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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Remembering our Heroes

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Over the course of my public career, I’ve taken part in dozens of Memorial Day ceremonies. I’ve listened to the solemn tributes paid to those who made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives for our freedoms. I’ve heard stories of their valiant service and poignant memories shared by those who loved them. I’m always touched by the sadness that comes from wondering how life would be different had they continued to live among us.

I never fail to be moved by the mournful notes of Taps sounding from a lone bugler, the sight of the American flag flown at half-staff waving crisply in the breeze, watching as families place flowers on the graves of those taken from them too soon. In these moments, I’m always cognizant that my own sadness doesn’t touch the grief they’ve known.

The sight that always undoes me the most, however, is watching veterans stand at such sharp attention, saluting their fellow fallen service members, folding flags carefully into triangles, firing guns in somber salute, blinking back tears from their eyes. I’ve talked to a number of these men and women, and they say it is always a mixture of gratitude and grief they feel at these moments – gratitude to be among the living, grief and survivor’s guilt that they lived while their friend and fellow brother or sister in arms died in battle.

After these graveside services, come the parades. Red, white and blue bunting, patriotic music playing, horns honking, people waiving, children running for candy, families celebrating.

As I consider the two emotions these ceremonies evoke – the grief of the grave, the joy of the parade – I realize both are important and appropriate. We must honor our fallen. We must remember their lives and their sacrifices. We must pay tribute. We must let the full weight of the cost of liberty sink in – blood, sweat, struggle, life itself. But, then we must shake off the dust of grief. Our heroes, after all, did not die so that we would sink into the grave with them. They died so that we could live free.

So this Memorial Day, stand in silence at the graveside. Trace your fingers on names and eternal dates etched in stone. Take a moment to watch the flag wave in the breeze. Place flowers on the graves of those you loved, or just on the graves of those who sacrificed their lives for you even if you never had the opportunity to meet them. Consider the cost of your own freedom.

But then, celebrate. Take part in the parade. Laugh. Smile. Eat to your fill. Enjoy the sunshine on your face and the wind in your hair. Hug your spouses and your children. Spend time with those you love. Be kind to those you don’t.

Most of all, bow your head. Say a prayer of remembrance for those who served our nation – giving their own lives in sacrifice for ours. Remember their families and those who loved them; pray for their comfort and peace, their protection and provision, and that they will find a way forward through their grief and pain. Say a prayer of thanksgiving for your own life and your liberty. Thank the Lord above that He allowed you to be born into a nation such as ours – the greatest nation yet on the face of this earth. Pray that it will always be free. Finally, offer thanks for the men and women who secured that freedom for your sake and for mine.

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The Check is in the Mail

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I think we’ve all learned to be a little bit hesitant when we hear the phrase the check is in the mail, but this time it is true. Checks are being delivered to Oklahomans as we speak. These IRS economic impact, or stimulus, payments are meant to help during the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Electronic deposits to tax filers whose bank information is on file with the Internal Revenue Service are being made now. Physical checks will be distributed beginning in May. Payments are being made first to those with lower incomes. There are some income caps, so those with higher incomes may not receive a check. For more information, you can visithttps://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments.

At the same time, there is help for small business owners through the Small Business Administration.

This website contains a lot of helpful information on the various types of small business loans and debt relief that are available: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources.

Small businesses and nonprofits in all 77 counties in the state that have been affected by COVID-19 can apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans and loan advances. Payment on loans on these and any from previous disasters can be deferred until Dec. 31, 2020. Applications can be found here: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.

Small businesses, nonprofits, veterans’ organizations and tribal businesses affected also can and should apply for Paycheck Protection Program 7(a) loans. These loan payments will be deferred for six months, and those businesses that maintain their workforce from Feb. 15 through June 30 will be forgiven the portion of the loan proceeds that are used to cover the first eight weeks of payroll and certain other expenses following loan origination. Note these dollars are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Even as the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 – 2,263 as of this writing - and the number of deaths – 123, also as of this writing - continue to climb in Oklahoma, there is still some positive news to report. It was reported on April 14 that the number of new hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus were tracking well below predictions modeled by the Oklahoma Department of Health. Of the more than 29,000 people tested, almost 27,000 of those have tested negative. We are still urged to be cautious, to continue practicing social distancing, to keep washing our hands frequently, wiping down surfaces, etc., but I remain hopeful that we will see a strong recovery.

As always, 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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Open Up and Recover Safely Plan

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The governor this week shared a three-phased approach to reopen Oklahoma businesses and start the process of restoring the state’s economy starting April 24.

