Responding to Increased Oil Field Traffic

OKLAHOMA CITY – First, let me say I’m thankful for the boom in our economy brought by the recent increased activity in The STACK oil play near Kingfisher. I appreciate the increased sales and income tax this is creating. I’m thankful for what this will mean to our local, county and state economy and the resulting benefits to the people in my district.

That said, there have been eight fatality accidents recently involving commercial motor vehicles: three in Kingfisher County, two in Blaine County and three in Canadian County. Investigations are still open on many of these. Whether these were caused by drivers who just are unfamiliar with our roads, by aggressive or inattentive driving or overweight trucks remains to be seen. Whatever the cause, I cannot and will not stand for the lives of our residents being put in danger.

In addition, this increased traffic and the weight in these larger trucks is putting a toll on our city, county and state roads and bridges. I’m concerned about the cost to our municipal and county budgets. With budgets being strained the past few years, we need to do all we can to protect our local and state dollars.

To address my concerns and those expressed to me by my constituents, I met recently with Capt. Brad Shepherd, Commander of Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and Troop J. I’ve also met with local police and our county sheriffs. Their job is to protect the public from aggressive or inattentive drivers as well as to protect our roads and bridges from overweight trucks. They’re doing a good job. Capt. Shepherd showed me a list of responses the OHP is taking to address the increased traffic.

These include an education-through-enforcement campaign in which commercial motor vehicle drivers are contacted by the OHP on traffic violations, which leads to offering up education programs to the company for which they work.  The drivers are educated on state statute if vehicles are overweight or if drivers exhibit aggression or other behaviors likely to cause accidents. These safety education programs also are offered to local community civic groups in which talks are held to discuss defensive driving practices for local residents. The OHP also has adjusted manpower to peak traffic hours and moved other troops into the area to assist in this matter. I’m thankful for these efforts, and I’ve told all law enforcement that I’ve got their backs as they pursue these efforts.

I appreciate all of the calls and emails I’ve received on this and other issues. I would encourage those who have not yet reached out to me directly but have voiced a public outcry to try a phone call or an email to my office. We can accomplish quite a bit if we can first communicate. 

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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What Comes Next: The Supreme Court’s Decision

by Rep. Mike Sanders

As you have probably heard by now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the $1.50 per pack cigarette fee the Oklahoma Legislature passed in May. The high court is a co-equal branch of government, and the justices acted in accordance with the state constitution. People may differ on decisions that were made, but at the end of the day, as Oklahomans, we clearly support the rule of law and the system we hold dear.

By way of background, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 845 – also known as the Smoking Cessation Act of 2017 – in the final days of the legislative session this year. This bill set up a framework with the majority of the money generated going into a newly created Health Care Enhancement Fund. SB 845 was intended to reduce tobacco consumption and lessen health-related costs from tobacco-induced illnesses, and it would have generated more than $200 million. 

Tobacco companies, unsurprisingly, challenged the measure because it would have affected their profit margins.

So where do we go from here?

I know some of you may be nervous and wondering what this all means for rural hospitals and health care providers. Rest assured, the Speaker of the House and the Chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee have met with the Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services. All three agencies have given House leadership their word that they can sustain services for several months.

Accordingly, this allows the Legislature to carefully consider our best course of action. Before we can choose the most efficient and effective path forward, we must know exactly what we’re dealing with. There are currently two other cases before the Supreme Court that could also impact the state’s bottom line. Once the court rules on those issues, we’ll have much more clarity as to what the state faces. 

Additionally, Oklahoma’s economy is rebounding. Sales tax receipts and income tax are both on the rise, and we have about $83 million in an unexpected carryover from Fiscal Year 2017. These are great signs.  All of these facts will cushion the hole and allow the Speaker time to talk with Gov. Mary Fallin and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate before finalizing a plan. There will be no knee-jerk reactions.

I can promise you one thing for sure: the Oklahoma Legislature will not leave these three affected agencies in the lurch. Lawmakers do not want to see the residents of this great state lose access to their health care, and I vow to fight for Oklahomans every step of the way. 

