OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Stitt on Thursday signed into law a bill that will allow retired paid firefighters to return to service as volunteers without effecting their state pensions.
House Bill 2051, authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. The new law will allow retired paid firefighters to perform as volunteer firefighters for a volunteer department without it affecting their current retirement benefit but also without it counting as an accrued retirement benefit against the state’s pension plan.
“Our rural residents and communities are dependent upon the services of volunteer firefighters to keep them safe from harm in the event of deadly wildfires,” Sanders said. “It helps so much to have individuals who are already trained and well-seasoned to perform these duties. This is why I worked so hard to ensure that we can build the ranks of volunteer firefighters without adding the state’s pension costs.”
Murdock said, “With the amount of wildfires we have in Northwest Oklahoma we need all the men and women we can get. The rural fire departments are stretched to the limits. The passage of this bill will allow experienced retired firefighters to join volunteer departments bringing their wealth of knowledge to that team.”
HB 2051 bill amends language to legislation previously passed by Sanders and signed into law that eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement that they be added to the state’s pension plan. The legislation, which took effect in November 2015, has resulted in 300 new volunteer firefighters joining rural fire departments over the past 3 ½ years.
Sanders explained that state law previously prohibited willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state’s pension and retirement plan could not afford them. Many people from his district, however, said they would be willing to serve without needing the retirement benefit. This amendment now will allow retired paid firefighters to participate in protecting the states rural fire districts as volunteers without affecting funding that can now be appropriated to other core government services.
Sanders said about 85 percent of the firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers. Of the state’s more than 900 fire departments, about 95 percent are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
A bill that would give mothers an opportunity to reconsider a chemical abortion after a first abortion pill is taken passed the House this week and will head to the governor for consideration to be signed into law.
I co-authored Senate Bill 614 that would require a physician who administers an abortion-inducing medication to provide information to the mother explaining the procedure can be reversed should she change her mind after the first pill is administered. The physician also would have to post information about this option in their office. If a physician does not provide or post the information, they could face felony charges resulting in jail time or fines.
This does not preclude women from choosing abortions but gives them information about how they could reverse the process that would result in the death of their unborn child should they change their mind before the procedure is complete. This reversal procedure has resulted in at least 500 babies being born healthy after their mothers elected this choice. While some argue the science behind this procedure, I am always on the side of preserving life.
Meanwhile, the governor has been signing bills into law each week. So far, he’s signed 53 bills, 33 from the House and 20 from the Senate. Bills signed this week include House Bill 2640, Francine’s Law, which requires law enforcement to put into the NamUs national database information of unidentified bodies so that families of missing persons can search for their loved ones. The bill was named after Francine Frost, a mother of two who was abducted in Tulsa in 1981. Her case was cold for more than three decades until a grandson found information in the NamUs system that later turned out to be that of his grandmother. This law will help other families identify their missing relatives quicker.
The governor also recently signed my House Bill 1228, which will give teachers more training and resources to help them recognize students with dyslexia so they can better help these students. This can change the trajectory of student learning for students with dyslexia. There will be no cost to local school districts. The bill was a request by the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma working group, which will work with the State Department of Education to develop training materials for teachers and additional resources for students and parents.
We started this session with 2,631 House and Senate bills and joint resolutions. After a recent committee deadline by which bills had to be considered in their opposite legislative chamber, we are down to 557. So far, the House and Senate have come together to pass legislation on government accountability. We continue to work onbills that add more funding for public schools and another teacher pay raise. We also await final passage of a measure that will return funding to our County Improvement to Roads and Bridges Fund and several measures will address rural health care. At the same time, we are working on our state appropriation’s bill.
As always, I will keep you posted. If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
House Republican Caucus
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OKLAHOMA CITY – House Majority Leader Mike Sanders recently received a Champion Award by the Oklahoma Association of Nurse Anesthetists (OANA) for going above and beyond to advocate for healthcare in Oklahoma.
Sanders was recognized for being an extraordinary advocate for improved healthcare in the state. He received the award at OANA’s annual spring conference, March 30.
OANA is a non-proﬁt and non-partisan organization representing Nurse Anesthetists across Oklahoma. The association advocates for improving healthcare access and health outcomes and represents over 600 advanced practice registered nurses statewide. Every spring the OANA recognizes legislators who embody the mission of the OANA to promote healthcare for the citizens of Oklahoma.
