Sanders: Budget Plan Protects Rural Priorities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact: State Rep. Mike Sanders

Capitol: (405) 557-7407

OKLAHOMA CITY – The newly unveiled state budget agreement protects rural priorities, particularly the Rural Economic Action Plan, state Rep. Mike Sanders said today.

“From day one of this session, other rural legislators and I have vowed to oppose any effort to eliminate programs that benefit rural Oklahomans,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I am pleased our efforts have been successful. Like many areas of government, the REAP program is taking a budget cut this year, but the program remains intact.”

The Rural Economic Action Plan pays for infrastructure needs in rural communities. Gov. Brad Henry’s original budget proposal called for eliminating the program during the downturn.

“REAP grants help protect our rural way of life,” Sanders said. “The program helps pay for fire stations, puts police cars and ambulances on the streets, and even funds tornado sirens, which have proven invaluable this week. I believe the REAP program provides an important public service, which is why I and other rural legislators fought so hard to preserve it.”

Sanders noted the budget agreement also preserves tax credits that help pay for rural volunteer firefighters to obtain training. Early in the session, the governor had also suggested eliminating those tax credits.

“Obviously, in this down budget environment we have to make some tough choices, but I felt it was shortsighted to financially penalize rural firefighters who volunteer their time and risk their lives to protect their neighbors,” Sanders said. “Preserving the firefighter tax credit was another important victory for rural Oklahoma.”
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Tax Credits and the Budget

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Legislative leaders are hard at work trying to sway the governor on fiscal matters and hammer out a budget agreement for fiscal year 2011. The state faces a $1.2 billion shortfall and there are differences in how the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Brad Henry want to resolve the problem.

Various groups have visited the capital lately, trying to find ways to spare cuts to the state programs they represent. Some of them are calling for a broad elimination of tax breaks, saying the state “gives away” close to $5.6 billion annually through tax incentives, credits and reductions. However, the truth is that the “give away” figure includes your personal exemptions and standard or itemized deductions. The figure also includes exemptions on Social Security and most retirement benefits. In reality, only $256 million worth of tax credits have been targeted and most of those credits are designed to bring jobs to Oklahoma.

Lawmakers are reviewing these tax credits and do plan to dispose of any that have failed to produce jobs. I assure you that a broad elimination of tax breaks would be counterproductive and hurt families in Oklahoma. It is also clear that eliminating some tax credits will not be enough (in and of itself) to patch the budget hole. We need to apply common sense in government and make targeted cuts rather than look for a scapegoat to take the brunt of the hardships the shortfall has created.

Gov. Henry has signed Senate Bill 1940. The legislation is my sixth bill to become law. It will reduce the number of county bridge projects that require engineering plans and specifications from the county engineer, raising the threshold from $300,000 to $400,000. This will make it easier for county government to maintain local infrastructure by reducing the cost of smaller projects.

I was happy to greet a number of constituents at the Capitol recently. I was visited by Patrick Griffin of the Hennessey School Board, Hennessey optometrist Dr. John Smith, and Dr. David Jones of Woodward, who came up for a special screening put on by the Oklahoma Optometrists. Jeanne Martin, the director of the Fairview Chamber of Commerce, and Ken and Vicki Woods were here for Small Business Day at the Capitol.

I would like to congratulate Dr. Michael Talley, a physician at the Okeene Municipal Hospital who was appointed to the Physician Manpower Training Commission. Okeene can also take pride in its boys’ track team who under the excellent supervision of Coach Mike Jinkens won its first track title. Our district has had a powerhouse of competitors this year. I want to congratulate the Watonga track teams; the boys’ and girls’ teams have both captured state titles. The Lady Eagles earned their third crown in four years and the Eagles won their first state championship win since 2006. The Kingfisher girls’ golf team took their third straight 3A title, winning the state tournament by 61 strokes. Bethany Darrough won her second straight individual title, just barely overtaking her teammate, Whitney Weems. I offer my congratulations on their hard work and to their coach, Craig Patterson. I also want to congratulate the Okarche boys’ baseball team, who were runner-ups in the state tournament and the Hennessey girls’ and boys’ track teams for their third place finish. Not only do these student athletes excel on the field, track and golf course, but these fine young people excel in the classroom.