This will be done using scientific modeling by health experts with the goal of keeping Oklahomans safe.

Safer at Home orders for those over 65 or who have a compromised immune system are still in place. Individuals are still advised to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others, to wash hands frequently and to wear masks in public. Employers are advised to allow employees to return to work in phases, accommodate personnel who are members of a vulnerable population, keep common areas closed and enforce social distancing protocols, minimize non-essential travel and to adhere to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and executive orders regarding isolation following travel. Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals are still prohibited.

Businesses allowed to reopen April 24 include personal care businesses such as nail and hair salons, barbershops, spas and pet groomers. They will need to open by appointment only, however, and must adhere to sanitation protocols such as customers and employees wearing masks and having all equipment and surfaces cleaned between appointments, having customers distanced from other customers, having customers wait in their cars until their appointment time, etc. 

State parks and outdoor recreation areas can reopen on this date. Grocery stores should continue to maintain hours for vulnerable populations. 

Schools, organized sporting events and camps currently closed should remain closed during this phase.  

On May 1, other businesses will be allowed to reopen such as restaurant dining rooms, entertainment and sporting venues and movie theaters, but all must adhere to CDC-recommended social distancing and sanitation guidelines. Churches also can reopen for in-person meetings but should leave every other row or pew vacant and church nurseries closed. Bars are to remain closed.

If hospitalizations and incident rates remain at manageable levels for 14 days, the state will move to Phase 2, with a hoped-for date of May 15.

In this phase, organized sports activities can reopen and operate under proper social distancing and sanitation protocols. Bars can operate with diminished standing room occupancy. Funerals and weddings can resume under social distancing protocols. Church nurseries can reopen.

Again, if hospitalizations and incident rates remain at manageable levels for 14 days, Phase three will be implemented, which will allow for further public interaction. Employers will be able to resume unrestricted staffing of worksites, and summer camps should be able to open. More details of Phase 3 will be released in the future.

This plan is based on scientific modeling from public health experts and is in conjunction with guidance from the Oklahoma Department of Health and Department of Commerce and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is intended to mitigate the risk of resurgence of the COVID-19 virus and to continue to protect Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens from the threat of the illness.

Before proceeding to each new phase, the state secretary of health and mental health will confirm that Oklahoma COVID-19 hospitalizations and incidence rates are at a manageable level, that hospitals are treating all patients without alternate care sites, that there is sufficient testing material in the state and the ability to conduct contact tracing, and that the state can quickly and independently supply sufficient personal protective equipment (ppe) as well as critical medical equipment, including ICU equipment, to handle any surge that might happen.

I know people want to get back to work and back to normal social activities. This will just take some time. I continue to pray for the recovery of those who are sick and for the comfort of those who have lost loved ones. I know many of you are praying these same prayers.

As always, 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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Balancing Act

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The governor this week took another extraordinary step in trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 and preserve the lives and health of Oklahomans. On Tuesday he instituted a Safer at Home policy telling the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or other underlying health concerns to stay home until April 30 except to go to the grocery or drug store.

He also ordered all non-essential businesses – bars, gyms, theaters, hair salons and a list of others – to close for 21 days through April 14 in the 19 counties where there are currently positive cases of COVID-19. He’s called for a ban on all gathering of more than 10 people. Restaurants can continue to offer carry-out, curbside or delivery.

All visits to nursing homes, long-term care facilities or retirement homes are restricted. All elective surgeries and minor medical or dental procedures are suspended to save medical supplies.

Schools will remain closed for the remainder of this school year, but the State Board of Education will be rolling out some distance learning options for parents and students.

As of Tuesday, there were 109 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 19 counties in Oklahoma, but the governor said the actual number is likely more like 500. When the state ramps up testing that could reach into the thousands. Still, there have been only three deaths in the state from this.

So, we have people saying the governor is not doing enough. There are those who want a statewide shutdown of everything. Then, there are those who are asking why the government is acting so extremely.

Here’s the dilemma. We must try to slow the spread of this virus so that we don’t overwhelm our hospitals and run them out of supplies before the disease actually peaks/ We also have to try and gauge when this disease will be at its worse. If we shut everything down, and this drags on for months, our economy will be worse than it is. We also have a long list of essential employees – health care workers, firefighters, police officers, military, utility workers, those who deliver the groceries and medication, those who support those who deliver these products, etc. These people have to be able to perform their service.

The governor is holding near daily briefings with lawmakers and others so that we can help keep Oklahomans informed. He’s got a task force working with each hospital in the state and other health care providers to assess needs and get supplies where they are critically needed. He will make changes to his orders as they become necessary.

