Creating a More Open Government

By Rep. Mike Sanders

On Jan. 3, the Oklahoma House of Representatives seated its 56th Legislature during what is formally called Organizational Day.

The Oklahoma State Constitution mandates this as a day for the House to convene and certify all elected members and then finalize the election of the House Speaker and Speaker Pro-Tempore.

Speaker Charles McCall, a Republican from Atoka, was formally sworn in to lead the House for the next two years. It was a great privilege to be among those chosen to lead him to what is called “the well” of the House, a podium, where he took his oath of office. It was another honor to be able to make the first motion to let the official House Record reflect McCall as the new speaker.

After serving the last four years with McCall, I have developed a great respect for his soft-spoken and respectful leadership style all while doggedly pursuing conservative principles that promise to move our state toward prosperity and family centered principles. McCall is a man of impeccable character and a true servant leader. I am humbled to serve as part of his leadership team this year.

The House also formally elected Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, as speaker pro tempore. Wright is another fine leader who has served the House well during his tenure and who I know will continue to show tenacity towards a strong conservative agenda.

This year, I am serving as majority leader for the House. In this all-inclusive role, I will be helping to guide policy, steer the House agenda and will be heavily involved in crafting the initiatives of the Oklahoma House Republican Caucus. I also will be communicating major pieces of legislation proposed by House leadership to the public. Among those mentioned by Speaker McCall on Organizational Day are plans to raise teacher salaries and continued corrections reforms.

I also plan to be heavily involved in the budget process this year. That started this week. The House asked five state agencies that represent about 80 percent of state appropriations to come to the House for a series of public hearings. The hearings are designed to give citizens and lawmakers – particularly the 32 newly elected members – a chance to see how agencies spend taxpayer dollars and how they develop public programs. This process will help lawmakers prioritize spending in a year when we face another budget deficit. I look forward to attending these hearings.

On a final note, the bipartisan House Rules Committee has been tasked with investigating the wrongful termination settlement agreement paid to a former House employee under former House leadership.The committee has been granted “special authority” to investigate the settlement, the allegations that led to the settlement and the House process for dealing with allegations of sexual harassment. In addition, the committee will review the authority of the House to use operational funds to settle claims and will also review all prior sexual harassment allegations against current House members.

Speaker McCall promised that all findings by the committee will be made public, and the House will take any available actions against lawmakers warranted by the investigation.

Unfortunately, sexual misconduct is something that occurs everywhere. It happens in our schools and workplaces. But, it must not be tolerated. Speaker McCall has assured us that the House of Representatives will be a safe and professional place to work, free from discrimination and harassment. I’m confident this will be the case. In fact, you have my solemn vow on that.

I would like again to wish everyone a New Year. Blessings to you and your families.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Keeping Up With State Government

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I’m sending this column with a link to my latest video blog: https://youtu.be/ZaP8TGxkj4s. You can watch previous blogs on this site as well. This is another way I’ve found to inform the people who live in my district about all that is going on at the state Capitol. Adding video to the regular newspaper columns I send throughout the legislative session will help ensure more Oklahomans are apprised of the status of bills that affect areas of concern – such as transportation, education, health care, public safety and more.

I also try during session to stay very active on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. I find these are quick ways to let a multitude of people know what’s happening at the Capitol that might have consequences to their daily lives. Sometimes things move very slowly in state government; at other times they move swiftly. I might have drafted a piece of legislation early in the session, for instance, only to be told in May that it will be heard on the House floor that day. This is an example of something I might post to social media, just to get the news out as quickly as possible. Of course, I’ll then follow up with either a press release or column to my local news outlets in hopes they will let people know the latest status of the legislation.

This year I’ve been given a new role in House leadership, that of majority leader. This is an all-inclusive role that helps guide policy, communicate to the public the initiatives of the Oklahoma House Republican Caucus and steer the House agenda.

Part of my job will be to communicate the major pieces of legislation proposed by House leadership. These include passage of the REAL ID Act, which will bring Oklahoma Driver’s licenses into compliance with federal law; judicial reform; teacher pay raises; and the examination of wind tax credits, to name a few. We’re considering the idea of weekly press conferences and other methods to communicate our successes as we move through session.