 

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Representatives to Make a Stop at ENDUI Checkpoint

OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of republican state representatives are set to join the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department and the Edmond Police Department at an ENDUI checkpoint Friday.

ENDUI checkpoints stop motorists and check for drivers who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. More than a quarter of Oklahoma’s traffic fatalities involve alcohol.

House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, Rep. Scott Biggs, Rep. Mike Osburn, Rep. Rhonda Baker, Rep. John Paul Jordan, Rep. John Pfeifer, and Rep. Randy Worthen will meet the law enforcement officers at an undisclosed ENDUI checkpoint location in Edmond.

“Driving under the influence is one of the most lethal yet preventable things humans do,” Biggs said. “As representatives, we feel fortunate to have this opportunity to see how ENDUI, a lifesaving program, works in the field.” 

The representatives also want to use this opportunity to let law enforcement officers know that the legislature is behind them.

“Our friends at OHP and law enforcement officers across the state work tirelessly to ensure that Oklahoma roads are as safe as possible,” Sanders said. “As lawmakers, we can fund programs like ENDUI all day long, but without trained law enforcement officers, these programs won’t work. The success of ENDUI is a testament to the professionalism and leadership of our state’s law enforcement officers.”

The Friday checkpoint will also mark a first for collaboration as the Edmond Police Department is scheduled to join the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for their first ENDUI checkpoint.

“The Edmond police department is made up of officers that just want to protect their community,” said Rep. Mike Osburn, R- Edmond. “I’m not surprised to learn that they are participating in this worthwhile program, and I look forward to seeing them out there.”

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Back to School

By Rep. Mike Sanders

It’s that time of year when yellow buses will soon take to the streets and young people will be riding their bikes and walking to school. I urge drivers to be on extra alert and observe our school zone speed limits.

I want to extend a special thank you to our teachers who will soon face classrooms full of fresh, new faces. So many of our teachers go above and beyond for their students, not only teaching them how to read and do math, how to think scientifically or about the history of our nation and state, but they care and love their students. Outside of a parent, a teacher is probably the person that has the next greatest influence on the life of a child. I remember fondly the great teachers who encouraged me in my studies and taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be – even majority leader of the House of Representatives. I owe so much of what I am today to great teachers.

I also want to thank our school administrators, who’ve worked throughout the summer to hire great teachers to fill our classrooms, to make sure programs, materials and facilities are up to date and ready for students and staff to return for the school year. Many of our administrators fill in doing other jobs around the school buildings, yet these extra duties may go unnoticed. I want to say thank you for all of the work that you do to make sure young people are prepared for the next level of learning and for life after school.

Education is such an important building block for society as a whole. We’re not just teaching our children their ABCs and their numbers. We’re teaching them how to succeed in future jobs and how to contribute positively back to society. We’re training up the next generation of teachers, doctors, police officers, construction workers, bankers and lawmakers, all of the people who make our communities work. We’re teaching them how to think critically and solve problems, how to get along with others and to share.

At the Legislature, I’ll continue to work on behalf of our students, parents, teachers and administrators to ensure our schools have regulations and accountability measures that don’t stymie their work but that provide parents and taxpayers with the transparency needed. I’ll also continue to fight for higher teacher pay.

On a final note, when you’re picking up school supplies, get a few extra items or even a gift card or two to share with your child’s teacher. This small act of kindness will be appreciated more than you know.

I’m excited about this new school year and all the promise it holds. Again, I want to thank our teachers and administrators for their selfless sacrifices for our kids. I appreciate all you do.

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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Honoring a True Public Servant

By Rep. Mike Sanders

After nine years as a representative – four of those spent as the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation – I’ve had plenty of opportunity to interact with Gary Ridley.

First, I knew him as Oklahoman’s transportation secretary, then as a mentor and finally as a personal friend. I’ve worked with him plenty of times on projects to improve the roads and bridges in my district and throughout the state.

