By Rep. Mike Sanders
Last week, I told you about some of the major reforms approved by the session midpoint. This week, I want to talk about the budget and also highlight some additional legislation that we sent to the Senate.
First, budget discussions continue to include multiple scenarios and solutions, but at least one idea that has emerged and is worth mentioning is the idea of a transportation funding bond. Basically, road and bridge funding has been on the chopping block in the past several budget discussions. In order to get it off the block, we have begun discussing using a bond to fund it. With a more than $1 billion budget shortfall, a reasonable bond is one way to account for this anomaly year without sacrificing long-term transportation goals. This is still in discussion, but a plan is in the works. Transportation is a core service of government and should be treated as such.
Education is a top priority for all legislators and while we may not be able to hold it harmless, we have been working to reduce mandates and oppose ideas such as the school vouchers in such a tough budget time. Last week’s supplemental funding agreement was a first step in shoring up education funding due to the revenue failures. Hopefully, we can get more accomplished and set schools on a path to get through this oil and gas downturn. In two of the last three years, we have increased common education funding and held it harmless last year. The Senate has sent us a bill to eliminate End of Instruction exams. Senate Bill 1170 authorizes each school district to certify that graduating high school students had mastered the curriculum requirements. The state board of education, higher education and CareerTech will create a list of approved assessments that would comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act and measure mastery of the state’s subject matter standards. The state would pay for the exams.
Second, I want to tell you about another bond. We have committed to the idea of restoring the Oklahoma State Capitol, as it is the people’s building and putting off needed repairs would just make it a more costly project in the future. House Bill 3168 would allow the state to issue up to $125 million in bonds to complete the Capitol Restoration Project, which is scheduled for a 2022 completion date. The bond would be funded by tobacco tax revenues.
Third, we approved House Bill 2962 to require coverage of autism by a wide bipartisan vote last week. I think we must balance the need for accessible health care with reigning in insurance costs. This legislation did both. It requires health-benefit plans to provide coverage for autism, but limits the yearly maximum benefit to $25,000. It does not however limit the number of visits, as the cost is the important point.
Finally, I want to talk to you about a law enforcement bill approved last week. House Bill 2864 will place the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the Department of Public Safety under one Commissioner of Public Safety. The legislation is intended to make it easier for the public to know where the buck stops in public safety and have one individual to deal with on any issues that arise. The individual law enforcement units will continue to function as in the past, but a single leader will help with the coordination and accountability that should be a part of any government agency. The title is off this bill, which means it needs to be tweaked more as it moves through the Senate. I will keep you posted on its progress.
In my next column, I will begin to tell you about some of the Senate bills coming through my committees and about the progress of House bills in the Senate. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 email@example.com.
American Conservative Union Foundation Announcing Ratings for the 2015 meeting of the Oklahoma State Legislature
WASHINGTON DC – In the 2015 Ratings of Oklahoma, lawmakers continued to enact conservative reforms that support both individuals and families. “The Sooner State could be held as a model for other states seeking to enact conservative reforms on education and legislation to support strong families,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “We were glad to see that school choice was expanded and that population requirements on charter schools were lifted. Now families can send their children to the very best performing schools no matter what district they live in.” Additionally, Oklahoma passed several Pro-Life reforms that protect the unborn, supporting our belief that abortion is a human tragedy.
Elected officials also sent a strong message to unions by passing legislation prohibiting the automatic deduction of union dues from state employee paychecks. “Liberal union bosses were reminded in Oklahoma that they are not a collection agency and they do not have a vice-grip on the state workforce,” said Schlapp. Unfortunately, some legislators voted to favor programs that lead to cronyism such as SB 71, Cash for Chicken Egg Producers. “The handing out of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to government favored businesses is simply wrong. In order for free markets to flourish, these sweetheart deals must end,” Schlapp stated.
ACU announced today the results of our ratings for the 2015 meeting of the Oklahoma State Legislature. Like our Congressional ratings, ACU’s State Ratings reflect how elected officials view the role of government in an individual’s life. Oklahoma legislators with the strongest scores consistently voted with the ideals articulated in our U.S. Constitution.
Rep. Mike Sanders of Kingfisher was selected as one the Oklahoma Lawmakers to receive this honor.