State lawmakers yesterday also had a conference call with U.S. Sen. Lankford to get updates on help that is coming from the federal government. This includes help for small and large businesses, those who have had to claim unemployment, individuals and families and more.

Please continue to pray for our frontline folks, our doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners and all other health care providers, our law enforcement officers and firefighters and other emergency responders, the people working extra shifts to keep our grocery stores stocked and open, our truckers who are bringing us much-needed products and supplies, those working to keep our utilities operating and our water flowing, and the long list of others doing their part to keep our society functioning.

We will get through this crisis with the help of God. We are Oklahomans and Americans. We will pull together and figure out the best way forward. We will be smarter and stronger and more prepared for whatever else may come in the future. We will be OK Oklahoma. Hold tight.

As always, if you have questions or concerns, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Update on the COVID-19

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Update on COVID-19

By Rep. Mike Sanders

These are extraordinary times in which we are living.

With that said, I want to offer reassurance and hope. We are a strong district, a strong state and a strong nation. We have endured every past crisis we’ve faced in Oklahoma and in our nation. We will prevail over this as well.

As far as your state government, and the core services it provides, I want to reassure you that government is functioning, and I will continue to work on behalf of the people in our House district. We are just having to do some things differently. Right now, we are restricting Capitol access to elected state officials, essential employees, credentialed members of the press and state employees that are invited for critical meetings. This could change if necessary. We also voted on emergency procedures that will allow us to work remotely if necessary and to vote by proxy through a caucus designee. This will only happen if absolutely necessary to conduct the business of the state. We must pass a state budget and keep state agencies operational so they can continue to provide services for Oklahomans.

House members met Monday with the state health commissioner to get an update on the spread of this virus, the number of confirmed cases in Oklahoma, current testing protocols and other information that would be helpful for our constituents. At the time of our meeting, there were 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma – there are now 17; 186 people had been tested, and 27 were awaiting a test. Those numbers will change in the coming days.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The health commissioner stressed that about 80% of people experience only mild symptoms and can self-isolate. While you can check with your doctor, there is no current available treatment for this, so unless symptoms are extreme or a person has an underlying health condition that puts them at greater risk, health officials are asking people to stay away from hospital emergency rooms to allow the most severe cases to be tested and treated.

The health commissioner said the state is receiving more tests weekly and we also are set to receive more hospital supplies such as ventilators, masks, gowns and other items.

We all need to continue to practice good hygiene and common sense. Wash your hands frequently; wash surfaces regularly; avoid touching your face. If you feel ill, stay home and away from anyone who might be vulnerable. If you are experiencing a true medical emergency, seek help.

The White House and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are recommending people stay out of gatherings larger than 10. While the state Health Department and the federal government are offering guidelines, it is still up to each municipality to enforce its own codes. That’s why you will see some cities limiting restaurants to being open or closed, while other cities are taking different precautions.

Right now, state public schools are closed through April 6. Jury trials have been temporarily suspended. Visitations at state prisons and many jails are suspended. Many large venues have canceled concerts and other events. I know this puts a crimp on our modern lifestyles, but if we can slow the curve of this virus and not overwhelm our healthcare facilities, we can keep more people healthy and save lives. It’s important to note that very few people have died from this disease in our nation and we’ve had no deaths from this in Oklahoma.

We are a strong state and country. We are Americans, and we will get through this. We must remain vigilant to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and we should stay informed, but we must not panic.

Please offer prayer for our first responders, health care professionals and those affected by this virus. I am asking Almighty God to keep each of us safe and everyone calm during this time.

As always, if you have questions or concerns, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Cost-of-Living Adjustment for State Retirees Passes House

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House this week passed legislation that would grant a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to state retirees in six of the state’s pension plans.

House Bill 3350 passed 99-0. The measure would grant a 4% COLA to any state pensioner that has been retired for five years or more as of July 1 this year and a 2% COLA to those retired at least two years but not five.

The House ran similar legislation last year, but it was not picked up by the state Senate. This year, a number of senators have signed on as co-authors of this bill. That gives me hope it will make it through that chamber and to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

It has been 12 years since state retirees received a COLA. Meanwhile, health care and other living expenses have risen in cost. It is time to give those who’ve dedicated years of their life to the state – our firefighters, police officers, teachers and other state employees – this much needed raise.

