adverse party must have been notified of the intention to offer the statement at least 10 days in advance of the proceedings. The bill passed in the Judiciary – Criminal Justice & Corrections Committee with an 11-1 vote and will now be considered by the full House. This bill protects the vulnerable.

I co-authored House Bill 1482, which passed in the Judiciary – Criminal Justice & Corrections Committee this week with an 11-1 vote. The bill will protect children by making it a felony crime to possess drugs within 1,000 feet of a public or private school or public park and possessing drugs in the presence of children under the age of twelve. Drug crimes involving children can still be charged as a misdemeanor at the discretion of prosecutors, and other options such as drug court and deferred or suspended sentences also are still available. The bill leaves intact the language of State Question 780, but adds this protection for children that was intentionally left out of the ballot language of the question.

I also co-authored House Joint Resolution 1002, otherwise known as Marsy’s Law. This would put to the vote of the people a proposed constitutional amendment that would give victims of crimes rights that are equal to those of the accused. These would include the right to: privacy; reasonable and timely notice of all proceedings; be heard in any proceeding during which a right of the victim is at issue; reasonable protection; notice of any release or escape; and a number of other protections.

I voted yes on a bill this week that would consider all rape by instrumentation cases as rape in the first degree. House Bill 1005 received a 95-0 vote in the House. This vote sends a strong message to Oklahomans that we are serious about protection laws from this heinous crime. The bill was a follow-up to House Bill 2398, which passed both chambers of the Legislature last year and was signed into law in June. These bills were necessary because it was discovered that perpetrators of rape crimes were getting less time on sentences than for much lesser crimes.

Also this week, the House passed the REAL ID Act with a vote of 78-18. House Bill 1845 gives Oklahomans choices. Those who wish can apply for a REAL ID compliant with federal law that will allow access to federal buildings, military bases and commercial aircraft. Those concerned with the privacy of the information required for the new ID can retain their current Oklahoma driver’s license.

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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Governor’s Budget Plan Deserves Scrutiny

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The legislative session started Feb. 6 with the governor giving her budget plan in her State of the State address.

There were some positives in the governor’s proposal; however, there were plenty of tax policy questions that give me some heartburn.

The governor would do away with the grocery tax, calling it the “the most regressive tax on the books today.” She said this would save the average family of four between $350 and $676 a year. While this certainly sounds appealing, I would want to see the impact this would have on our local municipalities. Giving a family a savings on one hand and removing services on the other may not be the kind of help we want or need.

The governor also would do away with the corporate income tax, calling this “one of the most volatile sources of revenue” for the state. This idea has some merit, and I will aggressively look at all options of this.

The governor would offset these cuts by increasing taxes in other areas. One plan is to increase the gas and diesel fuel tax, with the money going straight to the state Transportation Department

This would remove the department’s funding from the state’s General Fund. I have some real concern with this. Granted, we do have one of the lowest gas and diesel tax rates in the country. However, being from rural district, I have some grave concerns with our family farmers and ranchers who would bear the burden of this.

I would be more in favor of moving all current motor vehicle and gas and diesel fuel taxes to fund transportation, and take the income tax the department now relies on and put that into the General Revenue Fund.  We can do this without raising fuel taxes.

The governor also is seeking to tax services that are not currently taxed, such as plumbing services, numerous bank transactions, cable television, pet grooming, haircuts and lawn service, to name a few from a very long list. Again, I have grave concerns with this and its effect on our rural residents.

The governor also revived her request from last year to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50.  I can see the value of this if money would go toward health care services and toward efforts to get people to stop smoking. Any tax increase, though, would require a three-fourths majority vote in both the House and Senate.

I’ll be looking earnestly at the governor’s plan in the coming weeks, but I don’t want to put the burden of funding core government services solely on the backs of Oklahoma workers and families. We must pay some taxes to enjoy state services, but we also have to be responsible in spending taxpayer money. I will repeat a sentiment I express often: anyone who believes there’s no waste left in state government is naïve. Instead of making taxes higher, we need to be looking at ways to cut this waste, and we need to work to bring new businesses to our state that will employ more of our people – expanding our tax base.

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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