ACU researches and selects a wide range of bills that reflect a member’s adherence to conservative principles. We select bills that focus on former President Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of the “three-legged stool”: 1) economic: taxes, budgets, regulation, spending, healthcare, and property; 2) social and cultural: 2nd Amendment, religious freedom, life, welfare, and education; and 3) government integrity: voting, individual liberty, privacy, and transparency. The range of issues selected have been specifically designed to convey to voters the most accurate assessment of Oklahoma’s elected officials who can be counted on to defend the principles of a free society: Life, Liberty, and Property.
"I am incredibly humbled to have received this honor from the ACUF. I have championed measures for individual freedoms, the unborn, free-market ideas and for property rights,” Representative Sanders states. “To have been recognized in the likes and legacy of former President Ronald Reagan means a great deal to me and I cannot thank the ACUF enough for this.”
“The ACU’s ratings reflect how elected officials view the role of government in an individual’s life,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “Representative Sanders is receiving our Award for Conservative Achievement because of his strong, consistent record of voting in support of ideals articulated in the U.S. Constitution. The range of issues selected have been specifically designed to convey to voters the most accurate assessment of Oklahoma’s elected officials who can be counted on to defend the principles of a free society: Life, Liberty and Property. I have worked with Mike and know him to be a dedicated conservative champion,” said Schlapp.
Legislators who scored above 80% in ACU’s 2015 Ratings of the Oklahoma Legislature will receive awards for their hard work toward passage of legislation that reflects conservative principles. As Reagan stated, “The person who agrees with you 80% of the time is a friend and an ally.”
To view our Oklahoma ratings guide, visit http://acuratings.conservative.org/state-ratings-2015/ and click on Oklahoma.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
The Oklahoma House of Representatives is busy reviewing Senate legislation in committee while trying to keep an eye on House measures in the Senate. We have also been busy voting on academic standards and a supplemental funding bill for education and corrections.
New academic standards were required by a 2014 law that overturned Common Core Standards. The Oklahoma Legislature had until this month to approve the new English and mathematics standards. The House approved the standards with recommendations for improvement as they are implemented. If the House and Senate do not agree, the standards will go into effect automatically. These standards do not mandate what materials a teacher uses, but simply set guidelines for what the student should know at the end of each grade level.
I will mention the supplemental funding measure again, because of how important it is to local schools. The supplemental funding will provide $51 million to schools to help them get through the end of this year after the midyear cuts that resulted from the drop in oil prices. Our prison system was already running on a skeleton crew and could not absorb automatic cuts so we also provided $25.6 million to get the Department of Corrections through the end of the year.
Domestic violence continues to be a problem in Oklahoma and nationally. Two bills of interest are Senate Bill 1249 and Senate Bill 1491. The first requires final protective orders to be resolvedwithin six months of service on the defendant. The second broadens the definition of domestic violence. Current statute defines it as a pattern involving three or more incidents of abuse. This measure would make it two or more and remove a stipulation that it occur within a 12-month period.
The Real ID Act was a federal law put in place in response to the increased incidents of terror in the United States. Oklahoma has been non-compliant with the law, though we have asked for extensions. Senate Bill 1362 would make us compliant with the federal law.
The final piece of legislation from the Senate I want to tell you about is Senate Joint Resolution 65. It would make the Oklahoma Labor Commissioner an appointed position. Currently, the labor commissioner is among the list of statewide elected officials. If we approve this constitutional amendment it would go to a vote of the people.
Lastly, I want to wish everyone a safe and wonderful Easter. This is a time of renewal, family and the celebration of the gift of life and our Christian faith.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
This week, House lawmakers completed the work of passing major reform proposals to the Senate. Our next task is to review Senate proposals in committee in the coming weeks.
I want to start by announcing a supplemental funding agreement for schools and prisons. Legislators and Governor Mary Fallin have agreed on a plan to provide $57 million to K-12 schools and $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections to finish out this fiscal year. In order to make this happen, we took money from the state “rainy day” fund, which was created for emergencies such as this year’s automatic cuts that came after the revenue failure.
The major reform I proposed this year was to push drunk driving prosecutions out of municipal courts. With only two municipal courts of record in Oklahoma, we have multiple drunk drivers who are flying under the radar. Basically, when they are prosecuted in municipal courts, a record of their arrest and prosecution does not pass on to the district attorney or municipality that prosecutes them for a subsequent offense. Without a record of their offenses, they cannot be tried as a repeat offender.
House Bill 3146 creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record. The measure also directs the Commissioner of Public Safety to create a statewide impaired driver database with the assistance of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths and dead last in making progress on the issue in a 10-year period.