“Ensuring adequate healthcare for Oklahomans, particularly those in rural areas, is of utmost importance to me,” Sanders said. “We need to make sure our citizens have access to services and programs that will help them stay healthy and well. I’m thrilled to be recognized as someone who advocates for improved healthcare. Even if I received no award, however, I still would fight this fight.”
OANA said it appreciates the willingness of legislators, such as Sanders, to ﬁnd solutions to help Oklahomans achieve better health outcomes and wellness. The groups said the state’s future is very bright with the current slate of elected lawmakers at the state Capitol.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
This week, my House Bill 1228, which will help teachers recognize and assist students with dyslexia, passed unanimously in the Senate and is now headed to the governor to be signed into law.
This bill requires school districts to offer teachers a professional development program about dyslexia once per year, beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. The measure requires the program to include training in identifying students with dyslexia, training in meeting the needs of those students, and will provide resources about dyslexia for teachers, students and parents.
Research clearly shows identifying students with dyslexia early and getting them the proper classroom supports will help them learn to read and perform arithmetic and other subjects on grade level at a quicker pace. The bill was a request from the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma working group, which will provide training and materials to local school districts at no cost.
Tuesday was Oklahoma Agriculture Day at the state Capitol. This is a day to celebrate farming and ranching in our state and to reward students in multiple contests under the Ag in the Classroom banner as well as to honor the newest member of the Oklahoma Ag Hall of Fame.
Jimmy Harrel a rancher, farmer and banker from our area was inducted into the Hall of Fame and received Gov. Stitt’s Outstanding Achievement in Agriculture Award. Harrel is the CEO and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Western Oklahoma in Elk City and Vici. He previously served as high school principal, vocational agriculture instructor and basketball coach at Taloga Public Schools. Congratulations to him for this honor.
Also this week, I received word that the Oklahoma Transportation Commission’s April 1 meeting included an announcement by Gov. Stitt that Oklahoma’s bridges on the state highway system are finally nearing the top of the list for the best in the nation. In its recent annual bridge inspection report, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation identified 132, or less than 2 percent, of the 6,800 total bridges on the highway system as rated structurally deficient or poor. The highway system includes non-tolled state, U.S. and interstate highways maintained by ODOT. Bridges on city streets and county roads are maintained separately by local governments.
In 2004, an all-time high of 1,168, or a full 17 percent, of bridges were rated structurally deficient and Oklahoma had been ranked at the bottom nationwide in bridge conditions. When Republicans won the majority in the Legislature, we made transportation a top priority. Thanks to our appropriations to ODOT’s eight-year Construction Work Plan, the department has replaced or rehabilitated more than 1,400 bridges. Nearly all remaining structurally deficient bridges are either currently under construction or scheduled in the Eight-year Plan to begin construction in the next year.
Transportation has long been a priority for me. Ensuring our citizens can travel safely and we can move products to improve our local economies is an important function of government. This news is sweet to report!
As always, I would love to hear from you about these or any other issues. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or email@example.com.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate today passed a bill authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher,that will add professional development training for teachers to help them better recognize students with dyslexia and get them needed educational supports. The bill now moves to the governor’s desk to await being signed into law.
House Bill 1228 requires school districts to offer teachers a professional development program about dyslexia once per year, beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. The measure lists minimum requirements for the program and requires the program to include training in identifying dyslexia, training in meeting the needs of students with dyslexia, and training on resources about dyslexia for teachers, students and parents.
The bill passed with a vote of 46-0.
“Identifying students with dyslexia early and getting them the proper classroom help can change the trajectory of their learning,” Sanders said. “I want to thank the lawmakers who supported this important bill and the students it represents.”
Sanders said he particularly thanks Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, for carrying the bill in the Senate.
Sanders said students with dyslexia often present as having a learning disability, but they actually just learn in a different way than other students. If teachers are trained to recognize dyslexia for what it is, they can get these students the help they need in a timelier manner. This proves a great benefit to students and their parents and allows teachers a greater role in their students’ success.
The bill was a request from the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma working group. Sanders said the training would be at no cost to the local school district. The working group is developing training materials and a handbook with the State Department of Education that can be shared with districts, teachers, parents and students. The task force will make additional recommendations in July. Members of the group also will travel to districts to help train teachers. The training could also be accessed online. It will be up to the local districts to decide the best timing.
Sanders worked with fellow Reps. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, and Kelly Albright, D-Midwest City, on the language of the bill and thanked them both for their leadership on this bipartisan issue.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
A bill that will restore $30 million to the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges fund recently passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill previously passed the House. The title is on this bill, which means once it passes the full Senate it can proceed straight to the governor to be signed into law.
