House Schedules Interim Studies

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Each year during the interim between legislative sessions, each chamber of the state Legislature holds interim studies. These give lawmakers an opportunity for an in-depth look at ideas that may become future legislation or to examine areas where current law may need to be changed.

The interim study period is one of the most important parts of the legislative process. The ability to meet, gather data and question experts on matters important to Oklahomans is invaluable. This year, because of continuing renovation at the Capitol and because of health protocols, our meeting space is somewhat limited, but the 74 meetings approved will be livestreamed for those who want to watch meetings online. Any material presented at the meetings also will be archived and available on our House Website.

Studies will start the week of Aug. 10 and run through Oct. 29.

A full list of Interim Studies can be found here: https://www.okhouse.gov/Committees/ShowInterimStudies.aspx.

Meeting times and days as well as specific protocols will be posted on the website under meeting notices as they arescheduled.

Here is a look at some of the studies of importance:

Several studies will focus on practices enacted during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. One will look at the Catastrophic Emergency Powers Act that gave the governor broad power during the early days of the pandemic to respond with state resources. Others will examine the responsibilities and powers of county commissioners and municipal responses during such emergencies.

The House Republican Caucus chair will hold a study examining the lessons the state learned during COVID-19 as well as potential future responses as they relate to protecting vulnerable adults in long-term care facilities.

The House Education Committee chair will hold studies examining regional states compared to Oklahoma’s education response to COVID-19. She also will look at broadband connectivity for Oklahoma public schools. The importance of connectivity was highlighted when schools shut down to slow the spread of the virus. Our students must continue their education so they are fully prepared for the demands of the future.

On the topic of education, my own study will look at improving literacy skills in Oklahoma. This builds on several pieces of legislation I’ve passed in recent years that help address literacy gaps for students who suffer from dyslexia. Ensuring all Oklahoma students can read will help us build a stronger workforce and lead to a brighter future for the entire state.

Our House Appropriations & Budget vice chair will evaluate updating antiquated portions of the state’s tax code.

Several studies will look at transportation issues. One will eye options for cities and towns to secure funding to repair roads and bridges damaged by the energy industry. Another will look into creating the County Enhancement and Development Fund for country roads projects.

Another study will examine current regulations that affect the National Fire Protection Association, and whether some of those can or should be relaxed during times like the recent pandemic. A separate study will look at overlap and proper response procedures for rural fire departments and emergency managers as it relates to connectivity and routing of calls through 911 systems. Two legislators – one a former police officer, the other a former fire fighter – will evaluate the requirements and benefits of building a statewide emergency radio system for state, county, local and tribal authorities.

Options for increasing retirement savings programs for Oklahomans who currently do not have access to such a plan through their employer will be discussed. The focus will be to explore options for increasing access to retirement savings programs to encourage Oklahoman’s secure their financial future. A separate study will look at market analysis for future cost-of-living adjustments for state retirees.

Stolen valor is the subject of another study. This happens when a person who is not a veteran misrepresents themselves to claim tax exemptions or other benefits from the state. It’s quite a big deal to those who sacrificed and served our state and nation in the military. This study will look at the effects of this egregious violation.

Meat inspection has become a hot topic this year with many cattlemen suddenly facing long backlogs in getting meat processed and packaged. Part of the backlog is a lack of meat inspectors in the state. One study will look at potential incentives for local butchers to utilize meat inspectors.

Another study will look at private property laws as they relate to retrieval of hunted animals or cattle or livestock that get onto another person’s property.

These are just a few of the topics that piqued my interest. I’m sure I’ll find more.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please do not hesitate to reach out. I can be reached atMike.Sanders@OKHouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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New 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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Kingfisher, Canadian County Transportation Projects

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This is my third and final update of roads and bridges projects in our House district. This column focuses on those inKingfisher and Canadian counties.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) lists these projects as recently completed in Kingfisher County:

U.S. Highway 81 reconstruction from 5.4 miles north of the Canadian County Line to three miles north. Crews reconstructed the northbound lanes just south of Kingfisher at a cost of $9,110,507.

U.S. 81 over Kingfisher Creek in Kingfisher. Crews replaced this bridge at a cost of $3,689,243.

U.S. 81 starting 800 feet south of County Road 860 and extending north 0.3 miles. Crews added turn lanes at a cost of $646,468.

Recently completed in Canadian County:

State Highway 3 bridge rehabilitation project over U.S.-81 at a cost of $2,753,373

S.H. 3 pavement resurfacing beginning at State Highway 4 extending west to 0.5 miles west of Gregory Road.

