Tourism Opportunities Abound in NW Oklahoma

By Rep. Mike Sanders

In the few weeks before school starts, I thought it might be fun to write about some of the tourism opportunities we have in Northwest Oklahoma. Whether it’s a day hike, some fishing or overnight camping, there are plenty of things to do in our area that don’t involve a great deal of cost or even much travel time.

I know my favorite spots in the Northwest part of the state, but I also sought some suggestions from Leslie Blair at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. She, in turn, gathered some information from the state Department of Tourism & Recreation. Following is a list of our combined ideas.

Roman Nose State Park near Watonga has everything from pristine views of canyons and mesas to wide open fields of buffalo grass and wild blue sage, not to mention the refreshing waters of Lake Watonga. You can hike the trails or fish or boat. You can swim in the pool; rent canoes, kayaks or paddle boats; ride horses or mountain bikes; play golf; camp out or stay in the lodge or a cabin.

Boiling Springs State Park in Woodward is another beautiful place to visit. Of course, the highlight of the park is the natural “boiling” spring that still flows. Visit the interpretive center for more information about the spring and the wildlife on view at the park. Camp, RV or stay in a cabin; hike three different trails; swim in the pool; or just enjoy a picnic for the day.

If you’re looking for something literally cool to do, visit Alabaster Caverns State Park near Freedom. The three-quarter-mile cavern is formed of alabaster, a rare form of gypsum, and is the world’s largest natural gypsum cave that is open to the public. Once inside the cavern, you’ll be able to see the interesting gypsum formations as well as bats that take up residence in the cool dark environment. Guided tours of the cave are conducted daily on the hour, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Groups of three or more can request a permit through Sept. 30 to go wild caving. You’ll need to bring your own gear, including three light sources per spelunker, hard hats or bicycle helmets, long sleeves and water. There are also a few hiking trails at the park.

The Great Salt Plains State Park near Jet is another fun family adventure. Through Oct. 15, you can dig for selenite crystals, or you can watch for many of the migratory birds that use the nearby wildlife refuge as a stopping place. The refuge is comprised of salt left over from an ocean that covered Oklahoma in prehistoric times, and the saltwater lake in the park, Great Salt Plains Lake, is said to be about half as salty as the ocean. Visitors can hike or bike on trails or bring your horses to ride. You can fish at the lake. The cabins also have been newly renovated, and there are tent and RV campsites available if you want to check into staying a night or two.

For additional outings, you could visit the sand dunes at Little Sahara State Park or Beaver Dunes Park near Waynoka, or take in the beauty and the history of the Black Kettle Recreation Area near Cheyenne

Visiting our state parks and taking advantage of the amenities they have to offer is a wonderful way to enjoy our great state. 

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

 

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Welcome Back to a New School Year

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Schools across our district are opening doors to new and returning students over the next several weeks. Some have already started classes; others are busy still enrolling students, hosting parent nights, administering physicals and vaccines and more as children, parents, teachers, administrators and staff gear up for a new school year.

I encourage everyone to be on the lookout for school zones and school buses as you travel so we can keep our kiddos safe. Also, for those of you with children returning to school, please ask your child’s teacher what you can do as a parent to make their lives easier this school year. Teachers working in collaboration with parents equal successful students.

This year, teachers statewide received a pay raise that went into effect Aug. 1. This puts beginning year Oklahoma teachers among the highest pay rates in the region and all teachers at the 12th highest pay in the nation when cost of living is factored. Even teachers who already make above the state minimum salary schedule will get a raise. Raises are based upon years of experience and level of degree.

The two most important people in every school building are the student and the teacher. First, is the student. Our entire future hinges on how well we educate our children. We must ensure that each child that enters our public education system receives the teaching and skills they need to advance to the next grade level and eventually into higher learning and out into the work force. We also must assure that our students become good citizens who are willing to contribute positively to our communities so future generations can continue to enjoy our American way of life.

Aside from a parent, a teacher is often the most influential role model in a child’s life. They are the ones who can instill a love of learning and adapt to the individual needs of each child’s learning style. They are the ones who see the needs of each child and can gather additional resources to help ensure a child’s success in life.