In addition, I plan to be highly involved in the budget process this year. I came into the House alongside Appropriations & Budget Chair state Rep. Leslie Osborn. I admire her fearlessness in attacking areas of government waste, and I agree with her conservative approach to government. We must have government that is responsible. There is a plan already to bring in the top five appropriated state agencies before the session begins so that we can hear from them their budget requests for the next fiscal year and can begin finding efficiencies.

I’ll have more to tell you as session gets underway.

Merry Christmas and Happy new year to you.

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Christmas Traditions

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I tried a little experiment this week, typing in Christmas Heritage on Google. The first thing to come up was an ad for a line of dinner plates. Disappointed, I switched my search to Christmas history, which brought up the History Channel’s definition of Christmas as both a sacred religious holiday and a cultural and commercial phenomenon.

I guess this is true. For Christians, Christmas celebrates the birthday of Christ, the Son of God, Lord and savior. For the rest of the world, Christmas might mean a variety of things. To millions of children, this involves a visit to and later from Santa, a jolly old elf who somehow magically flies around the world, visiting every home in one night, squeezing down the chimney, his belly shaking like a bowlful of jelly. To others, the tradition of hanging lights and ornaments on the Christmas tree is a time-honored tradition. Still others love the food and the treats of the holiday, the gathering with family, the exchanging of gifts, the singing of carols.

I’m as torn as the next person between the customs that have evolved around me in America and keeping Christmas sacred and holy. It’s tough when you have small children to teach them the value of the divine when surrounded by the commercialism, the lights, the sounds and the colors of the season. But this is the pull of life in general. We all have to decide what is worth fighting for to hold apart as sacred and when it is OK to just relax and have some fun.

I’m hoping that whatever traditions you observe this season, you get to experience joy and peace and light. For me and my house, we’ll be observing a Merry Christmas, which involves reading “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” laying out some reindeer food, and spending time with family and friends. But, most of all, we’ll share a few silent moments with heads bowed, thanking the Lord above that He chose to come to this earth as a humble baby, born in a manger in Bethlehem to a young woman deemed pure enough to carry the Son of God. This baby, this king, this Lord, this savior deserves that devotion.

Merry Christmas to all and a happy New Year.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or(405) 557-7407.

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Speaker-designate McCall Announces Leadership Appointments

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House of Representatives Speaker-designate Charles A. McCall today announced the first round of leadership appointments to serve during the 56th Legislature, naming the majority floor leader, majority whip, budget chair and majority leader.

“I am very excited about the choices we have made to lead the House in the coming years,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “Oklahoma voters gave Republicans the privilege of solving the state’s problems, and we take that very seriously. These members are talented, experienced and wise, and I am confident that we are ready to legislate in a deliberate, serious way.”

McCall named state Rep. Jon Echols to serve as majority floor leader. McCall said Echols has the temperament and organizational skill to steer the House agenda. Echols, an Oklahoma City attorney and small business owner, will be responsible for reviewing legislation, determining which bills will be heard on the House floor and running the day-to-day floor activity. Echols previously served as vice-chair of the House Judiciary Committee and as an assistant majority whip.

“I am excited for the opportunity to work with this leadership team to create a conservative, pro-economic growth vision for the state of Oklahoma,” said Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “The challenge is to run the House in an efficient, open and transparent way that promotes trust among the members and keeps the Republican caucus unified. Our goal is to promote bold policy ideas that create jobs and make Oklahomans more prosperous and to make government more efficient and accountable to taxpayers.”

McCall tapped State Rep. Leslie Osborn to serve as chair of the powerful House Appropriations & Budget (A & B) Committee. Osborn is the first Republican woman to lead the House budget committee, just as she was the first woman to lead the House Judiciary Committee in 2012. Osborn most recently served on the House A & B Committee and also served as chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services.

“I am very grateful for this incredible opportunity to help shape our state’s budget and funding priorities,” said Rep. Osborn, R-Mustang. “Developing a budget is our biggest challenge in the Legislature every year. Like last year, we will be working with reduced revenues, but I believe we have real opportunities to prioritize spending and make our state government more efficient. Voters put their trust in Republicans to offer conservative and responsible solutions to these problems. We have already begun working on ideas, and we intend to bring in our top five appropriated agencies for extra scrutiny before the session begins. Oklahomans expect us to act as good stewards of their tax dollars, and we are going to do that.”

