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.

1 reaction Share

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.

Add your reaction Share

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.

Add your reaction Share

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.

Add your reaction Share

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.

Add your reaction Share

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.

Add your reaction Share

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.

Add your reaction Share

Legislative Session Begins

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The 56th Legislature starts Monday, Feb. 6. The House convenes at noon, and the governor will give her State of the State address shortly after.

This year again will be a challenging session. Budget talks will likely take up a good portion of our time at the Capitol. As a member of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee, I’m proud of the work already begun on this pressing issue. Before session, we asked five of the state agencies that receive nearly 80 percent of state appropriated dollars to appear before the committee, opening the doors to all representatives and anyone interested from the public. The agencies presented their next fiscal year budgets as well as gave us an overview of projects and programs and a glimpse into their decision-making process of what constitutes a valid use of state money. We heard from the state Education Department, the Oklahoma Transportation Department, the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education, the Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. As the session progresses, we’ll be diving into the budgets of other state-appropriated agencies as well.

You’ll hear a lot this year from sources on both sides of the budget issue – those saying the state still has a spending problem, and those saying we’re cut to the bone and now we must consider we have a revenue problem. The truth is we have both. The state has been through a protracted recession as a result of our dependence on oil and gas revenue. We know we must diversify, and we’ve worked to do that. But, to attract businesses from other sectors, past Legislatures have voted in a number of tax incentives and credits, which now we must examine to see the true benefit of our investment. We’ve been doing that now through the state’s Incentive Evaluation Commission. That work will continue, and I will keep you apprised of the commission’s recommendations. One piece of good news is that most sources agree oil and gas revenues are trending up. On the spending side, I know there is still waste in state government. To think otherwise is simply to be naïve. While some agencies have been cut to the proverbial bone, I know that as we delve into the line items on budgets we will be able to find areas that can at least be held for a more profitable year.

There are several pieces of legislation that are already getting a lot of talk for the coming session. First, I’m confident we will pass a REAL ID piece of legislation that will comply with federal regulations but will protect the private information of Oklahomans. I also think there is a legitimate opportunity to pass a teacher pay raise this year. House Bill 1114 proposes a $6,000 pay raise over three years, which I feel is a reasonable approach given the state’s current economic picture. The big question, of course, will be how to pay for this raise. I know there already are several plans underway to tackle this. I believe we will find a way.

As always, this year I will be particularly attuned to legislation that affects our rural way of living. I will continue to support rural firefighters, law enforcement officials, county governments, highway and county transportation funding, rural schools and other issues that affect those who live in my district.

In closing, keep in mind, that more than 2,200 bills and resolutions were filed by the Legislature this year. If historical precedent holds true, only about 400 of those will make it into law by the end of thesession.  That means we legislators have our work cut out for us to decide what will best serve the needs of the people of our state and what can be left on the editing room floor.

I’m proud to serve Oklahoma House District 59. As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

Add your reaction Share

Responding to Constituent Concerns

By Rep. Mike Sanders

One of my primary jobs as a state legislator is to talk to constituents and address their concerns. I get many calls and emails from constituents on a daily basis, and I try to help each one.

One recent concern dealt with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service at Oklahoma State University and the thought that the state Legislature cut the budget of this service over the last few years. The service receives money from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education not directly from the Legislature. Any budget cuts would have been made by the regents. It is true that higher education received about 16 percent less last year than the previous year and about 23 percent less in the last four years as the state has struggled through a recession, but I see plenty of other places in their budget they could have cut instead of this service. The University of Oklahoma could have sold an Italian monastery it owns in Tuscany, Italy, for instance; the chancellor could take less than his $400,000 annual salary. Those are just a few examples.

Another issue brought to my attention is the flashing lights out at the intersection of State Highway 183 and Highway 60 west of Seiling in Dewey County.  This has been the site of numerous auto accidents, including several fatal wrecks. I’ve received several calls from concerned citizens, and I wanted to give everyone the update I received after I reached out to the Department of Transportation for assistance in this matter.

I’m told that new lighted perimeter stop signs should be up by later this month, and that rumble strips leading to the intersection should also be in place. I was reminded this was not a planned event, but the lights were knocked down by a truck that was over the height limit for this area. Considering how often the lights were hit in the past, the lighted stop signs will be a better fit for this intersection, according to the transportation department.  Public safety is one of my top concerns, so when I hear of an issue like this, I act immediately to seek a remedy.

Another concern voiced is that state services for rural Oklahoma are declining, including rural fire protection, county roads, rural schools, conservation districts, rural health care and more.

I am a fierce advocate for rural Oklahoma, particularly rural Western Oklahoma. In 2015, I voted against the fiscal year 2016 state budget because it cut these priorities in Western Oklahoma. During last year’s budget negotiations, I fought successfully to maintain funding for rural fire department grants even while the state secretary of agriculture continues to cut this funding to balance his books. I will continue to stand in the gap and fight him on this issue. It is another example of why we need this as a line item in the budget.

As chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Transportation Subcommittee for the past four years, I fought for and secured adequate funding to keep the Transportation Department’s 8-year road plan on track as well as for numerous county road projects. In addition, I have fought to keep rural hospitals and health care centers open to serve our rural residents, and I have been a strong advocate and supporter for our rural schools.

These are all perfect examples of the way a citizen’s government should operate. Constituents should always feel free to call their legislators and voice their concerns. I’m thankful when citizens give me the opportunity to listen to them and help see their needs met. It’s why I ran for office in the first place – to serve the public.

So, please, let me hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

Add your reaction Share

Sanders Announces Committee Assignments

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Sanders today announced he is on four standing committees for the Oklahoma House of Representatives for the 56th Legislature, which convenes its first legislative session Feb. 6.

Sanders was selected by House leadership to serve on the Agriculture & Rural Development, Appropriations & Budget, Energy & Natural Resources, and Utilities Committees.

“Being from a rural district where rural electric and phone cooperatives as well as energy and agriculture play a very significant role in shaping the economy, I’m pleased very much to serve on these committees,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “At the same time, I’m glad to have a spot on the full Appropriations & Budget Committee. Shaping the budget for all Oklahoma state agencies is the primary focus of state government. Making sure we balance the financial needs of transportation, education, health care, public safety and all of the other myriad core services of government is paramount to everything else we do at the Capitol. I’m honored to have this seat at the table.”

In addition to his roles on these four committees, Sanders has been selected to serve as House majority leader for the 56th Legislature. This is an all-inclusive role that helps guide policy, communicate caucus initiatives to the public and steer the House agenda.

Sanders said a large part of his role will be to meet with House leadership to help determine policy behind major pieces of legislation this year and then to communicate that policy to the remainder of the House and the public. Examples of legislation likely to be considered this year are the passage of the REAL ID Act, which will bring Oklahoma Driver’s licenses into compliance with federal law; judicial and corrections reform; teacher pay raises; and examination of all state incentives, to name a few.

“I want to praise the leadership and vision of Speaker Charles McCall in putting together his leadership team and in the makeup of these committees,” said Sanders. “His vision for our state will return us to prosperity while protecting the conservative values we all cherish.”

Sanders served as chair of the House Subcommittee on Transportation the past four years and previously served as a deputy majority whip. He also worked as House Political Action Committeechairman under three previous speakers of the House. He has been a part of House leadership each of the eight years he has been a representative.

In addition to transportation, Sanders’ prior committee work includes serving as vice-chair of the Human Services Committee, focusing on reforming the Department of Human Services, and as a member of the Agriculture & Rural Development, Appropriations & Budget, Energy & Natural Resources and Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget committees.

Add your reaction Share