Of course, we also need great leaders in our schools – principals and superintendents who can help foster a positive culture in our schools where teachers are free to achieve their own highest level of success. In addition to more pay, teachers often report that it is the culture of a school and their feeling valued that leads them to either want to stay in the profession or move on to other work.

During my service as state representative, I have met with area educators countless times.  I value their commitment to our children and their work to make our state better.  I strongly believe if we as parents, classroom teachers, administrators and policy makers, all pull on the same end of the rope, we can continue to build on the successes of 2018.  Let’s keep up the good work.

I know I’ll continue to hear from many educators that this raise and the additional money given to education this year is still not enough. I can assure you that when the legislative session starts in February, the state budget will be our first priority, and education will be at the top of the list for state dollars.

In the meantime, have a safe and productive school year!

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Roads and Bridges Update

By Rep. Mike Sanders

It’s the time of year when I like to give an update of roads and bridges projects in House District 59. This gives area residents an idea of what’s coming, so they can plan routes and appropriate drive times.

I fully recognize that roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure needs are endless. As the House majority leader and representative of this district, I will continue to work tirelessly to address our needs.

Transportation is a core service of government and we must and will continue to fund it appropriately. I applaud the Department of Transportation for its 8-year roads and bridges plan. They are careful to plan projects they know can be funded and completed within the time period allotted. 

Following is a list of this year’s projects four our district detailed by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT):

In Blaine County:

  • On State Highway 8, work on the bridges over Spring Creek and other creeks at 1 mile, 10.9 miles and 12.4 miles south of the State Highway 51 junction near Okeene and Hitchcock are estimated to begin Sept. 4 and take 195 days to complete at a cost of $3.6 million.

 

  • On State Highway 51, work on the bridges over the North Canadian River and the overflow at 0.4 miles and 0.6 miles east of the State Highway 58 junction in Canton is set to begin Sept. 4 and take 150 days to complete at a cost of almost $3.4 million.

 

In Canadian County:

  • On State Highway 3, the bridge over U.S. Highway 81 will be repaired starting in March 2019 at a cost of almost $2.7 million.

 

In Dewey County:

  • On U.S. Highway 183, from 7.3 miles south of the U.S. Highway 60 junction north to near Taloga, work is scheduled to start Sept. 4 and take 150 days to complete at a cost of almost $4.1 million. The bridge has already been constructed. This project will tie the roadway to the bridge.

 

  • On U.S. Highway 270, road repairs continue from 0.4 miles southeast of the State Highway 51 junction extending northwest near Seiling, construction started Feb. 12 and is expected to take 240 days to complete at a cost of almost $8 million.

 

In Kingfisher County:

  • On State Highway 51, work continues on the westbound lane with the traffic signal at Skeleton Creek. The southeast section of the existing roadway is being removed so the existing surface and base can be reconstructed with new asphalt paving. The project is expected to be complete by August at a cost of $6.6 million.

 

  • On U.S. Highway 81, the northbound half of the Frontier Bridge (also known as the Kingfisher Creek Bridge) has been removed; drilled shafts were scheduled for June 11. Work on abutments, columns and piers are scheduled for the rest of June and July. Beams should be hung in early August and the first half of the new bridge deck poured in early September. After this curing time, traffic will be switched to this new northbound half of the bridge and the contractor will repeat for the southbound half of the bridge. The project is expected to be complete in May 2019 at a cost of almost $3.5 million.

 

  • A separate project will reconstruct the northbound lane of U.S. Highway 81 and rehab the southbound concrete pavement, 1.3 miles south of State Highway 33, extending south 3.3 miles on the south side of Kingfisher. The project was scheduled to start June 25 and take 265 days to complete at a cost of almost $8.6 million.

 

  • Also on U.S. Highway 81 at County Road 860, the right and left turn lanes are being constructed. The project is scheduled to start in September and take 120 days to complete at a cost of almost $1.2 million.

 

  • On State Highway 132, work on the northbound lane near Drummond was complete June 5. Work to seal the recycled roadway should begin in the near future. The project cost $694,520.