This was a bipartisan bill and I had help from many of my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle. Ultimately, I received wide, bipartisan support. Safe roads is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is an Oklahoma issue.
My drunk driving legislation was not the only major reform we passed this week. We also approved legislation to allow voters to remove a portion of the state constitution that was cited in a ruling that caused the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from state Capitol grounds.
House Joint Resolution 1062 removes a portion of the Oklahoma State Constitution known as the Blaine Amendment. These amendments were added to state constitutions around the country at a time of anti-Catholic sentiment. It prohibits the use of state property or state monies for religious purposes. Many of us did not feel this would include the Ten Commandments monument, because it is a historical basis for American law.
However, with the recent Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, the Blaine Amendment could now be interpreted to prohibit a broad variety of artifacts. Concerns include that Native American artifacts and municipal Christmas displays could be challenged.
The Blaine Amendment does not mirror anything in the U.S. Constitution. If anything, our U.S. Constitution upholds freedom of religion, including religious expression.
A third bill that will create more health care opportunities in rural Oklahoma was approved unanimously. House Bill 2549 allows hospitals in Oklahoma to own nursing homes. This will create the opportunity for rural hospitals to increase their service, both helping their bottom line and increasing access to health care in rural Oklahoma.
In my next column, I will go through the latest budget discussion and some of the other major reform proposals moving through the process. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Sanders Praises Passage of Constitutional Amendment to nix Language Cited in Ten Commandments Monument Ruling
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Sanders praised today’s passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate a portion of law cited in the ruling against the display of a Ten Commandments monument on Oklahoma State Capitol grounds.
House Joint Resolution 1062, by state Rep. Randy Grau, removes a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution that provides that “public money or property cannot be used directly or indirectly for any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”
“When we learned that the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the Ten Commandments monument removed from the Capitol, everyone was surprised,” said Grau, R-Edmond, an attorney and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “The ruling went against clear legal precedent supporting the placement of such monuments on government property. Our state’s highest court misinterpreted the Constitution, and we had no choice but to send the question to the people of Oklahoma regarding the public display of such monuments. Today, the House voted overwhelmingly to do that. ”
Sanders said most Oklahomans were astounded by the ruling of the court against the display of the Ten Commandments monument.
“A ruling against the display seemed crazy in light of U.S. Supreme Court rulings in favor of Ten Commandment monument displays on government property,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “We are undoing that damage by striking the language cited in the ruling.”
The proposed constitutional amendment was approved by a vote of 86-10 and now proceeds to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration. If approved by the Senate, a state question will be submitted to the Secretary of State to be placed on the November 2016 ballot.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
State legislators are a step closer to final policy solutions as we enter into March. The Oklahoma House of Representatives have reduced our total legislation to 383 bills and joint resolutions after beginning with 983 bills filed this year. We are now spending all day on the House floor discussing and voting on those 383 proposals.
In the area of education, we moved bills forward that do not contain final language, but will serve as vehicles for three important policy discussions this year. First, strong support exists for the elimination of End of Instruction tests. Bills advanced in both the Senate and House to reduce or eliminate these tests. Second, there is support for reducing the planned teacher evaluation implementation. Third, with the hope that we will find funding, we advanced legislation that will contain a teacher pay raise. If not, we have several other bills such as House Bill 2247 to try to address the teacher shortage with more targeted incentives.
In the area of health policy, we approved legislation by a Grove emergency physician who strongly believes that Medicaid includes too many able-bodied adults. Even a liberal health economist like Jonathan Gruber has estimated that as many as six out of every 10 enrollees added to Medicaid would otherwise have private coverage. House Bill 2665 will further limit Medicaid, which would likely improve the service for the remaining Medicaid enrollees.
In the area of public safety, we approved a bill to shore up the state’s 9-1-1 system on the House floor. House Bill 3126 increases the transparency and accountability for 9-1-1 fees and provides state coordination for improved 9-1-1 service delivery. The measure also replaces the funding that has been lost due to the drop in the use of landline phones with an increase to the individual 9-1-1 fee on each cellular contract. Just like with transportation infrastructure, public safety infrastructure is critical to maintaining the safety of all Oklahomans.