Jared Crain from Woodward was recently named a 2010 OSU Outstanding Senior. He is also a Fullbright Scholar and will be conducting research with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Babies Represented at State Capitol

For Immediate Release

Contact:  Belinda Rogers 943-1025

March of Dimes holds Lobby Day

Oklahoma City, OK—April 29, 2010,---March of Dimes held Lobby Day on April 26, 2010. The goal of the event was to help educate legislators about the growing issue of premature births and what the March of Dimes is doing through advocacy to address this serious and costly issue. The March of Dimes Public Affairs agenda focuses on public policies and programs that relate to the Foundation's mission -- improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality -- and on issues that pertain to non-profit organizations. 

Many activities took place during Lobby Day.  A proclamation signed by Governor Henry, designating April 26, 2010 as “March of Dimes Lobby Day at the State Capitol” was read in the House by Representative Mike Sanders. March of Dimes volunteers and staff, dressed in purple, were recognized in House Gallery, followed by a meet and greet reception in the House Lounge. Representatives were invited to meet those volunteers from their districts and learn about the vital efforts March of Dimes to fund research and programs to find the causes of prematurity.

“Premature birth is the number one killer of newborns and a major cause of serious health problems and disability among so many of the survivors,” said Belinda Rogers, State Director of Programs, March of Dimes Oklahoma Chapter.  “One out of every eight babies born in Oklahoma are born too soon, we are working to increase awareness of premature birth and to help improve health outcomes.” Premature birth is a common, serious and costly problem for Oklahoma families. An early birth means more than a baby simply being small. It means the baby’s organs and other systems have not finished developing, and that the baby may not be ready to survive on its own. Prematurity takes an enormous emotional toll on families and costs society billions.

For more information on prematurity or how you can become involved in local March of Dimes advocacy efforts, contact the Oklahoma State Chapter office at 405-943-1025 or marchofdimes.com/oklahoma.

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org.
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Last Leg of Session

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoma Legislature is down to the last month and last leg of the legislative session. In February, there were more than 3,500 bills and joint resolutions to review. Now, with some legislation signed into law and other bills dead for the session, lawmakers have only about 700 left to weigh in on.

Recent legislation passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives will help cities attract retirees through a Department of Commerce program. Senate Bill 1640 authorizes the Department of Commerce to establish an Oklahoma Certified Retirement Communities Program to market communities as retirement destinations if they apply and meet certification requirements.

House lawmakers also passed a bill that will ensure the preservation of crime scenes in nursing homes. Senate Bill 1879 requires the nursing home facilities to report suspected rapes and make every effort to preserve the scene of the crime until law enforcement arrives.

Constituents have called on state officials to respond to the federal health care legislation. I am proud to announce the House passage of House Joint Resolution 1054. The legislation amends Oklahoma law to allow citizens to opt-out of the new federal system and retain their current coverage. It also allows the Oklahoma Legislature to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care mandates. HJR 1054 protects every person, employer, and health care provider in Oklahoma from being compelled to participate in any health care system. It also prohibits financial penalties for failure to purchase insurance and enables doctors to continue to accept direct payments.

I was pleased to attend Oklahoma’s 84th FFA Convention at the Cox Convention Center. It was quite enthralling to watch tomorrow’s leaders in action. I also wish to mention what a great job the Okeene Chamber of Commerce did in putting on the Okeene Rattlesnake Roundup. Nellie, Davis, and I had a great time.

I had a wonderful evening at the Blaine County Agricultural Appreciation Dinner last week. I would like to congratulate the award winners and hall of famers recognized. Congratulations are also due to the state champions from Canton, the high school men’s rugby team.

The budget shall be my main focus from this point forward. I am dedicated to protecting core government services and the Rural Economic Action Plan program from the worst of the cuts, while looking for ways to scale back programs of lesser importance.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Contrasting State and National Debt

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoman recently reported that Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn will be one of 18 members of a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The commission will be looking for ways to address the nation’s debt, which is approaching $13 trillion. If nothing is changed, our debt could reach 100 percent of America’s Gross Domestic Product in 2020.