 

In Woodward County:

  • On U.S. Highway 270, five miles southeast of State Highway 50 extending 5.6 miles southeast near Mutual, two lanes have been overlaid and two southbound lanes added at a cost of $19.8 million. Lanes are complete, striped and open to traffic. Only shoulder work, grass planting and other minor work remains.

 

  • The next section of U.S. Highway 270 should be released for bid in November if all goes well. This will be a continuation of the previous project, beginning 10.5 miles southeast of State Highway 50 extending 3.7 miles southeast. This is a grade drain and surface adding two new lanes to accomplish a four-lane divided highway at an estimated cost of $18.8 million.

 

  • Work on the State Highway 34 bridge and approaches over Indian Creek, 2.3 miles south of U.S. 183, is complete with minor exceptions. The work started Jan. 31, 2017 at a cost of almost $2.2 million.

 

  • Work on the State Highway 34 bridge and approaches over south and north Persimmon Creek, approximately 4.9 and 7.6 miles north of the Dewey County line is complete with minor exceptions. Work started Feb. 13, 2017 at a cost of almost $5.8 million.

 

  • Construction is planned to improve 34th Street in Woodward. This project will be a grade, drain, bridge and surface project beginning at U.S. Highway 412 and extending south 2.07 miles. This project was awarded in March but has not yet begun. The project is estimated to take 180 days at a cost of $8.6 million. This project is a joint venture between ODOT and the City of Woodward.

 

  • Work on the bridge and approaches on State Highway 34 over the North Canadian River overflow, 1.2 miles north of U.S. Highway 183 extending south was awarded in May but has not yet begun. The project is estimated to take 180 days at a cost of $704,522.

 

Drive safely, and keep an eye out for construction crews.

As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

 

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Sanders Comments on U.S. 81 Construction

Majority House Leader State Rep. Mike Sanders today commented on improvements to U.S. Highway 81 in Kingfisher, which started this week.

The 3½-mile, yearlong project will reconstruct the northbound lane of U.S. 81, adding shoulders, and rehab the southbound concrete pavement between West Will Rogers Drive and south of Park Community Road (County Road E0840) on the south side of Kingfisher. Left turn lanes will be added to U.S. 81 at both Park Community Road and Victory Lane (County Road E0830).

Left turn lanes will be added to U.S. 81 at Park Community Road and Victory Lane. The left turn lanes at Starlite Drive (County Road E0820) will be rebuilt. 

Southbound U.S. 81 is narrowed to one lane until early August when northbound and southbound traffic will be narrowed to one lane in each direction and will remain in this configuration for most of the project. Motorists should expect lane shifts and intermittent closures later in the year.

The Speed limit will be reduced to 35 mph throughout the work zone.

Access to Mercy Hospital Kingfisher will remain open, however, motorists also may access the hospital entrance from Victory Lane.

The $8.6 million contract was awarded in March to Oklahoma-based Duit Construction Co.

“Infrastructure is the backbone of transporting our citizens safely and ensuring the free flow of products and people to support our local businesses,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “As the former chair of the House Transportation Committee for four years and as the current House majority leader, I have worked hard and will continue to do so to ensure roads and bridges funding – a core service of state government – remains a top priority. As the representative for House District 59, I’m thrilled with the tremendous work that has been done and is planned for Northwest Oklahoma. I’m proud of the state Transportation Department and the work they do to ensure our state roadways are safe and updated on a timely schedule.”

Also on tap for the Kingfisher area this year are two additional projects.

On State Highway 51, work continues on the westbound lane with the traffic signal at Skeleton Creek. The southeast section of the existing roadway is being removed so the existing surface and base can be reconstructed with new asphalt paving. The project is expected to be complete by August at a cost of $6.6 million.

On U.S. Highway 81, the northbound half of the Frontier Bridge has been removed; drilled shafts were scheduled for June 11. Work on abutments, columns and piers are scheduled for the rest of June and July. Beams should be hung in early August and the first half of the new bridge deck poured in early September. After this curing time, traffic will be switched to this new northbound half of the bridge and the contractor will repeat for the southbound half of the bridge. The project is expected to be complete in May 2019 at a cost of almost $3.5 million.