These projects are ongoing:

U.S. 81 at Oklahoma Avenue in Okarche. This joint project between Kingfisher and Canadian counties, the City of Okarche and ODOT will replace the sidewalk along Oklahoma Avenue and replace the driving surface on the avenue as well as update the signal at U.S. 81 at a cost of $1,994,998.

In Kingfisher County:

State Highway 33 and U.S. 81 in Kingfisher. Pavement rehabilitation on S.H. 33 from the U.S. 81 Junction 0.4 miles east to Second Street, and on U.S. 81 from the S.H. 33 junction two blocks south. Crews are replacing the existing concrete pavement at a cost of $1,324,317.

S.H. 33 from the Logan County line extending west five Miles. ODOT is purchasing the right-of-way on S.H. 33 for an upcoming shoulder-widening project at a cost of $2,036,000. Crews also are relocating utilities on this same stretch at a cost of $2,622,283.

U.S. 81 northbound bridge over the Cimarron River. Crews are repainting the bridge beams at a cost of $618,993.

In Canadian County:

West Overholser bike route and sidewalk project will cost $377,071.

S.H. 3 pavement resurfacing from 4.75 miles east of the U.S. 81 junction extending east 3.26 miles at a cost of $2,622,283

Future work in Kingfisher County includes these projects in Fiscal Year 2021, which started July 1.

S.H. 33 from 0.56 Miles east of the U.S. 81 junction extending east 9.4 Miles. ODOT is purchasing the right-of-way on S.H. 33 for an upcoming shoulder-widening project at a cost of $4,295,100.

S.H. 33 from Second Street to the U.S. 81/S.H. 33 junction and south two blocks to Don Blanding Avenue. This will add or update sidewalks to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act at a cost of $119,217.

State Highway 51 from U.S. 81 in Hennessey east 7.53 miles. This project will widen shoulders, resurface pavement and include the bridge box extension and replacement over Camp Creek at a cost of $14,564,200.

Additional projects on S.H. 33 and 51 and U.S. 81 are planned through Fiscal Year 2027.

Future work in Canadian County includes the following projects for FY21:

S.H. 3 pavement resurfacing from the Canadian/Kingfisher County line to Radio Road at a cost of $7.5 million.

U.S. 81 pavement resurfacing from 0.15 miles north of Memorial Road, north to S.H. 3 at a cost of $5,787,754.

U.S. 81 bridge rehabilitation northbound over the Canadian River at a cost of $4,347,540.

U.S. Highway 281 spur pavement resurfacing from the U.S. 281 junction, southeast 4.21 miles at a cost of $1,070,030.

Projects on U.S. Highway 270 bridges over 6 Mile Creek and Unnamed Creek are set for FY22 and FY26.

Over the last 12 years, almost $59.6 million has been invested on transportation projects in Kingfisher County and almost $32.4 million in Canadian County.

Transportation has always been a priority for me as a state lawmaker. Keeping our roadways safe for our families and open for commerce is a core function of state government. I worked hard during my service in the state Legislature to secure as much funding for roads and bridges projects in our district as I could. I’m proud of the $343.5 million spent over the past 12 years in House District 59. It’s been an honor to work with the dedicated leadership and crews at ODOT and in our counties

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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Woodward County Transportation Projects

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Every summer, I give a detailed update of roads and bridges projects in our House district broken down by county. This column focuses on those in Woodward County.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation lists this project as complete:

State Highway 15 located 6.4 miles east of the State Highway 46 junction and extending 4.4 miles northeast. Crews widened, resurfaced, and repaired the bridge that overlaps both Ellis and Woodward counties to include the town of Fargo at a cost of approximately $7.5 million.

These projects as ongoing:

Crews are nearing completion on a U.S. Highway 270 project that begins approximately 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. ODOT hopes to have this project completed by late fall or early winter.

The final section of U.S. Highway 270 in Division 6 also has been awarded. This is a milestone for the division as it completes the four-lane section of U.S. 270 from Woodward to Seiling. This portion of the project begins approximately 14.7 miles southeast of State Highway 50 and extends 4.3 miles southeast to the Woodward/Dewey County line. The grade, drain, bridge and surface project adds two new lanes and rehabilitates the existing lanes to accomplish a four-lane divided highway at an estimated cost of $21.5 million. The total cost of the overall projects, which began in 2003, is about $93 million.