In addition, McCall named state Rep. Terry O’Donnell to serve as majority whip, a role responsible for assisting the floor leader and ensuring votes are in place and members in attendance. The whip also serves as a sounding board for members who may have concerns about upcoming legislation and helps facilitate communication between membership during the legislative session. O’Donnell will also be mentoring the 25 new members of the House Republican Caucus and assisting them with their transition into the Legislature. O’Donnell, a Tulsa attorney, previously served as vice chair of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee and as vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

“One of the best aspects of serving in the Legislature is the relationships you make with lawmakers from all across this state and on both sides of the aisle,” said Rep. O’Donnell, R-Tulsa. “I enjoy solving problems, and I will enjoy the opportunity to interact with colleagues and promote a conservative agenda for Oklahoma that grows our economy and puts more money in the pockets of Oklahomans.”

Finally, McCall named state Rep. Mike Sanders to serve as majority leader, an all-inclusive role that helps guide policy, communicate caucus initiatives to the public and steer the House agenda. Sanders has served as chair of the House Subcommittee on Transportation for the past four years, and previously served as a deputy majority whip.

“I am honored that Speaker McCall would ask me to take on this role,” said Rep. Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I am so impressed by his leadership and vision for Oklahoma. I truly believe that we have a real opportunity this year to move Oklahoma forward, despite our challenges.”

McCall said he will be announcing additional leadership posts during the coming weeks.

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High Price for Freedom

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Just a week ago, 40 million people stayed up late into the night watching a baseball game, which shouldn’t matter as much as it did. The flip of a wrist sent a small white ball into the glove of a waiting first baseman, ending a 108-year-old curse and making a team into national champions. I imagined the eruption of cheering happening as fans celebrated their long, long, long-awaited victory.

The next day, I watched Oklahomans from all walks of life line up for early voting – waiting their turn to fill out ballots, selecting our next national and state leaders. The I Voted sticker serves as a tiny reminder of the freedom to help choose who represents us.

Interesting that all of this leads up to Veterans Day – a day set aside nationally to honor veterans of all wars.

Watching men swing bats and field balls seems utterly trivial when put beside the image of our armed forces fighting bloody wars to keep us safe at home.

Yet our troops go to war so we can enjoy such freedoms. Without our strong military, we might have a very different way of life here in America. The lines we stand in might be to get a weekly ration of bread or some much-needed but hard-to-come-by medicine. We might never know the pure joy of watching a baseball game.

But because American men and women agree to serve our country and to protect our freedoms, we get to enjoy these small pleasures and many others.

On Friday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day, please take a moment to say thank you. Not just thank you to our veterans – who deserve our eternal gratitude for sacrificing so much on our behalf – but thank you to their families as well. The moms and dads who stay behind with children have to serve on the home-front as single parents. They give up contact, sometimes for years at a time while their loved one serves. Many times they have to watch helplessly as their spouse or relative suffers post-traumatic stress disorder while trying to recover from the horrors witnessed in combat.

As I watch the flags fly on Friday, I know I’ll be saying my own prayers of thanksgiving for those who have served and for protection of those still serving.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Sanders sworn in to serve in 56th Legislature

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Mike Sanders on Wednesday morning was sworn into office to serve in the 56th Legislature of the Oklahoma House Representatives.

“I am pleased to continue representing Northwest Oklahoma,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I very much look forward to working with Speaker-elect Charles McCall in moving Oklahoma forward and tackling the problems our state faces. I am incredibly honored and humbled to have the trust and support of the folks of House District 59. Thank you so much for your confidence in me.”

Sanders served in House leadership each of the 8 years he has been a representative. He was elected by his fellow legislators in the Oklahoma House Republican Caucus to serve as deputy majority whip and also worked as House Political Action Committee chairman under three speakers of the House.

His committee work includes serving as vice-chair of the Human Services Committee, focusing on reforming the Department of Human Services. In the most recent session, Sanders served as chair of the Appropriations & Budget Transportation Subcommittee as well as a member of the Agriculture & Rural Development, Appropriations & Budget, Energy & Natural Resources and Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget committees.

Sanders was joined Wednesday by his wife, Nellie, and his two sons, Davis, 7, and Walker, 5.