Another piece of legislation that passed the House this week would put to a vote of the people a question of whether to amend how state questions are placed on statewide ballots. House Joint Resolution 1027 would ask the people to vote on whether we should require signatures from voters in each of the state’s five congressional districts to place an initiative petition, a legislative referenda or a constitutional amendment on the state ballot. Currently, state law just requires a number of signatures from legal voters in the state to place such state questions on a state ballot. The number is based on how many voters voted in the last governor’s election. But the way the law is written, the signatures can be gained from the state’s two largest cities, and this leaves rural voters out of the process. This would even the playing field so our rural voters would have to have a voice before the state’s constitution or state law is changed.

A measure that classifies domestic abuse by strangulation, domestic assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and domestic assault and battery with a deadly weapon as violent crimes also passed the House this week with a 92-0 vote. House Bill 3251 only makes sense. These are violent crimes, and they deserve full punishment under the law, including that anyone convicted of these crimes will have to serve 85% of their prison sentence before being released. This is a further protection for our domestic violence victims.

We also passed two bills that promise to do away with the practice of surprise medical billing for health care patients. This occurs when someone goes in for care or a medical procedure they think is covered by insurance only to be surprised by a bill from an unauthorized provider. This sometimes happens during surgery or other procedures when many different health care professionals provide care to a patient. I’ve been told the authors of these bills will join forces to ensure one bill makes it through the Senate to be signed into law.  This should resolve payment issues between insurance companies and health care providers and get patients out of the middle.

One measure I voted against this week would have allowed local governments to create county hazard mitigation districts, but the districts could then assess an additional property tax of up to two mills for applicable projects. There have been a number of bills lately assaulting private property rights and property taxes for purposes other than for what they are intended. I did not want to allow this to happen to our rural property owners, including our farmers and ranchers.

This was deadline week. All House bills, other than those filed by the speaker or the budget chair, had to be passed out of the House to stay alive. We heard more than 230 bills and resolutions this week on the House floor. Combined with what passed previously, we are sending 410 measures in total to the Senate. Next week will be a light week before we ramp up to start considering Senate bills.

On a final note, I want to mention the Coronavirus, not to cause fear, but just to give you some common-sense advice passed along by the CDC. Older people or those with a compromised immune system should stay out of public gatherings for a bit. Wash your hands frequently and avoid being around anyone who is coughing or sneezing or has a fever. If you feel sick, stay home. The world will survive without your public appearance for a few days. I promise! Prayer is always a good idea as well!

As always, if you have questions or concerns, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Dyslexia Bills Pass House

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I passed both of my bills dealing with dyslexia out of the House this week with near unanimous votes on each.

House Bill 2804 would require any student enrolled in kindergarten through third grade in an Oklahoma public school who is not meeting grade-level reading targets after the beginning of the school year to be screened for dyslexia beginning with the 2022-23 school year. This follows legislation I passed last year that provides a professional development day for teachers across Oklahoma to help them better recognize signs of dyslexia in their students.

House 2889 makes the State Department of Education responsible for updating the Dyslexia Handbook, which already is available for teachers, parents and school administrators. This just puts in statute that it will be annually updated by the SDE with input from stakeholders.

All of this legislation came from recommendation by the Dyslexia and Education Task Force and the SDE as well as Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma.

This will be a game changer for students struggling with dyslexia. With early intervention and the proper help learning to read, these students will now enjoy tremendous academic success.

Also this week, the House passed a bill that recognizes Israel as one of our state’s largest trading partners and our top ally in the Middle East. House Bill 3967 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 people behind the BDS movement aren’t just advocating boycotts and sanctions, they would deny Israel the right to exist as a nation and would like to see the Jewish people cease to exist altogether. As a Christian, I just cannot watch blindly as this movement takes hold. I co-authored this bill with a host of other lawmakers. Oklahoma now joins 28 other states in adopting similar legislation.

I also was happy to support legislation that will help us place the national motto “In God We Trust” on state buildings. This motto is already on many of our federal buildings, and many local police and sheriff’s offices have chosen to put the motto on patrol cars. A majority of Oklahomans, including myself, do trust in God, and declaring this as a state is a way to honor our heritage and the blessings and protections we’ve enjoyed from our creator.

Another bill that passed this week is one I co-authored. House Bill 3298, authorizes the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority (OCIA) to bond $17.5 million and make use of a 65% federal match of $50 million to acquire property and invest capital into improving and repairing some of the high-risk flood-control dams across our state. Many of these dams are more than 50 years old and have reached their life expectancy. It is important to protect the homes and cities beneath these structures, many of which supply water to surrounding communities.

We continue to hear numerous bills each day on the House floor. March 12 is the third-reading deadline for bills to be passed in their legislative chamber of origin. That leads to a few weeks of long days and even a few night sessions. After that, we will begin hearing Senate bills in committees and on the House floor. 

As always, if you have questions or concerns, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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