Welcome to a New School Year

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I want to welcome students, teachers, staff and administrators, both in our public and private schools, back to a new school year.

It’s an exciting and a perhaps a bit of a nervous time of year as young people anticipate entering new classrooms, with the challenge of learning new information and acquiring new skills. They no doubt will be happy to reconnect with old friends but will be making some new acquaintances as well. They’ll be getting to know new teachers and new routines. They might need a little extra grace and rest as they get back into the swing of things.

Parents likely will be breathing a happy sigh of relief that a long summer has come to an end. Before long, though, the school fundraisers, the sports schedules, the homework and the constant buzz of activity that surrounds the school year will help dull that feeling of euphoria. Be prepared.

This should be a great year for our students, teachers and administrators. Last year, the Legislature voted in the second pay raise in a row for our teachers. This is hoped to help curb the teacher shortage and encourage new recruits to this field. It’s proven that a highly qualified teacher is one of the top factors in student success. I certainly appreciate the great teachers we have in our House District, and I want to encourage others to consider this profession.

The Legislature also gave more money to the school funding formula this year to aid in the support of our classrooms and for other needs decided by our local school boards. And, we fully funding the Reading Sufficiency Act to help students who struggle with reading.

While teachers are certainly key to a child’s success, parents play an even greater role. Teaching your child to enjoy learning at home at an early age is of great importance. A love of learning can be fostered through keeping a good supply of age-appropriate books and learning games on hand; taking time to sit down with your child in the evening to talk about what they learned during the school day; ensuring they understand their homework and class assignments. Be available to your child if they have questions or concerns. Remember, what may seem like a small issue to you may seem very large your child’s mind. Having a parent reassure them goes a long way towards building a child’s confidence.

Please also take the time to get to know your child’s teachers and the administrators at your child’s school. Look over the books and materials your child will be using this school year. If you have concerns, first approach your child’s teacher.

Seek ways you can help in your child’s schools. Maybe they need a hand in the library or the lunchroom. Maybe they need some extra supplies in your child’s classroom. Stay involved in athletics, art, band or other activities in which your child is involved.

Keep an eye out for school zones and buses. Safety on our roadways is critical during the school year to keep our young lives safe.

Finally, have some fun. School can be one of the great joys in life. In addition to all that is learned, it can be a time of creating great memories. Have a blessed and safe school year.

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

 

 

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Capitol Restoration Update

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Anyone trying to visit the Capitol this summer has figured out lawmakers are temporarily displaced from their offices while construction crews work on the House side of the overall Capitol Reconstruction Project. For the interim, we are in offices at the State Department of Agriculture.

About 60 percent of the Capitol is under construction with more than 300 construction workers on site daily.

The top-to-bottom Capitol Restoration Project started in 2015 after the state Legislature voted and then-Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law measures to provide funding for the project. The projected budget for the restoration at this moment is $248.4 million. The Legislature authorized bonds totaling $245 million, but the premium on the bonds has been earning interest that can also be used on the project, and the last bond issue has not gone for bid yet, so the total could increase. The entire restoration is due for completion by 2022.

The Oklahoma Capitol is home to all three branches of state government and vast collections of priceless state art. In addition to lawmaking, the Capitol is used by many groups and individuals for events, meetings, even weddings. It is also one of the most visited sites in the state.

The structure was built between 1914 and 1917. After a century of heavy use, harsh Oklahoma weather and inconsistent maintenance and preservation efforts, the building’s mechanical systems were failing and its exterior façade was crumbling, so it was necessary to undertake restoration.

Oklahomans deserve a beautiful People’s House to visit, to showcase to out-of-state visitors and where the business of state government is conducted. That being said, it is important we ensure this work is done with the utmost efficiency and as cost-effectively as possible. I have worked diligently as a lawmaker to ensure this.

Crews have been working year-round at the Capitol to complete this project, but work slows during the legislative sessions when lawmakers, their staffs and many visitors fill the Capitol during the week. During the interims, crews increase the pace of their work and actually take over many of the spaces devoted to lawmakers, such as offices, the legislative chambers and the rotundas.