Construction also is nearing completion on the 34th Street project in Woodward. This is a grade, drain, bridge and surface project beginning at U.S. Highway 412, extending south 2.07 miles. The cost is approximately $8.6 million and is a joint venture between ODOT and the City of Woodward. Work is expected to be complete by late summer.

The final ongoing project is an asphalt resurface on U.S. Highway 412 beginning 1.08 miles east of U.S. Highway 183 in Woodward and extending approximately 8 miles east. The cost of this project is $4.8 million. It should be complete by late summer.

Future work includes:

A Bridge replacement on State Highway 34 just north of Woodward over the North Canadian River. It is scheduled for 2021 at an estimated cost of $5.3 million.

ODOT currently is planning a bridge rehabilitation project on U.S. Highway 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. Highway 183 junction. This project will consist of replacing the bridge deck on both the east- and westbound lanes and will require a crossover where traffic will be moved to both the east- and westbound lanes while the deck is being replaced. This project currently is planned for 2021.

A resurfacing project on State Highway 34 in Woodward County begins at the U.S. Highway 270 junction and extends 7.9 miles south to near Sharon. Work is scheduled for 2022 at an estimated cost of $1.5 million.

Another project to widen, resurface and bridge State Highway 34 in Woodward County begins at the U.S. Highway 60 junction in Vici and extends approximately 8 miles north. The project is scheduled to let in 2027 at an estimated cost $15 million.

The final upcoming project is on State Highway-34 beginning at the junction of U.S. Highway 412 in Woodward and extending 0.8 miles north. This project is a grade, drain and surface and is scheduled for 2025 at an estimated cost of $4.0 million.

Over the last 12 years, approximately $108.5 million has been invested on transportation projects in Woodward County.

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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Celebrating our Nation’s Independence

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The Fourth of July is a day packed with emotion for me as it celebrates the founding of our nation and the ideals upon which it was founded: liberty, freedom, justice, fair representation and so much more. This emotion – shared by the entire nation – spills out into expressions of celebration such as parades, patriotism, picnics, fireworks, gatherings of friends and family and so much more. You witness the most outlandish displays of red, white and blue on this day, and I enjoy every bit of it.

For on this day the final wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress of the original 13 colonies of the United States of America. With this document, the legal separation of the colonies from Great Britain occurred and the new nation officially was formed.

What’s astounding to me is that the final version of the Declaration of Independence was prepared by what is known as the Committee of Five – five members of Congress who drafted and presented to the full Congress the document that would become America’s greatest announcement of independence from tyranny.

Just five men: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston worked on the final draft. The last two are barely remembered by anyone other than historians, and yet they helped accomplish this incredible task.

After serving in the state Legislature for 12 years among 101 members of the House of Representatives, 48 Senators and one executive, I know the rigors of getting legislation passed. It takes writing and rewriting, discussing and debating, amending and and adjusting. It’s a monumental task to get all parties to agree. And yet not one of these pieces of legislation, while well intentioned and helpful to our citizenry, will never achieve the status of this one document drafted by merely five men.

That just goes to show you the value of the few. Never take for granted that your one voice combined with just a few associates can make a vast difference for generations to come. A literal handful of men shaped the destiny of our nation for centuries, and I hope much longer.

On this July 4, I hope each of you take a moment to pause and reflect on the true greatness of our nation and to thank God for our unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As the Declaration of Independence proclaims, we will continue to assert our right to be free and independent, and as free and independent states, we still have “full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and all other things which independent states may of right do.

As the signers of this incredible document promised, let us likewise resolve: “for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Happy Fourth of July!

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Session Overview, Part II

By Rep. Mike Sanders

In my last column, I discussed some of the major pieces of legislation passed this year. This week, I’m writing about a few additional measures that are now law.

Senate Bill 801 changes the relationship of physicians to Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) from supervisory to collaborative. This issue is particularly important to rural Oklahoma as it increases our access to quality health care in areas where physicians are not always in ready supply. CRNAs point to their years of schooling and licensing requirements as proof they can take care of all but the most severe medical cases. This opens the way for faster and more affordable care for rural residents, while still ensuring patient safety. This is supported by the Oklahoma Association of Nurse Anesthetists (OANA), the Oklahoma Society of Anesthesiologists (OSA), the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA), and the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association (OOA).

Another measure, House Bill 3400, requires all Oklahoma public high schools to offer at least four Advanced Placement (AP) courses beginning in the 2024-25 school year. AP courses are proven to better prepare students for college, and even helps them earn college credit, saving them time and money on tuition. This law allows schools to offer the coursework through traditional teaching, through online instruction or by cooperative agreement with other schools. This is one more step in having a more skilled and trained workforce to add jobs to Oklahoma’s economy.

