Legislation Becomes LawLegislation Becomes Law

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Now that the legislative session is over, I want to look at some of the reforms passed this year that were signed into law by the governor that will have a positive affect for Oklahomans.

In addition to giving teachers a second pay raise in two years, the Legislature also approved a pay raise of up to $1,400 for state employees for the second year in a row. These people perform much work for the citizens of Oklahoma – building roads, keeping our courts functioning, renewing our licenses and so much more. We must keep their pay competitive so we don’t lose them to the private sector and make it more difficult for Oklahomans to receive the services they need.

Correctional workers also will get raises of $2 per hour. These people do incredibly hard jobs to keep the public safe and yet get paid very low to work in such stressful circumstances. This will help cut down on understaffing and high turnover in our state correctional facilities and lead to improved safety for the public, staff and those incarcerated. Overall, the appropriation to the Department of Corrections increased by about $38 million, or 7.4 percent, and now totals $555.5 million.

Lawmakers also approved measures that will allow the governor to name the director of five of the state’s largest agencies – the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services, the Department of Corrections and the Office of Juvenile Affairs. Up to now, the governor had very limited power over state agencies and their spending of taxpayer dollars. Instead, the power resided in the hands of unelected board members who oversee these agencies. Now, the governor will have more direct oversight so he can function like a true CEO for the state.

On the same line of better government accountability and efficiency, the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency also was signed into law by the governor. This office will increase transparency and accountability of the spending of taxpayer dollars by evaluating agency budgets to ensure efficiently and to cut waste and that programs and services offered to state residents are needed. This is similar to Congress’ Government Accountability Office. It is a legislative-level office, not an executive branch office, that will ensure lawmakers get accurate and timely information from the agencies so we can make better informed decisions for citizens.

The Legislature also wisely approved and the governor signed a measure that closes the gap between reimbursement rates for nursing homes and the actual cost of care. Under the bill, providers must increase staffing and provide additional training and show they have improved the quality of care for their residents. The coalition of elder-care advocates that pushed for this called it a “landmark reform” that will “dramatically increase the quality of care and quality of life” for nursing home residents. In addition, the governor signed a measure that will require informed consent by a nursing home resident or their legal guardian before they are prescribed anti-psychotic drugs. Oklahoma was No. 1 in the nation for nursing home residents taking an anti-psychotic drug without a psychiatric diagnosis. Instead they were often prescribed these powerful medications to modify their sleep or behavior. This bill will improve their lives.

Also signed into law was a measure to help us fully implement the new constitutional provisions of “Marsy’s Law” passed by Oklahoma voters in November 2018 as State Question 794. This law includes a new set of stronger constitutional rights for victims of crime, granting them more information and input during the criminal justice process. The House bill works to ensure these new rights are reflected in Oklahoma law and properly implemented. For instance, the bill clarifies a victim’s right to be notified of the release or escape of an accused perpetrator; it outlines the right of a victim, upon request, to confer with a district attorney; and it creates a requirement that law enforcement give victims written notification of all of their rights under the new law. Victims should have every right to be informed about the trial and the subsequent movement of their accused perpetrators. This will help.

In future columns, I will detail some of the legislation I was able to pass this year, and then I’ll give an update on area road and bridge projects.

Remember, I’m still at the Capitol and in our district even though the legislative session has adjourned for this year.

If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

Add your reaction Share

Governor Signs Budget

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Gov. Stitt last week signed the state appropriation’s bill, which I believe accomplished great things for Oklahomans without raising any new taxes.

This budget received overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate, and ensures we are properly funding core government services. It also puts Oklahoma on a path toward the largest savings account in state history – something much needed after coming through one of the steepest recessions in state history. By setting aside $200 million in this appropriation’s bill, we will have nearly $1 billion dollars in savings by the end of this fiscal year. Continuing to build our savings account will keep us from having to make severe cuts to core state services in times of future economic downturn. That’s prudence.

More transparency and oversight over the spending of taxpayer dollars is ensured by adding money to the state auditor and by funding the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency. These two offices will help us better assess the programs and services being offered to Oklahomans and the efficiency of spending.  That’s accountability.