This interim, crews are working on the House – or the west side – of the Capitol, reconfiguring and updating offices, the House chamber and the rotundas on the first, second and fourth floors. Construction crews also are redoing the governor’s and the lieutenant governor’s office suites as well as some offices on the Senate side, the courtroom where the Supreme Court formerly heard cases, the treasurer’s office suite and the roof.

Crews are updating plumbing, adding air conditioning to the rotundas, repairing the east tunnel, removing asbestos and lead paint, and adding fire sprinklers throughout the building. They also are adding touchscreen monitors throughout the building to help visitors navigate through the building.

The Capitol visitor’s center in May was moved from the first floor on the south side of the Capitol to its permanent location on the ground floor on the east side. Eventually, a new visitors entrance will open on the southeast corner of the Capitol routing visitors into this new ground-floor area.

In early June, crews closed off the Capitol rotundas and erected scaffolding to begin the work of repairing and painting the historic plaster walls and ornamental features. Additionally, they are repairing and polishing the marble floors and marble wall bases in these areas. The second-floor rotunda will be completed and open in time for the opening day of the 2020 legislative session. The fourth-floor rotunda is scheduled to be complete in November 2020. The first-floor rotunda will be complete in December 2020.

Visitors to the Capitol this summer may be disappointed they aren’t getting to see the artwork or many of the features of the Peoples’ House, but they can at least view the construction through windows placed into the temporary construction walls.

This work has caused quite a bit of inconvenience to myself and other lawmakers as well as visitors this summer, but I’m trusting the finished product will be worth it.

I can’t wait until my office is done and you can once again visit me at the Capitol. Until then, if I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 ormike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Flooding Disaster Funding Available

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Sanders was notified today that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Oklahoma is offering special Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding for “Cover Crop” for landowners impacted by recent flooding.

Extensive rainfall in many Oklahoma river bottoms and their tributaries has caused unprecedented destruction in many areas of Oklahoma. Some of the key impacts to cropland resulting from the flooding include sand deposition and scouring. Cover Crop’s purpose is to reduce erosion, increase soil organic matter, capture and recycle nutrients in the soil profile, increase biodiversity, suppress weeds, manage soil moisture and minimize or reduce soil compaction.

The application deadline is July 12, 2019 for those affected in Blaine and Canadian counties.

“I wanted those affected by recent storms to know some of the relief and aid at their disposal,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “Our local emergency officials are of course assisting, but these federal resources may be of some help as well.”

The purpose of this initiative is to offer EQIP funding on Cropland only for “Cover Crop” establishment to landowners who have been and continue to be impacted by this natural disaster. Producers should consider the impact this might have on crop insurance eligibility. Farm Service Agency Prevented Planting guidelines must also be considered if applicable.

If you are in an eligible county and seeking more information about this “Cover Crop” program, please contact your local NRCS office for assistance. NRCS offices and staff are located and available in every county in Oklahoma.

Those in Blaine County should contact the Watonga Field Service Center, 221 E. Main, Watonga, OK 73772-3832; Telephone: 580-623-8501; FAX: 580-623-8503. Those in Canadian County should contact the El Reno Field Service Center, 1625 E. Hwy. 66, El Reno, OK 73036-5769; Telephone: 405-262-1958; FAX: 405-422-2066.

In addition to this latest news, Kingfisher county also was recently added to the list of counties approved for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Canadian County was already on the list.

The designation makes available federal assistance for housing repairs or temporary housing, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest loans for individuals and businesses to repair or replace damaged property, disaster unemployment assistance, and grants for serious needs and necessary disaster expenses not met by other programs.

To apply for disaster assistance individuals and business owners may call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or go online at www.disasterassistance.gov. FEMA will also have Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams on site in the declared counties listed above to help people register for FEMA aid.

Gov. Stitt said the state will continue to request additional counties be added to the Individual Assistance Major Disaster Declaration as damage assessments of impacted homes and businesses are completed.