He was among the 101 members of the House of Representatives to be sworn into office.

Sanders ran unopposed in the latest election. His district includes Blaine and Dewey counties as well as portions of Canadian, Kingfisher and Woodward counties.

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REAL ID, Feral Hogs and TLE Among Issues Studied for Next Session

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Much has been written in recent weeks about Oklahoma’s non-compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Beginning in January 2017, Oklahoma driver’s licenses will no longer be valid to get onto a military base or gain access to a federal building, including federal courthouses. In January 2018, they won’t be accepted by commercial airlines.

Oklahoma is not alone in this fight. It is one of more than 20 states that have yet to fully comply with the law. The problem is one of protection. The REAL ID Act calls for biometric information and storage of personal information that can be accessed by any agency requesting the federally compliant ID. When we hear so often of cyber data breaches, the concerns are real. Another concern is that of overreach. Some believe the federal government is trying to force a national ID system. The act came, however, after the 9-11 attacks in which the attackers used driver’s licenses that met security requirements at the time.

Several of my colleagues have said they will bring legislation early in the next session to address this issue, with the goal of coming into compliance with the federal law while at the same time protecting the personal information of Oklahoma residents. I look forward to considering this measure. I certainly don’t want Oklahomans to be inconvenienced as they go about their daily business, but I also want to ensure their privacy.

Also this week, interim studies continued at the Capitol.

Two combined studies examined the feral hog problem in Oklahoma. Lawmakers heard and voiced concerns about the transmission of disease from wild hogs to those owned by farmers and those shown by FFA students as well as the destruction of farm land.

The Samuel Roberts Noble Research Foundation estimates the feral hog population in Oklahoma to be as high as 1.6 million, with hogs verified in all 77 counties. The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has reported that feral hogs can carry up to 30 different diseases.  At least one study estimates the damage to agriculture was $1.5 billion several years ago, a figure no doubt higher today.

Most presenters agreed total eradication of feral hogs is not realistic. The issue then is the best way to control these animals that cause so much damage. Methods discussed included the continued allowance of sport hunting with an expansion of times allowed, poisoning the animals, and trapping and slaughtering them.

An expert from the state Wildlife Department said shooting the hogs from helicopters and trapping are the most effective means of control. Another expert pointed out, though, that as long as there are incentives for shooting or trapping, there will be incentives to maintain the animals.

The governor last year vetoed a bill that would have allowed day and night hunting with a landowner’s permission, expressing safety concerns. I know this issue will rise again, and I’ll be looking for a solution that best protects our state crops and commercial and domestic animal populations while ensuring our freedoms and safety.

Another study held this month focused on changes made to the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluation (TLE). The new law makes voluntary the quantitative or student test score portion of the evaluation. The move is anticipated to save school districts millions of dollars in implementation costs and restore local control. The study’s author said when the legislation was passed he knew other slight changes might be warranted. The interim study looked particularly at the professional development component of the evaluation in an effort to determine the best ways to support teacher growth in their classrooms. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this and other education topics in the coming year.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Law to Improve Prosecution of Repeat DUIs Takes Effect Today

OKLAHOMA CITY – A law to aid prosecutors in keeping drunk drivers off the road takes effect Nov. 1.

House Bill 3146, authored by state Rep. Mike Sanders and Sen Greg Treat, created the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) and will move all DUI case from municipal non-courts of record to a court of record. The law would allow 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 that 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 previously allowed drivers with multiple DUI arrests to be treated in many cases as first-time offenders and receive only minimal punishment under the law, meaning they could potentially reoffend.

“This law is ultimately about protecting the lives of Oklahoma motorists,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I’m excited to see where this takes us in being able to reduce drunk driving in our state in the coming years.

“The number of drunk-driving offenses is a black eye on our state. This law is about public safety; it gives an important new tool to prosecutors to be able to better flag and appropriately prosecute repeat drunk drivers, and that will save lives.”

Sanders said the new law is four-fold in that it makes sure repeat drunk drivers are removed from Oklahoma roads and properly prosecuted. It does this by adding a database so that from this point forward every DUI on every city street, county road or state highway is recorded. And, it allows district attorneys the option of developing assessments and treatment plans for offenders.