The new federal health care mandates will only make the deficit worse. Not only do they come with a huge price tag of $940 billion, but they create entitlement spending that could grow beyond the new taxes they have put in place to pay for it. State lawmakers intend to do battle with the federal government on this front. House Joint Resolution 1054 authorizes the Senate President Glenn Coffee and House Speaker Chris Benge to file a lawsuit on behalf of Oklahomans. In doing so, the Oklahoma Legislature is bypassing Attorney General Drew Edmondson. He has made his position clear in declining to file the lawsuit at their request. In addition to the cost, the federal mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. The lawsuit will also challenge the unfunded burden it will place on the state.

I am pleased to see Senator Coburn among those chosen to address our national government’s bad spending habits. Unlike the federal government, Oklahoma has little tax-supported debt. The adjusted annual payments for the state as a percentage of the 2010 appropriations is projected to be 3.76 percent. The state’s relative bond position was so strong last year that we got a better bond rating. Our state government reflects the values of its residents who are among the most thrifty, fiscally responsible people in the nation.

Lawmakers are also looking to stabilize Oklahoma’s economy with the passage of comprehensive workers’ compensation reform. The current workers’ compensation system has a 50 percent more attorney involvement than the national average, yet doesn’t produce consistent results for injured workers. Senate Bill 1973 will cut the number of workers’ compensation judges, limit the judges to a single, eight-year term, and exempt employers from liability for injuries arising outside the course of employment. The bill will make Oklahoma more business-friendly and help attract new jobs to the state.

Another bill that will be of great benefit to our state is Senate Bill 1921, which will increase the maximum penalty for felony and misdemeanor violations of the election code. The legislation was filed in response to the activities of employees of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and also establishes new felony violations that include the false submission or application for an absentee ballot and conspiracy to commit election fraud.

Two of my bills have been signed into law since my last update. Under House Bill 2968, registered sex offenders can no longer submit a P.O. Box or other address that cannot be mapped to the sex offender registry. Instead, they must submit a physical, map-able address. Senate Bill 2104 gives the county clerk an additional four days to mail a notice of lien by the affected property owner after filing a lien statement.

I would like to congratulate the entire city of Okeene for being featured in the Oklahoma Municipal League’s Oklahoma Cities and Towns for April. Okeene was chosen due to the dedication of its citizens to the community and the economic development it is experiencing.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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DHS Down $2.4 Million in Lawsuit

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Two recent Tulsa World articles examined the ongoing lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. The state agency has spent a whopping $2.4 million to defend itself since April 2008.

Meanwhile, the agency may furlough employees for four hours a week for 46 weeks if the Commission for Human Services approves the plan on April 27.

The lawsuit accuses DHS of placing foster children in harm’s way when they assign too many cases per worker, fail to make enough home visits, make multiple placements, and undertrain foster parents. DHS says the accusations are false.

On the one hand, Children’s Rights is a perpetual-lawsuit machine that appears more interested in press and contingency fees than in truly helping children. The group has sued child welfare systems in at least 12 other states. Many of these states have settled, signing consent decrees agreeing to reforms and providing millions to Children’s Rights’ attorneys.

On the other hand, legislators are aware the agency needs reform, and we have passed legislation to improve DHS based on an independent study.

I believe the inept management at DHS has put Oklahoma in a no-win situation. The state is being forced to waste millions to defend itself. Settling could result in even more money lost. The money could have gone to help children in foster care and avoided a furlough of  the staff in charge of caring for those children.

Based on their track record, it appears Children’s’ Rights might have sued Oklahoma no matter what, but we would have been in a better position to beat that lawsuit if DHS officials had just done their jobs.

On a somber note, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing should give us pause. Most of us remember the tragedy of that day and the brave efforts of firefighters, volunteers, and other Oklahomans who responded to it. It was a very difficult day, but we came together on it. I urge everyone to reflect on the lives lost in the bombing. A total of 168 people died in the official count, three of whom were pregnant with unborn children. Those 171 individuals were everyday heroes in their communities and are greatly missed.

I’m proud to be the House author of Senate Bill 1997, which has been signed by Governor Brad Henry. The new law will allow any Oklahoma sheriff to contact the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association, tell them how much help he needs, and let them coordinate that help from surrounding jurisdictions. The law allows for a more coordinated flow of assistance. It also allows the sheriff to stay focused on the community and emergency at hand.