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Woodward County Transportation Projects

By Rep. Mike Sanders

In my previous column, I gave an update of Oklahoma Department ofTransportation roads and bridges projects in Blaine and Dewey Counties. In this one, I detail projects in Woodward and Woodward County. This is an annual update I like to provide district residents so they know areas of road construction and also can see how their transportation dollars are spent.

The next section of U.S. Highway 270 has been awarded. It begins 10.5 miles southeast of State Highway 50 and extends 3.7 miles southeast. This is a grade, drain, bridge and surface project adding two new lanes and rehabilitating the existing lanes to accomplish a four-lane divided highway at a cost of approximately $12.3 million. Construction has just begun and is expected to be completed by fall of 2020.

The final section of U.S. 270 in Woodward County is scheduled to be let to bid in November. It begins approximately 14.7 miles southeast of State Highway 50 and extends 4.3 miles southeast to the Woodward / Dewey County line. This is a grade, drain, bridge and surface project adding two new lanes and rehabilitating the existing lanes to accomplish a four-lane divided highway at an estimated cost of $21.5 million.

Construction has begun to improve 34th Street in Woodward. This project is a grade, drain, bridge and surface project beginning at U.S. 412 extending south 2.07 miles. The project is estimated to take 365 days at a cost of approximately $8.6 million. This project is a joint venture between ODOT and the City of Woodward. Completion is anticipated by spring of 2020.

Construction also has begun on State Highway 15 located 6.4 miles east of the State Highway 46 Junction and extending 4.4 miles northeast. This project is a widen, resurface, and bridge that overlaps both Ellis and Woodward County to include the town of Fargo. The cost of the project is approximately $7.5 million and is expected to be complete by the spring of 2020. 

The bridge construction is completed on State Highway 34 over the North Canadian River, located 1.2 miles north of U.S. 183. The cost of the project is approximately $705,000.

Also completed on State Highway 34 is a project that included the bridge and approach over Indian Creek approximately 2.3 miles south of U.S. 270 at an approximate cost of $2.1 million.

A third completed project on State Highway 34 consists of two bridges and approaches over north and south Persimmon Creek located 4.9 miles and 7.6 miles north of the Dewey County line is complete as well. The combined cost of these two bridges was approximately $5.7 million.

ODOT currently is planning a bridge rehabilitation project on U.S. 270 over the Unnamed Creek in the town of Woodward. The bridge is 0.4 miles east of the State Highway 15 and U.S. 183 junction. This project will consist of replacing the bridge deck on both the east and west bound lanes. This will require a crossover where traffic will be moved to both the east and west bound lanes while the deck is being replaced. This project is currently planned for 2021.

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

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Kingfisher, Canadian County Transportation Projects

By Rep. Mike Sanders

In previous columns, I gave updates of Oklahoma Department of Transportation(ODOT) roads and bridges projects in Blaine, Dewey and Woodward counties. I’m wrapping up this week with an update on projects in Kingfisher and Canadian counties. I provide this annual update so district residents know areas of road construction and also can see how their tax dollars are being used to keep our roads and bridges in good order.

There are three projects currently under construction in these counties.

On U.S. Highway 81 in Kingfisher, contractors are paving the northbound lanes. When that is completed, they will diamond grind the southbound lanes. The projectcost is $8.6 million and is estimated to be complete by the end of August or early September. Springs rains pushed back this project, but crews have been working Sundays to make up time. I appreciate everyone’s patience as they work to complete this section of the highway.

On State Highway 3/Northwest Expressway from Piedmont Road west six miles, crews are milling 5 inches of the existing pavement and replacing it with asphalt. This Rich Intermediate Layer is designed to be flexible and bridge over the transverse cracks currently in the roadway so motorists will enjoy a much smoother ride. The result will be fantastic. The project cost is $4.2 million.

A bridge rehabilitation project on State Highway 3 over U.S. 81 south of Okarche will remove and replace the decks of the east and westbound bridges at a cost of $2.6 million. The contractor recently started on this project and has a contract time of 180 days. Swallows nesting on the bridge caused a change in the phasing of theproject and caused a small delay, but crews have come up with a plan to limit the delay.