We also advanced several child welfare proposals. One would require parents to show up for hearings if they want to have a say in custody and other child placement decisions. Another would allow the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to discontinue operations if a child has been shown to be appropriately placed with a safe family. Currently, by statute, if a judge does not close a case, the agency has to continue to provide evaluations and other services, even when they are no longer necessary.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
There is a battle this year between the House and Senate just like in 2015 over the issue of transportation funding. An Oklahoma City senator has proposed to redirect $59.7 million that was scheduled to go to the state’s roads and bridges fund to instead help with the budget shortfall. Although I appreciate his efforts to solve the shortfall problem, taking money from a core service of government is the wrong approach.
Under current law, the funding for the eight-year transportation plan is increased by $59.7 million annually until funding reaches $575 million in Fiscal Year 2018. This “off-the-top” process was created back in the day because the state was so far behind in maintaining its roads and bridges. In order to get back on track, we had to figure out a long-term plan and commit to long-term funding.
Senate Bill 1394 threatens that long-term funding by blocking the automatic increase to the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety Fund (ROADS fund). The measure adds a trigger mechanism for future increases based on the revenue picture each year.
Our district will be especially affected by this decrease, because of the many road and bridge projects scheduled. These future projects include shoulder work on State Highway 33 east from Kingfisher to Highway 74, shoulder work on State Highway 51 to I-35, a project to add lanes and turning lanes to Highway 270/51 at the Canton turnoff, an ongoing project on 270 south of Seiling and a bridge repair project on State Highway 3 between Watonga and Kingfisher. The critical safety and access needs being addressed by these projects are not isolated to my district, but are widespread across our state and many such improvements would be stalled or simply eliminated by his legislation. Oklahoma is investing in our transportation infrastructure to keep our traveling families safe and to position our communities to be economically viable now and for future generations. We simply must find a way to stay the course because our work is far from complete.
But, I don’t want to just talk about bad ideas. I am pleased to announce the House passage of an important prolife measure. House Bill 3128 enacts the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016, which would prohibit the performance of an abortion due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome or genetic abnormality of an unborn child. If signed by the governor, Oklahoma would become only the second state in the nation to provide protections specifically for unborn children who have been diagnosed with these abnormalities.
Statistics show that children who are prenatally diagnosed with a genetic abnormality are 73 percent more likely to be aborted. The protections which are currently extended to children outside of the womb would be extended to those who are only being terminated because of a genetic abnormality that is no fault of their own.
I’m also happy to report that the Senate Education Committee gave unanimous, bipartisan support to legislation to eliminate state-mandated End of Instruction exams. Under current law, high school students must pass four of seven EOIs in order to graduate from high school. Under Senate Bill 1170, it would be up to each school district to certify that graduating high school students had mastered the curriculum requirements.
Finally, I want to mention the committee passage of House Joint Resolution 1062, which I am co-authoring. The legislation will create a state question that will ask voters to remove the Blaine Amendment from the Oklahoma State Constitution. This amendment was part of a nationwide anti-Catholic effort that required that nothing religious be allowed on state property. The Blaine Amendment was cited in a ruling last year that removed the Ten Commandments monument from state property, even though it was paid for with private monies.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Legislation intended to improve the tools prosecutors have to address repeat drunk drivers was approved Monday by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
House Bill 3146, by state Rep. Mike Sanders, creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record.
“Repeat drunk drivers are often flying under the radar, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and District Attorneys Council,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “These drivers, who warrant felony-level prosecutions under current statute, often receive misdemeanor convictions because their records are incomplete. This is because 354 municipal courts that deal with a large volume of DUI arrests are not ‘courts of record.’ My legislation eliminates that loophole through which repeat drunk drivers are escaping the consequences of their actions. This was a bipartisan bill. I worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to end this black eye on our state. This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. This is an Oklahoma issue.”
The measure directs the Commissioner of Public Safety to create a statewide impaired driver database with the assistance of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
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).
According to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, there are 354 municipal courts that are not “courts of record,” 77 district courts of record and two municipal courts of record in Oklahoma.
Several legislators praised the legislation.
“Drunk driving is one of the biggest threats to Oklahoma families as they drive on our roads,” said state Rep. Biggs, former prosecutor and R-Chickasha. “As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is that we catch repeat drunk drivers and get them off our roads.”
“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 for use in subsequent prosecutions, severely endangering public safety. This idea to stop it has been floating around the Capitol for a while. Congratulations to Representative Sanders for leading the Herculean corroboration that got it past its first hurdle.”