Lawmakers prioritized education in this budget. We gave common education (preK-12) an additional $158 million this year over last. This allows us to give Oklahoma teachers their second pay raise in two years – a first in state history. This brings teacher pay to the top in the region and will help keep seasoned teachers in our classrooms as well as help us recruit new teachers. We fully funded the Reading Sufficiency Act, making sure we are helping children in early grades learn to read on grade level. We also put $74.3 million additional dollars into our classrooms this year. Our CareerTech centers will receive $18 million for pay raises and course additions, and higher education will receive an additional $28 million to bolster research programs and provide a professor pay raise. Also, we put $7.5 million more toward concurrent enrollment courses for high school juniors and seniors so they enter college with credits. This creates stability for our students and puts them on a path toward success.

Transportation is another area of high importance. We restored $30 million to the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges Fund, a priority for me as I work with county commissioners constantly to improve the state of roadways in our district and throughout the state. We also fully fund the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year plan. With recent flooding, these funds will be all the more necessary in days to come.

On the public safety front, we are giving our correctional officers a 14 percent pay raise. This equals about $2 an hour increase. This is needed to keep seasoned people in these very difficult jobs and will help with understaffing and high turnover at our corrections facilities. We are also helping to pay for two new trooper academies to help add more Highway Patrol troopers to our state highways. This keeps the public safe.

We also provided $37.7 million for another pay raise for our state employees. This helps close the gap between those who provide government services to our citizens and those who work in the private sector.

In health care, we added $62.8 million for Graduate Medical Education programs to support physician training to increase the number of doctors working in rural hospitals. We reallocated $105 million to increase provider rates for physicians, hospitals and nursing homes. Again, this will help our rural areas most of all. We saved $29 million in a new preservation fund to preserve Medicaid provider rates when the federal government’s 3-year rolling average results in a rate decline. We put $2 million toward decreasing the Developmental Disability Services (DDSD) wait list and $8 million to increase DDSD provider reimbursement rates by 4 percent. And, we dedicated $4.6 million to increase immunizations and staff at county health departments throughout the state. This is taking care of the health care needs of our most vulnerable Oklahomans.

For rural Oklahoma, we added $1.1 million for wildfire mitigation and additional resources for rural fire fighters and $600,00 for rural fire grants. We also appropriated $700,00 to help with wildfire prevention and protection. Our rural fire departments are the backbone of our defense in rural areas. I fought hard for this funding. We also gave $1.5 million to improve rural flood control dams, and boy is that needed now more than ever. We allocated $1 million to our county extension offices to help them continue to provided needed services to our rural residents and to provide for our great 4-H programs for our youth. The Department of Agriculture is able to add a veterinarian to help farmers and ranchers protect against potential diseases in animals and crops. And, we added $3 million to Rural Economic Action Partnerships (REAP) programs to help us attract jobs and economic activity to our rural areas.

I’m proud of this budget and all it offers to Oklahomans. Now, it’s time to begin work on the next budget and on legislation for next year.

On a separate note: I’m praying for all affected by recent storms and flooding. Many private property owners lost homes and have suffered damage to other property; many farmers and small business owners are likewise affected. I am in constant communication with the governor’s offices and our area emergency managers and county officials to make sure needs are being addressed. 

Remember, I’m still at the Capitol and in our district even though the legislative session has adjourned for this year.

If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

Add your reaction Share

Memorial Day Heroes

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day – a day when people gathered to decorate the graves of loved ones who had given their lives in service to their country. I have to admit; as a child I didn’t quite understand why people would want to decorate graves. Now, of course, as an adult, I can’t think of enough things we could do to honor the men and women who gave their lives in service to our great nation. Placing wreaths, flowers or flags on graves and speaking words in tribute of those who served and died to protect our liberty and freedom seems so small a gesture. 

I heard a compelling message in which the speaker suggested the next time we find ourselves at a cemetery, we take a long look at headstones and record the limited information we find: a name, the dates of birth and death, sometimes a brief description such as loving mother, brother, sister, son, so on. All of life boiled down to such few words. In fact, the speaker said the most important thing on the tombstone is the dash – the little mark between the day of birth and the day of death. That little dash represents all of life. The message concluded with something like, “Life goes by so quickly. How will you live your dash?”