 

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Independence Day Our National Holiday

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Cookouts; parades; children eating hotdogs; fireworks; red, white, and blue; patriotism – these are some of the things I think about when celebrating the Fourth of July. 

I also think about the bravery of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. That hot summer day in 1776 in Philadelphia, they declared our independence from the British Empire. Imagine that … 56 men signed their names to a document letting the world know we would fight and face possible death to be free. 

In our daily routines, we often overlook the freedoms we have as Americans. We enjoy the Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition our government and much more. This Fourth of July I ask that you reflect on the freedoms we have in our country. As you attend a family BBQ or enjoy a day at the lake with friends or simply sit at home and relax, take a moment to remember the courage of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

We all know John Hancock signed the declaration with a rather large signature. His signature may be the most famous signature in our history. Legend has it; Mr. Hancock signed the way he did to make sure his defiance to the king was known. Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson are a few of the signers. We learned their names and place in our history in grade school, but how many can we remember today?  Take Caesar Rodney, for example, a man who received no formal education and whose father died when he was just 17, but he rose to serve the colony of Delaware and later as a military leader in the colonial militia. Or perhaps Richard Stockton, a man imprisoned and starved by the British for supporting the war. He later died from poor health, likely a result of his sacrifice for this nation.

This Fourth of July take time to learn about a few of the other brave souls who risked their lives for our country’s freedom.

Here is a list of the brave signers.

John Adams, Samuel Adams, Josiah Bartlett, Carter Braxton, Charles Carroll, Samuel Chase, Abraham Clark, George Clymer, William Ellery, William Floyd, Benjamin Franklin, Elbridge Gerry, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, John Hancock, Benjamin Harrison, John Hart, Joseph Hewes, Thomas Heyward, Jr., William Hooper, Stephen Hopkins, Francis Hopkinson, Samuel Huntington, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lewis, Philip Livingston, Thomas Lynch, Jr., Thomas McKean, Arthur Middleton, Lewis Morris, Robert Morris, John Morton, Thomas Nelson, Jr., William Paca, Robert Treat Paine, John Penn, George Read, Caesar Rodney, George Ross, Benjamin Rush, Edward Rutledge, Roger Sherman, James Smith, Richard Stockton, Thomas Stone, George Taylor, Matthew Thornton, George Walton, William Whipple, William Williams, James Wilson, John Witherspoon, Oliver Wolcott, George Wythe

Happy Fourth! Happy Independence Day! Happy birthday, America!

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Remembering Bravery

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I’ve been thinking about Memorial Day for weeks now. It’s one of those days that grab at my heart every year as I think about the sacrifice of lives laid down for our freedom and our nation’s continued liberty.

I think about those who died prematurely. Some were men and women younger than me, just a little older than my two sons. They no doubt had dreams and visions of their future – spouses, children, careers, cars and the comfort of home, a host of other things that we enjoy daily.

I think about the flags that will wave in the air and decorate graves at the cemeteries where we will gather to pay respects. The red of the flag symbolizing hardiness and valor; the white: purity and innocence; the blue: vigilance, perseverance and justice. So many brave men and women have fought under this banner and for the Republic for which it stands. It is fitting to wave it on this day.

I think about the veterans who will gather to pay tribute to their fallen comrades, who will march in parades so that people will not forget that freedom and liberty do not come without great cost. To them I express deep gratitude for their bravery and their service.

If we’re not careful as a society, we will get comfortable and take our freedoms for granted. We’ll sign up men and women to serve for us. We’ll send them off to foreign lands and think of them only on those few days a year designated as Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Pearl Harbor Day or D-Day. We’ll turn these days into days of leisure and barbecues and pool parties. Yet we must never do this. We must not become complacent. We must express our gratitude and our prayers continually – daily.

In my thoughts on this matter, I turned to a source that is often of great comfort and guidance – the Bible – wondering what it might have to say about memorials. In Exodus 28:12, Aaron, the high priest was to wear memorial stones on his shoulders that had the names of the tribes of Israel inscribed on them. Later in that chapter, verse 29, Aaron is told to wear the names over his heart on his breastplate when he entered the Holy Place “as a continuing memorial before the Lord.”