“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. “We badly need to close this loophole in the system and 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. I hope the Senate and governor will agree. Representative Sanders deserves a lot of credit. This will save lives.”
The legislation was approved by a vote of 82-5 and now proceeds to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
In a year with so many concerns, I was pleased to hear a bit of good news on the education funding front.
State Budget Director Jill Geiger and Office of Management and Enterprise Services spokesman John Estus explained that a 1017 Fund cash balance was not included in previous monthly reports from the Oklahoma Board of Equalization. This means that at least one anticipated revenue failure will not occur.
That education fund began the current fiscal year with a cash balance of $43.8 million. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services failed to include this carryover money in reports and the board had projected a $19 million revenue shortfall in the fund.
In January, $47 million in state funding was cut from schools’ budgets because of sharp declines in revenue collections in the state’s general fund due to the worldwide decline in the price of oil. Budget officials say that this may not be the end of cuts, as revenues continue to decline, but the overlooked money in the 1017 Fund will absolutely help our schools in the short-term and have an impact immediately.
Another topic of great interest has been the teacher shortage. House Bill 2951 directs the State Department of Education and Regents for Higher Education to develop and implement teacher recruitment programs, with priority given to teacher shortage areas. This bill passed the Appropriations and Budget Committee on Wednesday evening and I supported this bill.
I also want to mention that a bill to consolidate some K-8 dependent schools into larger districts, House Bill 2824, failed to pass out of committee.
Lastly, I would like to mention some news on the topic of judicial reform. A measure that would allow voters to create judicial elections in Oklahoma was approved in committee and will soon be up for discussion by the full Oklahoma House of Representatives. House Joint Resolution 1037 would create a state question that would eliminate a current nominating commission and make the justices directly accountable to the people.
Several Oklahoma Supreme Court decisions over the past decade have led some state legislators to question the independence of the judiciary. In particular, there interpretations of law regarding lawsuit reform and workers’ compensation reform seemed out of synch with other rulings.
In Oklahoma, three judges are selected by a commission and then the governor chooses from among those candidates. The Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission includes six members approved by the Oklahoma Bar Association and nine members chosen by various other means. This process is uncommon among states and the specific concern is that the Oklahoma Bar Association has a strong influence on the commission and could affect its decisions on laws impacting lawyers.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
This week, House lawmakers began their work to review the nearly 1,000 bills filed.Committees either accept bills as is, improve upon them or vote no. There are plenty of bills that deserve scrutiny and many of them will not go beyond this step of the process.
As the chair of the transportation budget subcommittee, my work focuses on our roads and bridges. This week, we began the work of vetting all transportation bills filed by the 101 members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Our state not only needs modern roads and bridges, but also modern laws that help increase the safety of Oklahomans. Thiscommittee is where we work to create good public policy on our roads.
First, I should note that my House Bill 2289 was approved in the committee and then also on the House floor. It modifies a notice requirement for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation agents. Currently, they are allowed to go on private property while surveying and conducting other business in their daily work on behalf of roads and bridges. However, they are required to notify property owners. My bill changes the notice requirement to the use of first-class rather than just registered mail.
Second, we approved House Bill 3167, which I believe will increase public safety. It removes speed limits that are set in Oklahoma law on turnpikes and four-lane highways. Currently, those speed limits are arbitrary. Going forward, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will determine appropriate speed limits based on engineering studies to determine the condition of the road and other factors. In some cases, this could lead to higher speed limits if appropriate and, in others, lower speed limits.
Third, I have an announcement on a local transportation project. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has programmed a project to mill the existing surface failures out and replace them with new asphalt pavement in Okarche and Piedmont. In Okarche, the targeted section of road will be from Stroh Avenue south to the US81 interchange. Both the northbound and southbound outside lanes will be milled and filled. In Piedmont, the section of road will be each side of State Highway 3 to the State Highway 4 signal light in Piedmont. This project will be discussed and approved in the March meeting and would likely begin in early summer. Its present estimate is $420,000. Improvements at both these locations will make for a much improved ride.
Finally, state legislators continue to discuss the plight of children in our state. Currently, there is a great need for more foster families. We desperately need more Oklahomans to step up. Gov. Mary Fallin is using her prominent position to get the word out and I would like to join her in doing so. If you think you are able to provide love for a child, without the intent of adopting them but instead just to get them through a difficult time in their lives, I would encourage you to go to the DHS website and fill out the required application. The more applications they get though, the more foster care families we will have available for children in need.