So let’s talk for a moment about the men and women we will honor on Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, if you prefer. I hope we will all consider the way these people lived their dashes – that too short a period of time between the days of their births and the days of their deaths.

They lived with courage. Perhaps they were afraid to fight in battle, but they did it anyway because they knew the cause was important, and they knew the fate of a nation depended on them. They lived selflessly. They willingly sacrificed their lives so their children and fellow countrymen could live in safety, security and freedom. They lived all in – they didn’t wait for someone else to do what they felt called to do. They didn’t wait for better timing or until circumstances were just right. They didn’t wait until their finances were in order or until it was a more convenient time. They did what was asked of them even though it cost them their lives.

For most of us, we wish for life to go on until we are as the Old Testament describes, old and full of years. But many of the people we will remember on Memorial Day died in the very prime of their lives. Many never got the opportunity to raise a family, see their children graduate high school or college, see their grandchildren grow up, serve in a career other than the military or any of the myriad things the rest of us too often take for granted. Our heroes lived lives that for us seem too short.

Yet, even though the loved ones of these military members miss them to this day, we can gather on Memorial Day with smiles on our faces and warmth in our hearts. Because, we know that while earthly life is over for these men and women, eternal life is never over. In fact, life has become something dearer for them than any of us on this earth can even imagine. They have been welcomed into the arms of their savior with the words, “Well Done, thy good and faithful servant.”

They lived their dashes to the fullest. And for that, the rest of us are forever grateful. As we decorate their graves, let us pledge to always remember their sacrifice and to live purposefully and with gratitude.

If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

Add your reaction Share

Budget Agreement Reached

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Gosh it feels good to report this: a budget agreement between the House, Senate and the governor has been reached, and it’s one that increases education funding, state savings, rural health care services, agriculture and public safety and fully funds state infrastructure projects while promoting jobs and healthy economic growth – all without raising additional taxes.

This budget devotes about $203 million to education – from preK to college and CareerTech. We are giving teachers a raise of about $1,220. For years we’ve heard about the need to increase teacher pay, so we’ve done that both last year and this, bringing our teacher pay rate to the top in the region. This will keep our teachers from leaving for other states and will help us retain and recruit more traditionally certified teachers for our public school classrooms. This pay raise is going to go to teachers in schools that are on the funding formula, which is 97 percent of Oklahoma teachers. Those schools that are off the funding formula will still be encouraged to give their teachers this raise as well. I believe all teachers in Oklahoma should receive this raise.

We also are putting about $74.3 million into the state funding formula with the expectation that school boards and superintendents will allot this money to our classrooms, so we can reduce classroom sizes and give our teachers and students the materials and support they need. For the first time, we also are fully funding the Reading Sufficiency Program so we can better help students learn to read on grade level. Plus, we are fully funding concurrent enrollment programs for high school juniors and seniors so they can earn college credits before they graduate.

This budget gives $30 million to our County Improvements for Roads and Bridges fund. I have stood with our county commissioners, and I’m extremely happy we are able to put some of their money back. I’m also happy to report that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year plan is fully funded. Infrastructure has been a top priority for me, and I fought for this funding for years.

We also increased provider rates for our rural nursing homes and are paying for more physicians’ training for rural hospitals.

In addition, we’re increasing pay for state employees and for our correctional workers who work to keep our citizens safe. We also are appropriating money for two new Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper academies to increase the number of troopers who serve Oklahomans. By funding these two academies, we will be able to put 80 new Highway Patrolmen on our highways by 2020.

This budget also allots more funding for rural fire management and gives additional resources for our rural firefighters. This will help our Rural Fire Defense Fund and will help with our 80/20 Grants. These monies are very important to Northwest Oklahoma and very important to our rural, volunteer firefighters who are the backbone to our Oklahoma fire service.

We’re also saving money in this budget - $200 million into a state savings account, which is something I have fought for tirelessly this year. We’ll be building up to $1 billion in the state’s Rainy Day fund by the end of this year. This will keep us from cutting core services the next time the state experiences an economic downturn.

Another plus of this budget is the focus on job growth and economic development through specific programs under the governor’s purview and the Department of Commerce.

