Session Overview

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

I am proud of what lawmakers were able to accomplish this session. We were able to address a $1.2 billion shortfall in the budget and at the same time dealt with a number of policy issues. Unlike Congress, we are constitutionally bound to balance the budget and had to make cuts. We managed to eliminate some wasteful spending, but some worthy programs also suffered. At the end of the day, we must try to run government like our households – spending only money that we have, and when there’s a surplus, saving it. That being said, I would like to take this opportunity to outline session accomplishments.

Health Care – Lawmakers approved a ballot proposal for the November 2010 election that gives Oklahomans an opportunity to vote to opt out of federal health care mandates. Most of us were opposed to this expensive, ineffective federal legislation, and I look forward to the proposal’s approval by voters. We also passed Senate Bill 2046. This bill increases competition among health insurers by authorizing the insurance commissioner to negotiate compacts with other states to allow out-of-state insurers to sell insurance in Oklahoma. The legislation also makes out-of-state insurers subject to premium taxes that will go to fund high risk pools.

Workers’ CompThe House passed legislation to improve the state’s workers’ compensation system for injured workers and reduce costs for Oklahoma employers. The reform was contained in four bipartisan bills that could save businesses in the state at least $60.5 million. The reforms ensure a shorter wait for injured workers to receive their claims and fewer costs for businesses. Changes include giving the Physicians Advisory Council a stronger position in the process, tightening up certain definitions to close inappropriate loopholes, requiring claims adjusters to take six hours of continuing education, better defining work-related activity, and setting up a task force to look at vocational rehabilitation for injured workers.

Transparency – Legislators voted to expand the state’s OpenBooks website to make state expenditures more transparent, passed legislation to require the Oklahoma Department of Education to display school districts’ financial information online, and approved a bill that will increase transparency of state stimulus fund expenditures.

Education Reform – Serious education reforms have been long overdue. I am proud to announce that we were able to pass significant tenure reform, extending the length of time and standards required to achieve career teacher status. Under the new law, districts can reward teachers who attain career status with enhanced pay based on performance rather than seniority. The legislation will bolster the state’s application in the federal Race to the Top education grant competition.

Public Safety – I am very proud of the Legislature’s work to restore public trust in the state medical examiner’s office this session. We found funding to help the agency hire new pathologists and obtain new equipment. We also passed a bill to create a new facility near the University of Central Oklahoma Forensic Science Institute. I was proud to see two bills I authored signed into law. 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. They must instead submit a physical, map-able address. Under House Bill 2969, only Class AA wreckers may use red and blue light combinations at the scene of an emergency. Other towing and wrecker services may only use amber lights.

Protecting Unborn Children – The Legislature passed multiple pro-life bills this session. Several were vetoed by the governor, but became law after the Legislature overrode the vetoes. We expect there will be a legal challenge, but believe that we have carefully crafted the legislation to address the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s past decisions against similar legislation.

In addition to my two public safety bills, I authored seven other pieces of legislation, most of which are now law or awaiting the governor’s signature. Among them is legislation that will allow the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to make needed purchases and repairs up to $400,000 without going out for a bid. Last year, the Turnpike Authority made this change in their statutes and my legislation simply brings all agencies into parity.

Thank you to the Corrections Corporation of America for their years of service in Watonga. It is our greatest hope to see your doors reopen soon.

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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