Two bills the Legislature had to enact by overriding the governor’s veto – House Bill 4018 and Senate Bill 1002 – allow us to establish a rural broadband expansion plan and add two members to the Rural Broadband Expansion Council, one appointed by the speaker of the House and one by the president pro tem of the Senate. This will ensure the people directly elected to represent Oklahomans have a voice in the process of broadband expansion. It was discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic that about 1/3 of public school students have no access to Internet. This posed a problem when schools were shut down and students were asked to do their work at home. This also affected adults who were asked to work from home, and it hampered business owners trying to deliver products and services. Building a reliable broadband network that reaches all parts of our states will help ensure everyone who wants access to the Internet can have it. This also will help us attract job creators and is another thing that will help build our state’s economy.

We also increased the penalty for porch pirates – those who steal packages or mail from homes, businesses or delivery vehicles. This has become more of a problem as people have moved to having many products delivered to their homes or businesses, especially during times such as the recent pandemic. House Bill 2777 ensures those who commit theft of these packages would face a misdemeanor for first and second offenses and a felony for three or more offenses. The goal is to thwart such theft.

Senate Bill 1125 directs the State Board of Education to issue Oklahoma teaching certificates to people who hold valid out-of-state teaching certificates, with no other requirements except a criminal history record check. This removes a barrier of having to get relicensed or recertified for these qualified teaching professionals who choose to relocate to Oklahoma to take the jobs that are open in many of our rural school districts. This is a win-win for our schools and our state. Our schools get more certified teachers, and the state builds its ranks of workers who contribute back to our economy.

Oklahoma has had a law on the books for years that required anyone submitting an absentee ballot in an election to have it notarized. The Oklahoma Supreme Court earlier this year struck that requirement down, not because the notarization process itself was deemed illegal, just that the requirement relied on the wrong section of law. We came back in and fixed that with the caveat that for the June 30 statewide election voters could submit a photocopy of their ID instead of having to have their absentee ballot notarized. After the June 30 election, the law will again require notarization. This helps keep our elections free of fraud, and protects this important right.

Just a reminder that I am still in office until mid-November, so if there is anything I can help you with, please reach out to me. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Session Overview, Part I

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The second session of the 57th Legislature ended Friday, May 22. Technically, we are recessed until sine die is official at 5 p.m. May 29. Unless something unforeseen occurs – and this year, it could – we have completed our work.

We started the year with more than 3,000 pieces of legislation filed. We ended with only 167 measures becoming law. This is less than half the number of measures enacted in a normal year. For those who think we have too many laws on the books, this is a good thing.

We did pass a few measures, however, that bear noting.

One is the Unborn Persons and Wrongful Death Act. This holds physicians liable for the wrongful death of an unborn child if it is proven that they acted fraudulently to coerce the mother to have an abortion or if they did not properly disclose the harm that can be done to the woman. Thousands of women have signed affidavits saying they were coerced into having an abortion or they were given an abortion against their will when they thought they were only going in for a routine exam. Others say they were irreparably harmed during the procedure. This bill gives these women a way to fight back against a multi-billion dollar industry that cares nothing for their health or safety, much less that of their unborn child, but only seeks to profit off of this murderous practice.

Another bill signed into law this year would prohibit the state, cities, counties or any political subdivision from enacting red flag laws. These laws, which are starting to gain a foothold in other states, seek to take firearms from people that others deem “might” pose a danger to themselves or others but who have committed no crime. This practice poses a threat to all citizens’ Second Amendment rights. We already have background checks and age restrictions in place for those who seek to own firearms. Those are sufficient.

Also this year, we were able to get a cost-of-living adjustment for state retirees across the finish line. The House has passed a COLA the past two years, but the Senate failed to vote on it until this year. The governor, thankfully, signed it into law. So, retired teachers, firefighters, police and other law enforcement, state employees and judges and justices will receive between a 2% COLA if they’ve been receiving benefits for two to five years and a 4% COLA if they’ve received benefits for five years or more. This is welcome news for retirees who’ve seen health insurance premiums and costs for other living expenses rise in the 12 years since the last COLA.