Secretary Ridley is the perfect example of a public servant, a statesman and a leader. He quickly grasps a problem and goes about working the solution – always with an eye for what will be in the best interest of the state overall, not just his department. He’s more than willing to listen respectfully to others, no matter whom they are, and accept input. At the same time, he’s always moving forward. Plus, he doesn’t care who gets the credit, only that the state gets served.

It is through his leadership that the state’s 8-year roads and bridges plan has remained on track even while various Legislatures have continually tried to raid transportation funding. It is also under his leadership that the state’s more than 3,000 structurally deficient bridges have been repaired along with constant work to improve the state’s network of rural roads.

Yet, Secretary Ridley is a team player. He has never put personal gain ahead of the needs of the state. He has always been willing to give up funding for other agencies, such as education, healthcare or public safety, but only as long as those decisions didn’t completely stall transportation. Transportation, after all is really the backbone of economic development, which in turn helps fund all of the services residents value in a state.

In the years since I first met Secretary Ridley, I became a huge admirer of his dedication to his beloved state and his example to others of how to be a true leader. When his retirement was announced in early June, I took it with a heavy heart. I know Transportation Director Mike Patterson will make an excellent secretary, carrying on the legacy of statesmanship that Secretary Ridley leaves, but Secretary Ridley will be greatly missed. In his more than 48 years at the Department of Transportation, he always put the future of Oklahoma at the forefront. We would all be so much better served if all public leaders followed his example.

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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The Fourth

By Rep. Mike Sanders 

Between the fireworks, the parades and family gatherings in the park, sometimes it’s hard to think about what that 1776 July 4 must have been like.

First, I think about how tense the scene must have been, the independence of a new nation hanging in the balance. Breaking from the tyranny of an old master was necessary, but it must have been bittersweet. England was a known empire builder, a protector and the fatherland of most of the American colonists. To declare independence would mean years more of war, being cut off from supplies from home, in many instances being at odds with neighbors and friends, even family members.

As a state lawmaker, I’ve been in tense negotiations before – plenty of times. We argue over things that in the moment seem monumental – how to fund almost 100 state agencies in a recession, for instance. Still, I’ve never felt like I was risking my life or the lives of all of those I love and care for when I author or argue a bill. Sometimes I’ve felt the federal government is tyrannical in its demands, but I’ve never faced it sending troops to my door for my defiance.

Sometimes I’m amazed that 56 men could come to such an agreement. I don’t know if this could be done today. We had a hard time getting 56 votes on any major piece of legislation this year.

Yet, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress of the United States of America approved the final wording for the Declaration of Independence. After several days of what I’m imagining were very heated arguments and debates, the last i was dotted and the last t crossed. The letter declaring independence from tyranny was officially adopted.

I wonder how many people remember that independence from England actually was officially declared on July 2, 1776. The Declaration wasn’t even signed until Aug. 2, and the letter sent in November. The Constitution was signed in September. Yet we celebrate July 4 as our independence day. Sometimes I think our founding fathers picked this date because of the momentousness of being able to come to that final agreement. The first Continental Congress had met a year and a half before. War had already been raging in the colonies since April 1775. The draft of the declaration had been in the works for almost a month. And here was the finished work, agreed to on the future blood that would be spilled over its words.

Liberty, freedom, independence – none are free; none are cheap.

I hope wherever you are this July 4 you’ll remember those who agreed to the final version of the Declaration of Independence, and the divine help they must have received in coming to this agreement. It has kept U.S. citizens free for more than 240 years. Happy July 4!

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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The Way Forward

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This year, with so many new members and so many widely differing beliefs about what should and should not be funded by state government, the budget process was challenging.

Making it more difficult were the constantly shifting demands of the minority leader and his caucus. Believing they had just enough power in the House to stall budget negotiations indefinitely, they rejected every Republicans proposal to balance the budget. These included raising the gross production tax on oil and gas to 4, 4.5 even 5 percent. Republicans also agreed to six out of seven items in the Democrats’ budget plan. Each offer was left on the table.

Instead of being a statesman and a consensus builder – choosing to do what was best for the state instead of what was politically expedient for him individually – the minority leader over-kicked his punt coverage. Knowing we would not be able to rely on help to put the state on sound financial footing, the speaker of the House and me, along with other House leaders, turned to other measures to shore up core services demanded by our citizens, ones which we could pass without minority support.

