By Rep. Mike Sanders
We’re nearing the end of the Legislative session and several of my bills have either been signed into law or are headed to the governor’s desk.
Already signed into law is Senate Bill 324, which creates the Oklahoma Awards Program. The Oklahoma Medal of Valor and the Oklahoma Purple Heart will be awarded to those in our Department of Public Safety and citizens who display heroic acts of valor or are injured or give their lives in the call of serving another or saving a life. I am very proud and honored to carry this piece of legislation.
Headed to conference committee is House Bill 1116, which allows for the first time statements by vulnerable or incapacitated adults 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. This will help protect the vulnerable. I’m hopeful this moves forward.
On its way to the governor is House Bill 1833, which transfers all duties and responsibilities of the state Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. COFT is an agency that assists and works with all state volunteer fire departments. It was critical its duties remained intact. This measure keeps COFT but returns the State Fire Marshal’s Office to non-appropriated status as it has been in the past, saving the state $1.4 million.
House Bill 1259, which strengthens the qualifications of candidates seeking the job of sheriff, also is headed to the governor’s desk. The intent of this measure is to make sure those who serve as sheriff in our state are highly qualified for this important position.
Changing gears, budget negotiations are still ongoing with several measures being discussed between the parties in the House before we send them to the Senate. There is much talk about raising revenue right now. Keep in mind that to raise revenue in our state requires a ¾ majority vote in both the House and the Senate and or a vote of the people. In 1992, Oklahomans voted for this high threshold to keep the Legislature from increasing their taxes without their permission. Before we consider raising revenue, however, we must always look at efficiencies in state government first.
The House meanwhile continues to lead on major issues such as working to secure funding for a teacher pay raise, ensuring greater efficiencies in state government, shepherding a number of victims’ rights bill through the legislative process – many of which have become law, and protecting transportation funding.
Speaking of transportation funding, there are some in the Capitol that would like to cut $125 million or more from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) budget. Let me remind you that $323 million was cut from the agency’s budget last year. The Legislature did approve a $200 million transportation bond, but the agency still absorbed a cut, plus they have to pay back the bond.
Some also would like to cut or cap the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges Program (CIRB). This is a non-starter in the House. County roads and bridges are a lifeline for rural residents. I will continue to stand with our county commissioners and with ODOT. Transportation is a core service of government and needs to be treated as such.
In the coming weeks – two to be exact – we will have a budget. I am hopeful and optimistic this will occur. I would ask for your thoughts and prayers during this time.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.