Legislation that strengthens Oklahoma’s support of Israel as one of the state’s top trade partners and the nation’s greatest ally in the Middle East also was signed into law this year. The measure specifies that unless exempted by the secretary of state, the state of Oklahoma will not enter into contracts with companies that advocate boycotts, divestments or sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The state also will not adopt a procurement, investment or other policy that has the effect of inducing or requiring a person to boycott the government of Israel or those doing business in or with Israel or territories under its jurisdiction. There are people and nations that would like to see Israel cease to exist as a nation and who also would like to wipe out the Jewish people altogether; they use the BDS movement to help accomplish their goals. This legislation puts a stop to that.  

In addition to the measures the governor signed into law, he vetoed 12 House bills and six Senate bills, including the overall state budget and three appropriations’ bills that supported the budget. The Legislature came back and overrode 10 of those vetoes. This was necessary to ensure we have a budget that minimally and not drastically cuts state services, and to ensure several policy measures protect our constituents.

Just a reminder that I am still in office until mid-November, so if there is anything I can help you with, please reach out to me. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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FY21 Budget Details

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House in early May passed a $7.7 billion general appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2021. The governor first vetoed three of the appropriations bills that supported the budget. When those bills got overridden with votes in the House of 97-3, 95-5 and 94-4, he vetoed the entire budget. In what was perhaps the fastest veto override in state history, the House overrode his veto within hours of it being filed. The budget is now law.

Frankly, the governor’s assessment of this budget was just inaccurate.

Senate Bill 1922 is $237.8 million, or 3%, less than the FY20 budget, which was the largest in state history. It is much improved over the $1.4 billion, or 17%, cut the governor and the state Board of Equalization estimated would be necessary in late April. The Legislature arrived at this budget by utilizing several creative, fiscally conservative and innovative measures – including using some state savings and money in agency revolving funds, utilizing apportionment reforms and issuing transportation bonds. This holds cuts to about 4% for most agencies and 2.5% for education. With the use of federal money, education actually will see an increase for the year, and those relief funds could help offset cuts at other agencies as well.

This budget is one that protects core services of government without raising taxes. If our revenue picture is actually better than the executive branch predicts or improves quickly, some of these cuts could be offset at mid-year.

I want to delve into a few specifics of this budget. First, for education. If the governor’s vetoes had stood, education could have been cut 12.5%. Our budget cuts only 2.5%, or $78.2 million, cut from common education’s $3 billion appropriation, and still protects public schools, where we increased funding by $650 million over the last three years. Nor will this cut affect the $7,300 teacher pay raises enacted over the last two years. Public schools are receiving $200 million in federal stimulus funds that can be used on any COVID-related expense. This could include technology purchases for distance learning and other instructional practices changed as a result of the pandemic. Lawmakers will continue to pursue greater flexibility over these and other federal funds in the coming months, but for now school boards will be able to code for a number of COVID-related expenses.

As to the Legislature’s temporary reduction in the additional amount appropriated to state pension funds, let me answer a few questions I’ve heard. The Legislature is not taking money from the pension funds as has been inaccurately said by the governor and some who have reported his words. The Legislature is still sending more than $200 million in additional money to the funds on top of employee and employer contributions, which remain the same. We just are not sending as much money as we have the past. The additional money was initially needed to build the plans’ fiscal solvency from years when the plans were not performing as well as they are now. Benefits this year are unchanged. In fact, the House has passed a COLA that would increase benefits should it pass the Senate and be signed into law by the governor. We are not touching the corpus of the funds. Again, no withdrawals are being made from these funds. This budget instead temporarily redirects $111.9 million to education, and that amount will be put back into the pensions with an increase when the state revenue picture improves.

I am proud to say that the FY21 budget increases transportation funding to by about $4 million. We moved some transportation money to education but offset that with bonding some roads projects. The transportation secretary told us at the time we presented this to him that this actually preserves transportation’s eight-year plan and does not harm it.

This budget also holds the Oklahoma Health Care Authority budget flat at a little over $1 billion. Other areas of health care do see some reductions, but mostly in the form of one-time expenses.

This year’s budget is far better than many expected when we first heard the revenue projections resulting from COVID-19 and the global trade war that dramatically dropped the price of oil and gas. Just as many Oklahomans are having to do right now, the state had to tighten its belt. That we were able to do so while keeping cuts to state services to a minimum is a relief. This budget prioritizes education, but also protects things such as the state’s eight-year transportation plan and the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges fund. It protects many services for rural residents, something I fought hard for. We’ve also planned for FY22 by leaving some money in savings that can be used if we need it. We have every reason to believe the Oklahoma economy will rebound, but we are prepared if that recovery is slow. Because we built our reserve funds in good years and were prudent in our expenses, Oklahoma is in much better shape than many states that are projecting double-digit reductions. We’ve been here before, and we’ve survived. We will survive this time as well.