We want to be able to work across the aisle, embracing all ideas that will make Oklahoma a stronger, better state – one that is open for business and economic growth and activity, one where personal freedoms are protected and the needs of citizens met. After several years of obstructionist tactics, however, it is clear we must move forward in developing an innovative and conservative policy agenda on which to build, regardless of whether theDemocrats join us.

To develop this agenda for implementation during the 2018 legislative session, House leadership recently announced it will hold a series of House Republican Leadership Policy Working Groups. I will help lead these groups. Our goal is to reduce government waste and increase efficiencies in spending, enhance personal freedom and grow economic opportunities for Oklahomans. We will study ways to rid agencies of duplicative services and help them run more efficiently; finding ways to better support but reform spending for transportation, public safety, education, healthcare and mental health. Members will participate in these groups voluntarily and will not be paid per diem or reimbursed for mileage. This won’t be on the taxpayer’s dime.

Bottom line is we need to restructure our state budget, moving more money from off-the-top appropriations to theGeneral Revenue Fund. We also need to take a more detailed look at each tax credit and deduction we offer and shed those that don’t benefit the state. We need to streamline the process by which we arrive at a balanced budget. We can’t do things the way they’ve always been done.

We started the changes this year, holding public hearings at the beginning of session for five state agencies that receive almost 80 percent of state appropriations. Each representative also rotated through various appropriation & budget subcommittees to get a better grasp of agency funding requests. These working groups will help us move even further forward next year.

To wrap up the highlights of our state budget for fiscal year 2018, I wanted to include a note about funding for public safety and corrections. Public safety received almost $13 million more this year than last, a 2.1 percent increase. Under this umbrella, the Department of Corrections received more than $4.5 million above last year. Keeping the public safe is one of the most important functions of government.  This money will mean our prisons can be better staffed, increasing safety for both the public and corrections’ officers, and our Highway Patrol troopers can get back to patrolling our roads without the threat of furloughs or mileage caps.

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. Sanders Comments on Retirement of Transportation Secretary Ridley

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Majority Leader Mike Sanders commented on today’s announcement that Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley is retiring.

“I would like to commend Secretary Ridley on his retirement,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “This will be a loss to Department of Transportation. Secretary Ridley is a true statesman, really the epitome of the Oklahoma standard. He’s been willing to cross party lines in order to get things done, and has always been willing to work on what is best for Oklahoma. Even when that meant giving up funding in tight years to ensure other core government services were adequately funded, he still ensured the 8-year roads and bridges construction plan always stayed on track. He will be missed.”

Sanders served for four years as the chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Transportation Subcommittee while Ridley served as Transportation Secretary. He said Ridley has been a mentor over the course of his career. He and his wife, Eula, are personal family friends.

“My wife Nellie and I send them all the best in this new phase of life.”

 

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Session Successes

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This is column two in a series on the 2017 budget process.

Contrary to what you might have read recently in the state’s largest newspaper, we had more successes this legislative session than not.

Many of our triumphs involved education. Despite facing an almost $900 million hole coming into session, we were able to hold the appropriation for education flat when compared to last year’s appropriation. We also completely made up for mid-year revenue declines that affected schools. In addition, we fully funded the flexible benefits allowance for teachers and support staff that helps pay co-pays and other medical expenses that otherwise would be part of out-of-pocket deductibles.

We also were able to pass several different funding mechanisms for education. One transparency bill requires school districts that pay below the state minimum salary schedule to notify their teachers in writing that they are following this procedure. Another bill gives full transparency on how the state calculates the per-pupil expenditure. This bill clearly defines all funding sources included in the formula and all that are not, such as adult and community education, facilities acquisition and construction services, debt services, property, and other expenditures not related to day-to-day operations. We also passed a bill that would allow school districts the ability to give teachers retention pay outside of the salary schedule; and we passed a bill that took the $18,000 cap off of pay for retired teachers who go back to the classroom to teach, allowing districts to make the determination on pay.