I’ll give more details of the state budget in the weeks to come, but for now I’m grateful to report this deal has been reached. It’s a positive for our area and for the state.

If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

Add your reaction Share

Governor Signs American Legion Tax Exemption

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Gov. Stitt this week signed a bill that will give the American Legion of Oklahoma sales tax-exempt status. The American Legion has served our Oklahoma veterans and their families for over 100 years, making sure they have clothing, food, health care and other services. They also help educate our youth about the value of patriotism and preserving liberty, and they keep a continual focus on national security. As the primary author of House Bill 1003, it was an honor to let the American Legion know this week that they can now look forward to this benefit.

Securing this tax exemption is something I’ve wanted to do since I got into office. Other organizations with similar missions already enjoy this exemption. But, as we all know, the state’s economy has been volatile for a number of years with the up and down price of oil and gas. We’ve finally hit better times, and for the first time in many years have a revenue surplus. This allowed unanimous passage of HB 1003 in both the House and Senate and gave the governor the confidence to sign this bill. I’m grateful for the support of this legislation.

In other news, the House Rules Committee voted recently to request an actuarial study to see how a 4 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) would affect six state pension funds. The House this year ran legislation to implement a 4 percent COLA for retired teachers, firefighters, law enforcement and police, justices and judges and other public employees.

The state Senate, however, amended that to 2 percent and then sent the measure to the legislative actuary for further study. The House is asking the actuary to study the 4 percent COLA, which better matches retirees’ needs and requests. 

Some have suggested the solvency of the state’s pension funds would be negatively affected with a 4 percent COLA, so the actuary’s report should help determine that. The report is due before the beginning of the next legislative session, so we will know how to proceed with legislation next year.

Retirees welcomed the news that a 4 percent COLA was back within the realm of possibility as it has been about 12 years since they’ve seen an increase. Meanwhile, insurance costs and other living expenses continue to increase.

On a final note, House leadership is still in daily discussions with the Senate and the governor’s office to finalize the state budget. Education is the sticking point at this juncture. The House and the governor want to give Oklahoma teachers another $1,200 raise to get us to the top pay rate in the region. We then intend to put another $70 million increase into the state funding formula to better support our classrooms. The Senate would have us put all of the money into the formula or only offer the pay raise to the longest serving teachers. We’re close to a resolution. As always, I will keep you updated.

If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

Add your reaction Share

Governor Signs Bill to Grant American Legion Tax-Exempt Status

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday signed a bill that will exempt the American Legion Department of Oklahoma from sales tax.

House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, are authors of House Bill 1003. The measure previously passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

“The American Legion is our state’s largest veterans’ organization, serving in Oklahoma for 100 years,” Sanders said. “I want to thank them for all that they do on behalf of our veterans and their families as well as our youth. I’ve been working for many years to ensure the American Legion has the same tax-exempt status as other organizations with similar missions. I want to thank Senator Thompson for working to help secure passage of this bill and Governor Stitt for signing this legislation.”

Sanders made note of the American Legion’s many patriotic education programs and outreach ministries as well as their dedication to a mission of strong national security. He said he’s been working to secure passage of this tax exemption for many years, but the state’s down economy precluded such action until this year.

“I want to thank Governor Stitt and my fellow members for making this stand for Oklahoma veterans,” Thompson said. “When we say we honor and appreciate our veterans, it’s important to make sure that we’re backing up those words with actions. This modest tax benefit will help the American Legion throughout Oklahoma – an organization that continues to provide vital support and services to our veterans.”

The new law becomes effective July 1, 2019.

Add your reaction Share

Governor Gets American Legion Bill, signs CIRB Repayment

Add your reaction Share

Governor Signs Bill to Increase Number of Volunteer Firefighters

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Stitt on Thursday signed into law a bill that will allow retired paid firefighters to return to service as volunteers without effecting their state pensions.

House Bill 2051, authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. The new law will allow retired paid firefighters to perform as volunteer firefighters for a volunteer department without it affecting their current retirement benefit but also without it counting as an accrued retirement benefit against the state’s pension plan.