Projects awarded by ODOT in June include:

  • Pavement rehabilitation on U.S. Highway 81 from Sheridan Avenue extending north and on State Highway 33 from U.S. 81 extending east in the city ofKingfisher – a total of 1.1 miles at a cost of $1.3 million.
  • Grade, surface, traffic signal and sidewalks on Oklahoma Avenue in Okarche, from the U.S. Highway 81 junction extending east through town for less than a mile at a cost of $1.9 million.

ODOT lists the following projects as active from the Fiscal Year 2019 budget:

  • Pavement rehabilitation on State Highway 33 in Kingfisher from the U.S. 81 junction 0.4 miles east to Second Street and on U.S. 81 from State Highway 33 two blocks south at a cost of $1.3 million.

From the FY2020 budget in Kingfisher County:

  • Resurfacing on State Highway 3 approximately 4.75 miles east of the U.S. 81 junction, extending east approximately 3.26 miles at a cost of $2.6 million.
  • Utilities work on State Highway 33 from the Logan County line extending west 5 miles for a cost of $2.6 million. This is preparation for adding shoulders to this narrow two-line highway in the future.
  • Grading, draining, bridge and surface work on State Highway 51 from U.S. 81 in Hennessey east 7.53 miles including bridge extensions over Camp Creek at a cost of $14.1 million.
  • Bridge painting on U.S. 81 northbound over the Cimarron at a cost of $1.6 million.

From the FY2020 budget in Canadian County:

  • Bridge rehabilitation on State Highway 66 west and eastbound over Shell Creek approximately 8.2 east of U.S. 81 at a cost of $3.5 million.
  • Right of way and utilities on U.S. 81 at the intersection of State Highway 66 in El Reno at a cost of $515,000 and $125,000 respectively.
  • Bridge rehabilitation on U.S. 81 northbound over the Canadian River approximately 2.2 miles north of State Highway 66 at a cost of $2.2 million.

From the FY2021 budget in Canadian County:

  • Two resurfacing projects from 4 miles north extending to the U.S. 81 and Interstate 40B junction at a cost of $875,000 for each project.
  • Right of Way, shoulders and resurfacing from State Highway 33 from 0.56 miles east of U.S. 81 east 9.4 miles at a cost of $1.6 million. Utilities on the same section for an additional $1.6 million.
  • A.D.A. compliance projects on State Highway 33 from Second Street to U.S. 81 and south two blocks to Don Blanding Ave. at a cost of $52,000.

From the FY2022 budget in Kingfisher County:

  • Right of way on State Highway 51 from State highway 74 extending west 9.9 miles at a cost of $1.7 million. Utilities work on the same section will cost $824,000. Shoulders will later be added to this narrow roadway.
  • Right of Way and utilities on U.S. 81 from 0.5 miles north of the Canadian County line extending north 4.7 miles at a cost of $109,000 for each project.
  • Bridge rehabilitation on State Highway 3 over U.S. 81 approximately 0.5 miles south of the Kingfisher County line at a cost of $2.7 million.

As most of you know, transportation has been a priority for me since the beginning of my legislative service. Making sure our roads are safe for our people to travel and efficient for the movement of commerce to grow our economy is a bedrock of government. It gives me great pleasure to report our progress in this area.

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

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Blaine and Dewey County Transportation Projects

By Rep. Mike Sanders

It’s that time of year when I give my annual update of roads and bridges projects in our district. This one includes projects in Blaine and Dewey Counties.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation lists these projects as complete:

  • Near Okeene and Hitchcock, three bridges over creeks on State Highway 8 south of State Highway 51. The project contract was $3.6 million, but the contractor received a $188,000 bonus ($4,000 per day) for finishing 47 days ahead of schedule.
  • Bridge work on State Highway 51 over the North Canadian River in Canton. The project contract was $3.4 million, but the contractor finished 30 days ahead of schedule so received a $150,000 bonus ($5,000 per day).
  • In Blaine County on State Highway 58:
    • School zone advance warning signs have been installed in Canton; cost $18,057