This is good news for our county roads and bridges. Restoring this funding will help get our county projects back on track. The money was diverted in a previous year to help solve budget shortfalls in other areas, but I’ve watched like a hawk to make sure it was restored to this needed area.
When Republicans gained the majority in state government in 2004, we made transportation a priority. We’ve drastically reduced the number of structurally deficient bridges in our state and completed thousands of miles of road projects. At one time, there was more than 1,800 structurally deficient bridge in Oklahoma; now there are less than 200.
In other news, my House 1228, which will help teachers recognize and assist students with dyslexia, passed unanimously in the Senate Education Committee and now is eligible to be considered by the full body.
This bill requires school districts to offer teachers a professional development program about dyslexia once per year, beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. The measure requires the program to include training in identifying dyslexia, training in meeting the needs of students with dyslexia, and training on resources about dyslexia for teachers, students and parents.
Research clearly shows that identifying students with dyslexia early and getting them the proper classroom supports will help them learn to read and perform arithmetic and other subjects on grade level at a quicker pace. Students with dyslexia often present as those with a learning disability, but they actually just learn in a different way than other students. If teachers are trained to recognize dyslexia characteristics, they can get these students the help they need in a timelier manner. This will be a great benefit to these students and their parents, and will allow the teachers to play a greater role in their students’ success.
The bill was a request from the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma working group, which will provide training and materials to local school districts at no cost.
My House Bill 1003, which will provide a tax exemption to the Oklahoma American Legion, passed the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. The American Legion has been in Oklahoma for 100 years serving our state veterans and their families as well as our youth through a variety of patriotic education programs and outreach ministries. The Legion also promotes a mission of strong national security. It deserves the same tax-exempt status that other organizations with similar missions already have. The title is off the bill because it is a revenue measure. This means it will have to go through the full Senate and come back to the House to have title restored before it can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.
As always, I would love to hear from you about these or any other issues. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rep. Mike Sanders
The governor this week signed into law five measures that will help the Legislature keep much better track of how taxpayer money is spent and better monitor programs and services. The bills represent historic government reform.
State agencies have at times worked against the Legislature trying to pass common sense reform. Not all agencies have been responsive to the Legislature in showing transparency in expenditures. This will ensure the agencies answer directly to the state’s chief executive and his cabinet.
The governor will have hiring and firing authority over five of the largest appropriated state agencies: the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Transportation Department and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The governor also will have appointment power of five members on each board, pending advice and consent of the Senate. The Legislature will be able to appoint four members – two by the speaker of the House and two by the Senate president pro tempore. The Legislature also will have the ability to remove these agency heads with two-thirds of the vote.
The House this week also passed a bill to create the Office of Government Accountability. This office would hire 15 financial examiners who would routinely audit agency budgets and spending and evaluate the effectiveness of agency programs and services. One of the problems we’ve had with term limits in the Legislature is we have so many new members it is incredibly hard for them to come up to speed on the more than 60 agencies that receive state dollars and each of their budgets and programs. This office would help by providing detailed information to help inform our decisions as we budget the state’s money each year.
The House passed several other bills this week of note.
House Bill 2502 will give classroom teachers a $1,000 tax credit when they buy their own classroom supplies and or for renewal of their teacher certificates.
House Bill 2632 is known as the Patients Right to Pharmacy Choice Act. This bill evens the playing field for our local pharmacies and their customers. It establishes an advisory council of professionals with expertise in pharmacy to oversee pharmacy benefit managers. PBMs currently enjoy benefits such as access to lower-priced drugs, reimbursements after sale and they have been accused of using anti-competition and deceptive marketing tactics that disadvantage our smaller, local pharmacies.
House Bill 2304 will provide a 4 percent cost-of-living increase to retired teachers, firefighters, police and other law enforcement officers, justices and judges and public employees. The increase would take place January 1, 2020. It has been more than a decade since our retirees have had a COLA. With rising health care and other living costs, this is needed.
This is third-reading deadline week, meaning all bills have to be passed out of their chamber of origin in order to stay alive this session. House members have heard hundreds of bills this week and last, staying many late nights to consider each piece of legislation. I’ll provide the number of bills we passed in next week’s column. Next, we will consider Senate bills while that chamber considers House bills.
As always, I would love to hear from you about these or any other issues. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or email@example.com.