“Our rural residents and communities are dependent upon the services of volunteer firefighters to keep them safe from harm in the event of deadly wildfires,” Sanders said. “It helps so much to have individuals who are already trained and well-seasoned to perform these duties. This is why I worked so hard to ensure that we can build the ranks of volunteer firefighters without adding the state’s pension costs.”

Murdock said, “With the amount of wildfires we have in Northwest Oklahoma we need all the men and women we can get. The rural fire departments are stretched to the limits. The passage of this bill will allow experienced retired firefighters to join volunteer departments bringing their wealth of knowledge to that team.”

HB 2051 bill amends language to legislation previously passed by Sanders and signed into law that eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement that they be added to the state’s pension plan. The legislation, which took effect in November 2015, has resulted in 300 new volunteer firefighters joining rural fire departments over the past 3 ½ years.

Sanders explained that state law previously prohibited willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state’s pension and retirement plan could not afford them. Many people from his district, however, said they would be willing to serve without needing the retirement benefit. This amendment now will allow retired paid firefighters to participate in protecting the states rural fire districts as volunteers without affecting funding that can now be appropriated to other core government services.

Sanders said about 85 percent of the firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers. Of the state’s more than 900 fire departments, about 95 percent are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program.

 

Add your reaction Share

Bills Head to Governor

Add your reaction Share

Bill to Protect Unborn Life Headed to Governor

By Rep. Mike Sanders

A bill that would give mothers an opportunity to reconsider a chemical abortion after a first abortion pill is taken passed the House this week and will head to the governor for consideration to be signed into law.

I co-authored Senate Bill 614 that would require a physician who administers an abortion-inducing medication to provide information to the mother explaining the procedure can be reversed should she change her mind after the first pill is administered. The physician also would have to post information about this option in their office. If a physician does not provide or post the information, they could face felony charges resulting in jail time or fines.

This does not preclude women from choosing abortions but gives them information about how they could reverse the process that would result in the death of their unborn child should they change their mind before the procedure is complete. This reversal procedure has resulted in at least 500 babies being born healthy after their mothers elected this choice. While some argue the science behind this procedure, I am always on the side of preserving life.

 

Meanwhile, the governor has been signing bills into law each week. So far, he’s signed 53 bills, 33 from the House and 20 from the Senate. Bills signed this week include House Bill 2640, Francine’s Law, which requires law enforcement to put into the NamUs national database information of unidentified bodies so that families of missing persons can search for their loved ones. The bill was named after Francine Frost, a mother of two who was abducted in Tulsa in 1981. Her case was cold for more than three decades until a grandson found information in the NamUs system that later turned out to be that of his grandmother. This law will help other families identify their missing relatives quicker.

 

The governor also recently signed my House Bill 1228, which will give teachers more training and resources to help them recognize students with dyslexia so they can better help these students. This can change the trajectory of student learning for students with dyslexia. There will be no cost to local school districts. The bill was a request by the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma working group, which will work with the State Department of Education to develop training materials for teachers and additional resources for students and parents.

 

We started this session with 2,631 House and Senate bills and joint resolutions. After a recent committee deadline by which bills had to be considered in their opposite legislative chamber, we are down to 557. So far, the House and Senate have come together to pass legislation on government accountability. We continue to work onbills that add more funding for public schools and another teacher pay raise. We also await final passage of a measure that will return funding to our County Improvement to Roads and Bridges Fund and several measures will address rural health care. At the same time, we are working on our state appropriation’s bill.

 

As always, I will keep you posted. If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricia Pemberton

Press Secretary

House Republican Caucus

Oklahoma House of Representatives

Office: (405) 962-7623

Cell:    (405) 431.0460

tricia.pemberton@okhouse.gov

 

www.okhouse.gov/media

 

    

 

NOTICE: The information in this email is confidential, legally privileged, and exempt from disclosure under law. It is intended solely for the addressee. Access to this email by anyone else is unauthorized. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution or any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on it, is prohibited and unlawful. The Oklahoma House of Reps does not warrant any e-mail transmission received as being virus free, and disclaims any liability for losses or damages arising from the use of this e-mail or its attachments. Recipients of e-mail assume the risk of possible computer virus exposure by opening or utilizing the e-mail and its attachments, and waive any right or recourse against the House by doing so.

Add your reaction Share