The following projects are under construction or considered active:

  • The bridge north of Taloga on U.S. Highway 183 is 99% complete; cost $4 million.
  • South of Seiling, work on U.S. Highway 270 near the junction of State Highway 51 is about 98% complete; cost of $8 million.
  • Also on U.S. 270 at various locations along State Highway 33, asphalt patching is being done; cost $228,000.
  • In Dewey County
    • On State Highway 34: chip and seal beginning south of Camargo, extending south 10.2 miles; cost $291,425. ODOT crews are working on this project and will complete it next week.
    • On U.S. 60:
      • Resurfacing beginning at the Ellis County line, extending east 5.91 miles through Vici to State Highway 34, includes State Highway 34 from U.S. 60, extending north to Woodward County line at a cost of $1.7 million. This job was bid, but bids from a sole bidder came in too high and the project was not awarded. It is expected to be re-let in 2021.

A separate bridge project in Canton on State Highway 51, over U.S. Gypsum Road, 2.4 miles north of the State Highway 51 junction has not started yet. This project was contracted at $880,991 and will take 90 days. Transportation officials said work will not start until after Sept. 1 because of migratory birds in the area.

A resurfacing project was let in June on State Highway 51A at State Highway 51 at Southard, extending north 7.57 miles; cost $2.7 million. Also approved in June is a grade, drain and surfacing project on County Road EW-72 from 2.3 miles east of State Highway 8, extending east near Hitchcock; cost $3.9 million.

Additional projects include:

  • Chip and seal work on State Highway 51
    • At State Highway 51A, extending east 10.5 miles; cost $318.595
    • 3 miles east of State Highway 8, extending east 5.77 miles; cost $188,412
  • Chip and seal work on State Highway 51A
    • 6.82 miles north of State Highway 8A, extending north 3.2 miles; cost $104,824
    • At State Highway 8, extending north 4.3 miles; cost $133,143

Work on different sections of U.S. Highway 270 in Blaine and Dewey counties will be let between this November and 2024. The total for the projects is estimated at $78.4 million. Areas to be worked on are:

  • 0.4 miles southeast of State Highway 51E, extending southeast 4.9 miles – to be let November 2019.
  • 5.4 miles southeast of State Highway 51E, extending southeast 3 miles – to be let November 2020.
  • 8.4 miles southeast of State Highway 51E, extending southeast 5 miles – to be let November 2021.
  • 6.35 miles northwest of State Highway 58, extending southeast 3.25 miles – to be let November 2023.
  • 3.09 miles northwest of State Highway 58, extending southeast 3.93 miles – to be let November 2024.

Work on two sections of State Highway 3 in Blaine County will be let this year and next:

  • In September, 1 mile east of the U.S. 270 junction in Watonga and extend east 4.5 miles; in September 2020, 5.5 miles east of the U.S. 270 junction in Watonga and extend east 6.4 miles to the Kingfisher County line. Estimated cost for both $15.8 million.

Six bridge projects in Blaine and Dewey counties also are scheduled to be let:

  • In August utilities work on State Highway 8 over an unnamed creek 12.4 miles north of State Highway 33 in Watonga; cost $1,000.
  • In November, the State Highway 8 bridge over Salt Creek in Okeene, approximately 7.3 miles south of State Highway 51; estimated cost $2.5 million.
  • In February, the State Highway 58 bridge over Minnehaha Creek in Canton; estimated cost $1.8 million.
  • The State Highway 34 bridge over the Canadian River south of Camargo in June 2021; estimated cost $13.5 million.
  • U.S. 60 bridges over Cottonwood and Kizer Creeks, located 5.7 miles and 9 miles east of State Highway 34 in 2023; estimated cost $3.9 million.
  • U.S. 60 bridges over Camp and Deep Creeks, 5.9 and 2.1 miles west of U.S. 183 in 2025; estimated cost $5 million.

Next week, I will talk about Woodward and Woodward County projects.