I was also the House author of Senate Bill 2093, which passed 96-1 and now heads to the governor for his signature. The bill clarifies that shooting into private land from a public road is considered trespassing and a misdemeanor.

I was happy to have the fourth grade students from Okarche visit the state Capitol this past week. They wore their Okarche colors! I also wanted to congratulate area students that have been named Academic All-Staters: Carmen Sander of Seiling High School, Peter VanGee of Hennessey High School, Chelsea Williams of Woodward High School, and Paul Inman of Okarche High School. These fine young adults have demonstrated excellence in the classroom, and I commend them for this great honor.

I also wanted to congratulate John Michael Johnson of Kingfisher for achieving his rank of Eagle Scout. His dedication and hard work is a model for others.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Lawmakers Experience Firefighter Training

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Reps. Mike Sanders and Joe Dorman today received a first-hand taste of the rigorous training Oklahoma firefighters undergo to protect state citizens.



The bipartisan duo toured the OSU Fire Training Facility in Stillwater today and then participated in a “live burn” training exercise.



“As a state legislator who fights for greater firefighter funding at the Capitol, I felt it was important to personally experience the challenges of their educational process,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “If the men and women who do this work are willing to put their lives on the line for us, the least I could do is share in some of their training experiences.”



“I have always had great respect for Oklahoma firefighters, but I have to say I am even more impressed after today’s training,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “Even dealing with fire under a carefully controlled setting is pretty intense, and it really made me appreciate the courage of these men and women.”


The state lawmakers toured the OSU Fire Training Facility in Stillwater today before participating in the training exercise.



The training involved an interior fire demonstration where the lawmakers – wearing the roughly 45 pounds of equipment and gear typically worn by firefighters – received instruction on how to assess the situation and apply water to douse the flame.



“It’s one thing to talk about fighting fire in the abstract, and another to view it up close,” said Sanders. “This was a great opportunity to gain insight into the daily lives of firefighters.”



“Oklahoma firefighters are one of our greatest public safety assets in Oklahoma,” Dorman said. “They deserve all the honor and respect we can give them – and then some.”

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Oklahoma Attorney General Declines Lawsuit

Oklahoma Attorney General Declines Lawsuit

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson says political considerations had no bearing on his decision to decline joining 19 other states in filing a lawsuit against federal health care legislation. I disagree. His claim that challenging the health care mandate is an inappropriate use of his office rings false. Most Oklahomans – including both conservative Democrats and Republicans – oppose federally mandated health care, and they would support the use of the Office of the Attorney General to challenge it.

Although we continue to face challenges, many things in our great state are still moving forward. I am proud to announce the passage of two of my bills. The first is my sex offender legislation, which passed in the Senate by a unanimous vote. Under the legislation, registered sex offenders would no longer be able to submit a P.O. Box or other address that cannot be mapped to the sex offender registry. Instead, they would have to submit a physical, map-able address. The second bill, Senate Bill 1997, creates the “Marvin Williams and Robbie Chase Whitebird County Sheriff Assistance Act.” As law currently stands a sheriff may request emergency assistance from other jurisdictions. SB 1997 will allow the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association to coordinate assistance on behalf of the sheriff currently in need. This will allow the sheriff to stay focused on the community and emergency at hand. Both measures now head to Governor Brad Henry’s desk and await his signature.

Oklahoma Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit recently introduced himself to the House Government Modernization Committee. His position was created last year in an effort to consolidate information technology services among state agencies. It’s estimated that Oklahoma employs close to 1,500 state employees dedicated to information technology and spends more than $340 million annually on IT services beyond the cost of personnel. Pettit will complete an assessment of the state’s IT systems and submit a comprehensive plan to manage and coordinate those services in a way that generates cost savings.

Lawmakers will soon be debating the budget for fiscal year 2011. I will be joining other rural legislators in fighting for the inclusion of funding for the Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) program. Education, public safety, prisons, and roads and bridges top my list of funding priorities.