Please remember, I’m here for you if you need anything. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Sanders, Bice Dyslexia Screening Bill Signed by Governor

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill requiring dyslexia screening for early elementary students not reading on grade level was signed into law by the governor Tuesday.

House Bill 2804, authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, requires screening for dyslexia for students in kindergarten through third grade who are not reading on grade level beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

“I’m thankful to the governor for signing this legislation that will be life-changing for these children,” Sanders said. “Too many of our children with dyslexia have been left behind in learning, and getting them the help they need is as simple as properly identifying this disorder. When these kids catch up with their peers in reading and other subjects it not only leads to a happier school experience but a better life.”

Bice said the issue was personal because her godson was dyslexic. She thanked the governor and fellow legislators for supporting the legislation.

“With proper screening, we can get dyslexic children the help they need to become stronger readers, giving them the tools to be successful in school and in life,” said Bice. “This is going to make a positive difference in the education outcomes of countless Oklahoma children.”

HB 2804 requires the State Board of Education to develop policies for dyslexia screening, and to adopt a list of approved qualified dyslexia screening tools. The bill also requires school districts to provide the State Department of Education with data about dyslexia, including the number of students screened for dyslexia each year, the number of students identified, and the process used to evaluate students.

“Our student advocates have given a face to dyslexia in Oklahoma. They have struggled to learn to read, but have been determined not to see others have the same fate. As their parents and educators, we have advocated for HB2804. Alongside the State Department of Education, the Dyslexia and Education Task Force, and members of the Legislature, we have worked to improve reading outcomes for struggling readers, including students with dyslexia,” said Michelle Keiper and Tiffany Jenkins of Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma.  “Change in education is never easy, but OSDE is providing the leadership needed in the Reading Sufficiency and Special Education departments.  Together we are making great improvements in Oklahoma.”

Last year, Sanders secured passage of House Bill 1228, which provides professional development for teachers across Oklahoma to help them better recognize signs of dyslexia in their students. Adding screening through HB 2804 was the logical next step, he said.

Sanders also authored legislation this year to add the Dyslexia Handbook to the list of tools available to teachers, parents and school administrators at no cost through the State Department of Education. Sanders said all of the legislation was a recommendation by the Dyslexia and Education Task Force and the SDE as well as Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma. All of the bills represent several years’ worth of work on this issue.

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DUI Victims’ Impact Panel Bill Signed by Governor

OKLAHOMA CITY – The governor on Tuesday signed into law a bill that strengthens the role of victims’ impact panels in helping to stop driving under the influence (DUI) offenses in Oklahoma and will help reduce the number of repeat offenders.

House Bill 2877, by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, was a request by victims’ impact panel programs currently operating in Oklahoma. It follows up on successful DUI legislation Sanders has passed in 2016 that strengthened prosecution of repeat drunk drivers by creating the Impaired Driving Elimination Act, moving all DUI cases to a court of record, ensuring district attorneys statewide would have access to records of DUI offenses. 

“I’ve fought much of my legislative career to curb the horrible crime of driving under the influence, which leaves death and devastation in its wake,” Sanders said. “This law ensures that those offenders who commit this crime will now have to face their victims or even worse the family members of those victims who were killed as a result of their actions,” Sanders said. “This strategy has proven to be 90 percent effective in our state, and it will save lives.”

Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, is the Vice Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Senate author of HB 2877.

“This is an important measure that is going to make Oklahoma roads safer and save lives.  We have too many cases of repeat DUI offenders and we’ve got to stop that,” Paxton said.  “House Bill 2877 will also make sure that Oklahoma’s impact panels are legitimate and following all necessary rules and regulations.  I want to thank my legislative colleagues for supporting and Governor Stitt for signing this important public safety measure into law.”

The legislation accomplishes three things:

First, it puts teeth in the enforcement of current statutory requirements for operating a victims’ impact panel. The District Attorney’s Council now will collect information and certify the panels by ensuring they meet all statutory requirements and operate properly. 

Second, the bill ensures that all defendants are being sent to a victim’s impact panel and standardizes the sentencing requirements statewide.

The bill also makes the fee for a victim/offender reconciliation program and Victims’ Impact Panel program a flat $75 instead of the sliding scale that now exists across the state.

Sanders said victims’ impact panels have to pay a $1,000 filing fee and the fee helps offset that and the cost of services provided. Equalizing the fee throughout the state ensures residents in rural areas will have access to such panels without having to make a long drive to attend.

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