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).

Sanders said he began researching the problem after his wife, Nellie, was struck by a drunk driver in Oklahoma City. His wife, fortunately, was not seriously injured, but Sanders discovered the driver who hit her car had been arrested five times for DUI in five months and was arrested a sixth time just more than a week later.

At the time the legislation was signed into law, Toby Taylor, Chairman of the Governor’s Impaired Driving Prevention Advisory Council, said of it, “This legislation marks a watershed in the history of impaired driving in Oklahoma, 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.”

Other legislators also praised the initiative.

“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.”

“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 law will save lives.”

Rep. Sanders discusses this and additional state law in his latest video blog:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FaXcVS5oXg.

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Volunteer Firefighter Base Expands One Year After Law Signed

Rural fire departments have more than 140 additional firefighters one year after legislation became law that eliminated the age limit for new volunteers.

House Bill 2005, authored by Rep. Mike Sanders, took effect Nov. 1, 2015. The law eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the option of joining the system without the requirement that they be added to the state’s pension plan.

“This is amazing progress,” said Rep. Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “We not only recognized a state problem, but we came up with a common-sense solution that benefits rural communities by saving lives and property.”

Sanders said he first became interested in drafting the legislation because research showed a nationwide and statewide decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters. Prior state law, however, barred willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state’s pension and retirement plan could not afford them.

Sanders said he asked constituents above the age of 45 if they would be interested in volunteering and about whether or not they needed a pension. Most said they already had pensions but would be more than willing to serve. Sanders also worked with former Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) Executive Director the late Jon Hansen and with other volunteers from across the state in drafting the bill.

In addition to saving lives and property, Sanders said the law will also help lower insurance rates.

“My intent was to expand the volunteer firefighter base to reverse the current trend of declining volunteers,” Sanders said. “One year later, I’m happy to report that we’ve done that, and we will only see more new firefighters in the future as a result of this law.”

The legislation was approved unanimously in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and approved by a vote of 32-13 in the Oklahoma Senate before being signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in April, 2015.

Rep. Sanders discusses this and additional state law in his latest video blog:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FaXcVS5oXg

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Interim Studies Shed Light on Need for Legislation

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Earlier this month I took part in an interim study on the funding for regional juvenile detention centers.

The 18 centers provide more than 300 beds for youthful offenders in places as scattered as Hooker, Oklahoma, in the panhandle, to the LeFlore County Juvenile Detention Center in Talihina. Our own Canadian County Juvenile Justice Center was held up as a very successful model of how counties can partner with the state to meet the needs of detaining troubled youths in their own communities.

The study was requested after the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) earlier this year threatened to close several of the smaller centers after a change in the agency’s funding formula put it at odds with the operators of the centers.

During the study, lawmakers heard from detention center operators, law enforcement and judges who described the need for these centers. We also heard from the director of the OJA. Several presenters explained that without these facilities, they would be forced to use law enforcement to shuttle youth to even further corners of the state, far from family members and any community support they might hope to have during and on exit from the programs.

It’s clear that we need to find a way to work with OJA while maintaining the funding for these centers. The work they do toward rehabilitating and educating our detained youth is significant.

Other studies have focused on recouping the outstanding debt owed to state agencies, which will help shore up the state budget; improving healthcare outcomes, particularly in rural communities; and whether there is a need for special licensing or increased fines for hunting and fishing game guides who illegally trespass on privately owned land.

I’ll be reading notes from each of the studies and listening to the audio from the presentations as I prepare for the next legislative session to help guide the legislation I plan to file as well as to determine which measures I will support.

Also this week at the Capitol, AAA hosted its first Impaired Driving Summit to examine issues related to substance-impaired driving, particularly resulting from the abuse of prescription painkillers and illegal drugs. The hope is to develop a strategy to reduce the number of accidents on Oklahoma roads resulting from impaired driving.

The event planner pointed out that there already are measures in place to detect and reduce alcohol-impaired driving, but drug-impairment recognition presents unique challenges.

As with the interim studies, I will be taking a close look at the discussions resulting from this study and any action steps suggested as I consider future legislation.

To see a calendar of future interim studies by committee, click the link below, then select to view by the week or month: http://www.okhouse.gov/Committees/MeetingNotices.aspx

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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