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

 

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Independence

By Rep. Mike Sanders

As I consider the United States of America’s 243rd Independence Day, I’m reminded of the reasons the colonists sought independence from Great Britain in the first place.

In the text of the Declaration of Independence is a long list of grievances against the king of the British Empire. “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”

The list continues: swarms of officers sent to harass the people and who eat their substance; taxation without consent; abolishing local laws; suspending Legislatures; waging war against the states, and much more. It’s obvious from its reading that the king, who dwelt far from his subjects, had become so out of touch with their needs and wishes they felt no other recourse than to throw off the bounds of his tyrannical rule that no longer represented the will of the people.

To this day, United States citizens are still fighting for such independence. It’s why we hold frequent elections, why the states and their citizens are constantly checking the power of the federal government. It has been hard to hold our nation together, and yet for 243 years we’ve succeeded. And I have every hope that despite current political rancor we will continue to be one nation under God. Flawed as we sometimes are, the United States of America still has the best government on the planet. And just as the birth of this great nation was celebrated in the beginning, it is worth celebrating today.

John Adams, one of the framers of the Declaration of Independence and a founding father of our nation, would write to his wife, Abigail, that the occasion of the vote for independence “ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

He continued that he was well aware of the “toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration,’ but that the end would prove well worth the means.

It has taken much toil and blood and treasure to maintain our independence from numerous threats. After the Declaration was signed, many of the same men who argued for and signed it would fight in the Revolutionary War. Many would lose their possessions and their lives. Their descendants would fight numerous other battles to keep our nation free. We fight many internal battles today to maintain our unity and our position as a world power. But as Adams predicted, the end has proven well worth the means. We live in liberty and can pass that legacy to our children.

Happy Birthday United States of America. Long may we be independent and free!

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

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Closer Look at New Laws

By Rep. Mike Sanders

In my last column, I gave a rundown of some of the legislation that will become law this year that will positively impact Oklahomans. This week, I want to take a closer look at some of the reforms I authored that were signed into law by the governor.

House Bill 1003 gives a sales tax exemption to the American Legion. This organization has served our state veterans, their families and our youth for more than 100 years. The American Legion in Oklahoma holds clothing drives, feeds homeless veterans, teaches our youth the value of patriotism, and they maintain a focus on national security, among so many other services.

This is legislation I hoped to pass from the moment I got into office, but a national then a state recession made that difficult until this year. It is an honor to get to reward this worthy organization in this manner.

Another bill I authored, House Bill 2051, allows retired paid firefighters to perform serve volunteer departments without it affecting their current retirement benefit and without it counting as an accrued retirement benefit against the state’s pension plan. This is a continuation of legislation I passed several years ago that eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new volunteer firefighters by giving them the ability to join a volunteer fire department without the requirement they be added to the state’s pension plan. 

Our rural residents and businesses depend on the services of volunteer fire departments to keep them safe when facing deadly wildfires and other emergencies. State law, however, formerly prohibited retired firefighters or those over the age of 45 from serving as volunteers without affecting the state’s pension plan. Yet, many have said they are willing to serve without needing the pension. The law previously enacted already has added 300 volunteer firefighters to our ranks. More will be added now.

House Bill 1228, another bill I authored, requires professional development training to help teachers better recognize students with dyslexia. Research shows that with early intervention these students can learn to read and perform other subjects on grade level. This will put them on a trajectory toward academic success and greatly improve their lives.

I worked with the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma working group on this bill. Members of the working group will travel to school districts throughout the state to provide training and materials without cost to the local district. Materials also will be available online.

One other piece of legislation I would like to highlight is House Bill 2632, which I co-authored. This bill will better regulate Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and allow people the freedom to choose their local pharmacies without having to pay higher prices for prescription drugs. This legislation, signed into law by the governor, will allow our small, locally-owned pharmacies the same discounts on drug prices as those enjoyed by larger, corporate owned pharmacies and the same freedom to inform their customers of all of their choices.

In future columns, I will discuss road and bridge projects in House District 59.

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.

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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.

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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.

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