I started thinking about this – having the priest bear the names of those for whom he was praying as a memorial on his shoulders and over his heart as he went about his daily duties – so fitting.

We talk about having the weight of the world on our shoulders or shouldering a burden. It makes sense then that we would carry the remembrance of those who have died in our place on our shoulders. We don’t just carry their memory, however; we take up the burden they laid down at death: defending our liberty, keeping our fellow citizens and ourselves safe from threats both foreign and domestic.

Next, we carry the memory of these loved ones over our hearts, the place where we feel the most empathy, the most love, the most pain. It is not enough to think about sacrifice – an intellectual exercise – we must be reminded to feel it so that it changes us and daily drives us to live better lives, to live with more purpose.

It is this I choose this Memorial Day – to shoulder the burdens of lives paid in sacrifice to freedom and to bear in my heart the memories of those who died. I’m eternally grateful.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Session Ends

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoma State Legislature adjourned Thursday night, May 3, after the House passed its final pieces of legislation for the year. The governor is in the process of signing the bills into law.

One of my bills signed into law this year is House Bill 3330, which will keep sex offenders from moving within 2,000 square feet of family home child care centers. Other places, such as schools or churches, are protected from predators, but the smaller child care centers were inadvertently left off the original list when the Oklahoma Child Care Facilities Licensing Act was signed into law several years ago. This new law closes that loophole and will better protect our children and childcare workers.

House Bill 2932 also was signed into law. This creates 20-hour-a-week work requirements for about 8,000 able-bodied adults who receive Medicaid benefits. Those with disabilities are exempted. This matches the work requirement for those receiving food assistance through the state. Many of the people who receive these benefits are capable of working to help provide for their needs, they just have low incomes and need some assistance for the short term. Helping them to get jobs is a step toward helping them toward full independence.

House Bill 1340 is another measure recently signed into law. This bill will give stipends to state retirees, including firefighters, teachers, police officers, Highway Patrol troopers and other former state employees. Stipend amounts will depend on a retiree’s years of service and the funding status of the retirement plan of which they are a member. This is a responsible measure that will ensure the long-term stability of the retirement plans for current and future beneficiaries, but it will also give some needed relief to those currently receiving benefits. This is a very good step in the right direction and gives us a snapshot of what we can do with a full-blown Cost of Living Adjustment in the near future.

In my last column I gave a number of details about the $7.6 billion state budget that was passed by the Legislature and signed into law. This week, I wanted to provide a few details about the transportation budget. We were able to increase funding for the state Department of Transportation by 4.3 percent for the next fiscal year – almost $165.9 million vs. $154.1 million in FY18. This added money will keep the department’s eight-year plan intact and assist with building and maintaining county roads and bridges. Infrastructure is a key driver in keeping our economy running and our families safe. It’s an area I fight hard for each year, and I’m thankful we were able to devote more funding this year. In addition, I want to reassure our county commissioners that we did not touch the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges Fund as we have in the past few years. We are not balancing this year’s state budget on the back of transportation.

On another note, I’m grateful that homeowners and business owners affected by recent wildfires in Dewey, Woodward and Blaine Counties may now receive low-interest disaster assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The designation allows those receiving the loans to replace any property damaged by the fires that was not covered by insurance or other assistance programs.

More than 70 homes and businesses were affected by the fires and may be eligible for SBA’s program. Two deaths and multiple injuries were attributed to numerous wildfires that burned more than 350,000 acres statewide in April. Donations are still being accepted. Please contact your local fire chief to ask what is needed. They know best. For additional ideas on how to donate, I will repost several links mentioned previously.

Finally, I’m pleased to report the legislative session ended early this year. This will save taxpayers thousands of dollars, allowing us to recoup some of the costs from our two special sessions, which started last year.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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State Budget Covers Core Needs

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House on Friday passed a $7.6. billion appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2019, including money for the largest teacher pay raise in state history, more money for K-12 classrooms and additional funding for health care and humans services as well as other state services.