In addition to education, rural healthcare was protected in this year’s budget. We fully funded Medicaid provider rates, ensuring rural health care providers stay in the market to treat our area residents. We also ensured rural hospitals and nursing homes, and places like the Center of Family Love in Okarche, get to keep their federal matching funds. This is so important to helping keep the doors open on these facilities that allow our residents to get the care they need closer to home.

No budget is perfect. Going into the session, we were looking at potential cuts of at least 15 percent across the board if not more. This budget process was rough, but so is the process for refining a diamond.

In addition to the budget, there were other successes this legislative session. One was the passage of the REAL ID Act, which gives Oklahomans the option of keeping their current driver’s license or getting one that complies with federal law, allowing access to federal buildings and military bases and flight on commercial aircraft. If we had not passed this act, Oklahomans would have been forced to carry a second form of ID for air travel or access to the facilities mentioned above.

Other successes this year include victims’ rights laws that give victims equal protections under the law that defendants receive; and a DUI bill that would force those suspected of driving under the influence to take a breathalyzer test or await the outcome of their criminal trial before continuing to drive. This is about protecting people from the terrible consequences of drunk driving.

I’ll talk about additional successes from this legislative session in my next column. In the meantime, remember to be careful what you read. The big city papers tell only the side of the story that will help them sell more newspapers. They’re long on criticism and short on solutions. I’m thankful for my district papers, which report the full facts and how they affect people closer to home.

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 Details

The House on Friday passed a $6.9 billion appropriation’s budget.

After many long nights away from my family and long hours out in the district listening to constituent concerns and agency hopes, this seems like nothing short of a miracle.

This was a challenging year. We started budget work in earnest last fall, and in January heard from the five agencies that receive almost 80 percent of state appropriated dollars. Next, we asked all of our appropriations subcommittee chairs to dive deeply into agency budgets to see where efficiencies could still be found. Each committee member rotated through the various subcommittees to get a better overall look at the state budget. 

We knew coming into session we had an $878 million hole to fill. This is the amount we were short for fiscal year 2018 to match what we appropriated in FY17. There were plenty of ideas for how to fill this hole, but getting consensus among the 73 Republican members of the House and 26 Democrats, including 32 freshmen members, then getting approval from the state Senate and the signature of the governor proved near impossible. But, we did it; we made it happen. We were able to pull together $578-plus million dollars of recurring revenue for future years.

The budget we passed not only fills this year’s budget hole, it holds 15 core agencies flat – meaning they receive almost identical funding to last year. This includes common education, public safety, the Health Care Authority, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Services and mental health.

This means, our schools get a 1.6 percent increase over last year’s funding, including $18 million to backfill mid-year cuts. Plus, we fully funded flexible benefit allowances for teachers. What we couldn’t do was pass a teacher pay raise. House Republicans voted three times this session to give teachers a $6,000 raise over the next three years, but this failed to get Democrat or Senate support. House leadership and House Republicans are 100 percent committed to this teacher pay raise next year. We will not stop until this is achieved.

On another note, though, we have funding to secure all of the health care federal matching dollars to continue services in our rural nursing homes and hospitals. Children in foster care will continue to be served. Our regional juvenile detention centers will continue to operate. Public safety services will continue.

Other agencies on average received a 4.2 percent cut, much better than the 15 percent cut feared earlier in the session. All of these accomplishments seemed impossible just four months ago.

Agencies taking a slight cut include the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. A $100 million cut came from the Roads Fund and $50 million from the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Plan, but this was an amount the department assured us would still allow the 8-year plan to remain intact.

As I believe you will remember, our roads and bridges were decimated before Republicans won majority control of the House in 2005. More than 3,000 bridges were structurally deficient; within the next year that number will be down to zero.

I want to thank transportation for always being willing to help in tight budget times. In addition to the funding the department gave up to general revenue this year, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority came to the table with a $5 million check to fully fund an Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Academy in early 2018. These are outstanding examples of partnership.

I will give further details of this year’s session and the state budget in next week’s column. Until then, 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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