Workers’ compensation reform legislation is almost through the Legislature and awaits a vote by the full House. Senate Bill 1973 would reduce the number of workers’ compensation judges to eight and redistribute them so five go to Oklahoma City and three to Tulsa. SB 1973 also imposes a single-term limit on new judges, increases their term to eight years, and requires Senate confirmation to fill vacancies to the court. The legislation requires the workers’ compensation judges have five years of experience on the subject and also addresses how cases are handled. These simple changes would add more accountability to the workers’ compensation court.

Two state championship teams from my district were recently honored at the state Capitol. The Watonga Lady Eagles cross country team were Class 2A State Champions this past fall. I would like to congratulate the team’s hard work and Coach Coleman’s efforts. The Okarche Lady Warriors basketball team, under the direction of Coach Cherie Myers, is this year’s Class A State Champion. The last time the Lady Warriors earned that distinction was 1982. Through hard work, dedication, and sacrifice these teams have made their schools, their communities, and their families proud. They serve as great examples for young people, and I could not be more proud of these State Champions.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Contract Awarded for Road Repair in Major County

OKLAHOMA CITY – A contract was awarded recently for road repair in Major County, Sen. Bryce Marlatt and Rep. Mike Sanders recently announced.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the project involves asphalt resurfacing on US-281 beginning 5.5 miles north of the US-60 JCT, extending north.

Sen. Marlatt, (R- Woodward) said the State Transportation Commission awarded a $526,392.28 contract on the project to Caswell Contracting, Inc. The Elk City  company was the lowest of three bidders for the job, said Rep. Sanders, (R-Kingfisher).

Once construction begins, the project is estimated to be completed by June 30, 2010.
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Census Participation is Critical

Census Participation is Critical

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

If every Oklahoma household were to fill out and mail back the 2010 Census forms, which they should have received by now, we could receive additional representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. A correct count is needed to assist in services like those provided by non-profit organizations, and draw increased interest from employers and large retail stores who may want to relocate to the area.

According to a recent story by the Tulsa World, Oklahoma’s mail response rate is less than 52 percent and below the rate of 35 other states. Even though the 2010 Census will affect the state for the next decade, not enough of us are participating. I have also learned that some individuals have not received the form and can call 1-866-872-6868 to receive one after April 12. I urge everyone to please fill out this critical form.

I am proud to announce that one of the bills I have filed at the request of local county sheriffs has been signed into law. Our local sheriffs believe that the overuse of the red and blue flashing light combination endangers the public because it desensitizes people and leads them to no longer associate it with true emergencies. The new law is set to take effect Nov. 1. It will allow Class AA wreckers to use red and blue light combinations at the scene of an emergency. Other towing and wrecker services would be allowed to use amber lights instead.

Last week, a House committee passed important legislation that will increase election fraud penalties. Senate Bill 1921 increases the maximum punishment for felony violations of the election code from a fine of $5,000 to $50,000 and from two years imprisonment to five years. SB 1921 increases the penalty for misdemeanor violations of the election code from a fine of $1,000 to $10,000. Additionally, the bill makes it a felony of the election code to: vote with and submit an absentee ballot issued to another person, make  false application for an absentee ballot, cause the cancellation of a qualified voter’s registration, cause the submission of voter registration forms with false information, or conspire to commit election fraud.

Last year, several ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) employees were accused of submitting false voter registration forms – including some signed “Mickey Mouse” and several in Nevada listing Dallas Cowboys players’ names, though none of the players live in the state. Another Nevada ACORN worker was caught filling out voter registration forms using names and addresses copied out of the telephone book.

I would like to commend Governor Brad Henry’s signature this week of three bills that aim to protect life in Oklahoma. Senate Bill 1890 forbids an abortion based solely on the sex of the child. Senate Bill 1891 protects the right of health care professionals to refuse to take part in the destruction of innocent human lives. Senate Bill 1902 makes it illegal for a person other than a physician to provide or administer the chemical abortion pill, RU-486, for the purposes of inducing an abortion.

The Oklahoma Chapter of America Mothers Inc. chose two winners from Kingfisher County this year. The organization chooses a Mother of the Year and hosts an essay content annually. This year, Stacy Cline of Hennessey was chosen as Young Mother of the Year. Maddie Myers of Kingfisher Middle School took first place in the statewide essay contest with “What My Mother Means to Me.” Congratulations to both Stacy and Maddie on their outstanding achievements.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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