This budget gives $2.9 billion – a 19.8 percent increase over FY18 – to K-12 schools. This is the largest appropriation for common education in state history, even accounting for the rate of inflation. Teachers will get an average pay raise of $6,100 beginning in the 2018-19 school year and beyond. School support staff also will get an additional $1,250. Health care benefits are increased, and classrooms will get an additional $50 million for the coming school year.

The teacher pay raises move Oklahoma teachers to second in the region for average annual pay and to 12th in the nation when accounting for the cost of living.

The Legislature also approved $7.5 million for concurrent enrollment, allowing high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit without paying the high cost of college tuition, hopefully resulting in early college graduation.

The budget also includes $52 million for state employee pay raises of between $750 and $2,000 per year depending on current salary levels.

In addition to other budget items, one of the things I fought hardest for in this state budget was an additional $4 million to the state emergency fund to be used by rural fire departments as they assist communities hit hardest by the recent wildfires in Dewey and Woodward Counties. The Agriculture Department will receive $3.4 million for Rural Fire Operational Assistance Grants, and $325,000 for the 80/20 Reimbursable Grant Program to help with equipment and gear replacement.

An 11 percent, $1 million, increase to the Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) will assist with economic development programs in our communities. This brings the REAP annual budget over $10 million for the first time.

This budget also increases funding for health and mental health care programs, including $24 million for the state’s child welfare system, managed under the Pinnacle Plan, and $110 million to the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University for their graduate medical schools. This is money the feds removed that was being used for doctor training and residency slots.

The budget also includes $2 million, a 100 percent increase, to help ease the Developmental Disability Services waiting list, and also restores reimbursement rates to those who provide medical and mental health services in our rural health care facilities and rural nursing homes. Overall, public health received an 8.6 percent increase over the last fiscal year. It’s been years since we’ve been able to increase health and mental health care funding. This will benefit so many of our agencies, including the Center of Family Love of Okarche and other facilities.

While it’s great to be able to restore some services cut in the state’s recent recession, we also must continually strive to ensure we’re operating government as efficiently as possible and that we’ve cut out every area of waste, fraud or abuse. I’m particularly pleased we were able to devote $2 million in this budget to the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission, enacted by the Legislature last session to audit the top 20 state appropriated state agencies. I have been championing such reform measures for years in an effort to modernize and streamline government. It’s important to remember that government works for the people not the other way around.

One additional note: we will be able to deposit more than $300 million into the state’s Rainy Day Fund at the end of this fiscal year, an Oklahoma Constitutional requirement when revenues exceed the official estimate. Boy is that nice to be able to say for a change instead of having to declare a revenue failure because we haven’t met our estimate.

This budget is the result of a lot of hard work and some tough decisions made by House leadership. It’s not perfect, but it helps us meet the needs of our citizens in a responsible manner. In next week’s column I’ll give some additional details and break things down a bit further.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Government Leaders Visit Fire Damaged Areas

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Fires in our area are mostly contained, and I thank God for that. I’m still working with county and state officials and local fire departments to help those affected by these terrible blazes. I’ll be out again this weekend to assess damaged areas.

Sen. James Lankford, Congressman Frank Lucas, Gov. Mary Fallin and Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and the governor all have visited communities in our district ravaged by these fires. I thank all of them for coming. I also want to again thank our local firefighters and our county workers who have worked tirelessly to battle these blazes, as well as to people from all across the state who have donated hay, food, clothing, money or time to help the victims of these terrible tragedies. What I witnessed over the last two weeks is truly humbling.

The governor recently declared a state of emergency, which will allow state agencies to make emergency purchases and acquisitions needed to expedite the delivery of resources to local jurisdictions. The declaration also marks a first step toward seeking federal assistance.

While we’ve been battling these fires, work has been ongoing at the state capitol. I want to point out a few bills that will help protect children and victims of crime.

Last week the governor signed into law House Bill 2552, which establishes a foster care bill of rights for children in Department of Human services (DHS) custody. Contained are rights regarding placement, safety, privacy, communication and personal growth. The rights are put in one place easy to access for children who are of age to do so and for foster parents. The measure also directs DHS and child-placing agencies to develop grievance procedures for children in custody, ensuring those are resolved no more than 60 days after they are filed.

The governor also signed House Bill 2651, an effort to prevent human trafficking. This permits Oklahoma’s public safety commissioner to choose training material from Truckers Against Human Trafficking for education purposes to supply to drivers applying for Class A, B or C commercial licenses. The material includes training on recognizing, preventing and reporting human trafficking. Oklahoma’s position at the crossroads of the nation makes it particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Truck stops, unfortunately, have become places where victims are transferred. Supplying this material to commercial drivers is hoped to help save lives and stop this growing problem.

Victims of sex offenders now will have additional protection thanks to House Bill 1124, also signed into law by the governor. The law is named after Danyelle Dyer, of Bristow, whose attacker moved next door to her last year. This bill prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet and loitering within 1,000 feet from their victims’ homes. Under current Oklahoma law, sex offenders are banned from living near places like schools and playgrounds, but it did not apply to a sex offender living near his or her adult victim. This bill closes that loophole and hopefully will provide victims such as Ms. Dyer even greater relief.

On one final note, no opponent filed to run for my House seat, so I’m automatically re-elected to serve the next two years. Nellie and I are so humbled and blessed by this incredible honor to represent our friends and neighbors in House District 59. I promise you I will work as hard for you in my last term as I have the last 10 years. Thank you for the opportunity.

If I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Prayers and Donations Needed as Fire Recovery Starts

By Rep. Mike Sanders

At least one person perished and many families lost homes and livestock to fires raging through much of District 59. High winds and a five-month drought have made these fires among the worst in years.

Last week and this week, fires burned in Putnam, Vici, Seiling Taloga, Oakwood, east of Leedey and east of Camargo, consuming more than 280,000 acres in the Rhea fire in Dewey County. In Woodward, several homes have been lost and more than 70,000 acres burned in the 34 Complex fire. Thousands of head of livestock have perished or are missing in Dewey and Woodward Counties. Fire lengths have reached up to 225 feet.

These fires are just absolutely devastating. Many of our neighbors lost their homes and everything they own. And yet, the outpouring of support from people from across the state as well as my colleagues in the House of Representatives has been humbling. People have donated water, hay, money and more, really living up to the Oklahoma standard.

Please join me in praying for the families of the victims and those who have lost property and livestock. Pray God will send rain to quench these fires and will protect people and property still in the path. Pray also for the protection of the firefighters battling these blazes.

More than 600 firefighters from across the state and the nation have come to help assist in putting out the fires. I’m so thankful for the work of our local fire crews in protecting lives and property and for the help from states such as Kansas, Florida and Texas. I’m also thankful for the work of our county commissioners and emergency managers as they work to help people get out of danger and find help for recovery.

I’m also asking folks to consider donating monetarily to local volunteer fire departments; Dewey and Woodward Counties are particularly in need. 

Following is a list of a few sites that are taking donations of money or hay or have suggestions on how to help. Many are offering assistance to those affected as well.

Oklahoma Farm Bureau: http://okfarmbureau.org/index.php?action=news.newsdetail&rowid=1005.

The Oklahoma Cattleman’s Association: http://www.okcattlemen.org/wildfire-relief-fund

The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts: https://www.okconservation.org/news/okwildfirerelief

OSU’s Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: http://www.oces.okstate.edu/

American Farmers & Ranchers is accepting donations. Checks should be made payable to Farmers Union Foundation, Inc., with “Wildfire Relief” in the memo line. Donations should be mailed to Wildlife Relief, P.O. Box 24000, Oklahoma City, OK 73124.

Much of Oklahoma has been placed under a burn ban, so please, please, please do not light fires for any reason. Do not start the grill. Do not throw cigarettes out of your car window. There is a 100 percent ignition rate, so we must have absolutely no self-started fires.

The governor last week declared a state of emergency for 52 counties, including Blaine, Dewey, Kingfisher and Woodward and many surrounding us. The governor’s executive order allows state agencies to make emergency purchases and acquisitions needed to expedite the delivery of resources to local jurisdictions. The declaration also marks a first step toward seeking federal assistance should it be necessary.

Again, please stay out of harm’s way. Property can be replaced; lives can’t. Please pray and please consider donating to help those who have lost much in this tragedy.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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