Lawsuit, Health Reform In Effect

Lawsuit, Health Reform In Effect

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Oklahomans can now enjoy the fruits of our legislative labors from the past session. More than 190 bills took effect November 1, including health and lawsuit reform. The legislation now in effect is the Oklahoma Legislature’s answer to the economic downturn, uninsured Oklahomans and a variety of other problems that you, our constituents, asked us to address.

House Bill 2026 creates an insurance hub to help match Oklahomans to private insurance plans that fit their needs. The bill also creates a core benefits package for young, healthy Oklahomans to purchase cheaper insurance policies free of the cost increases created by the state’s 36 mandates.

House Bill 1603 puts in place landmark lawsuit reform, which will also serve to reduce health care costs for all Oklahomans, reverse a trend in doctor and nurse shortages and attract business to our state. The bill caps noneconomic damages except in cases of gross negligence, cutting down on frivolous lawsuits and doctors’ insurance premiums.

Of special importance to windy Western Oklahoma, House Bill 1953 will make companies that support, repair and maintain service activities for wind industry energy companies eligible for the state’s Quality Jobs Act. This will help attract companies involved in the wind energy to one of the windiest regions in our nation.

Senate Bill 833 also deals with energy, in this case, energy conservation. To save your valuable tax dollars, the new law encourages all state agencies to develop and implement an energy efficiency and conservation plan. The law also asks each agency to designate a current employee to develop an energy plan.

Human cloning in Oklahoma is now banned, thanks to House Bill 1114. Regulatory barriers to small, family businesses have also been removed by House Bill 1003. Furthermore, schools struggling to find the right teachers have one less barrier, thanks to House Bill 394. The new law eliminates barriers to alternative teacher certification.

Unlike the federal government, which is playing loose and fast with our taxpayer dollars, Oklahoma lawmakers have tackled a variety of their constituents’ concerns without tax increases or deficit spending. Now that our legislation has become law, Oklahomans can start feeling the benefits.

If you have any questions or concerns I can be reached at my office at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Sanders to Sign Supreme Court Petition to Lift Gun Bans

Sanders to Sign Supreme Court Petition to Lift Gun Bans

OKLAHOMA CITY (October 23, 2009) – State Rep. Mike Sanders will add his signature to a brief that will be submitted by the plaintiff in an upcoming Supreme Court case challenging state and local bans of the right to keep and bear firearms.

McDonald v. Chicago challenges the constitutionality of the Chicago gun ban and will soon be heard by the Supreme Court. Sanders said as a card-carrying NRA member, he is joining the organization's effort to collect as many signatures from state lawmakers as they can to include in an amicus curiae  (or “friend of the court”)  brief.

“The Supreme Court has already struck down the District of Columbia’s gun ban and said that the Second Amendment guarantees our right to have guns in the home for self-defense,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “Oddly, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Chicago gun ban, but I believe the Supreme Court will reverse the lower court ruling and again uphold our Second Amendment rights. The NRA is asking state lawmakers to add their signatures to a brief to establish that many officials across the country support the removal of these state gun bans that needlessly and unconstitutionally restrict the rights of ordinary citizens.”

Sanders said he believes it highly unlikely that the Supreme Court would uphold state gun bans after striking down the District of Columbia’s ban, but that he thinks the NRA is right to focus on the issue.

“I have heard stories of citizens who were prosecuted after using an “illegal” firearm to save their own lives or their families or even perfect strangers,” Sanders said. “In Oklahoma, we understand how important the right to bear arms is and believe that the same right should be protected throughout the nation. I am calling on all Oklahoma state lawmakers to add their signature to the brief.”

Lawmakers can let the NRA know they want to be a signatory on the brief by sending an e-mail indicating the desire to be included and including the lawmaker’s district and contact information by Oct. 30.

“Guns are as common in Oklahoma as the deer they’re used to shoot,” Sanders said. “Oklahomans believe strongly in their right to bear arms and few understand why such gun bans have existed as long as they have.”
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Health Care Priorities

Health Care Priorities

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

I believe that all Oklahomans should have the oppurtunity to have insurance, yet I do not support the federal proposals to create either a government-run system or a government-funded non-profit system. Our private insurance and health care system isn’t perfect, but I am not yet ready to replace it with another system when there are so many ways to improve it without a complete overhaul.

The public option, which thankfully found opposition in both conservative Democrats and Republicans, would cripple small insurance businesses in rural Oklahoma – hurting the local economy and taking away high-paying jobs. The federal government always passes some costs to the state, which would take state dollars away from education and other vital areas of our budget. Both federal proposals are bad; the public option is the worse of the two.

Though the compromise legislation that was drafted in the Senate does not include a public option, it does include government-funded non-profit cooperatives and costs  more than $800 billion. Like the public option though, it will draw customers away from the private insurance companies in rural Oklahoma – forcing some to close their doors and others to raise their premiums.

Meanwhile, as both terrible proposals are being pushed by liberal lawmakers, Oklahoma has been taking great steps to find ways to insure the uninsured. New basic plans for young, healthy Oklahomans are also being created at lower premiums by allowing certain plans to be exempt from state mandates. More importantly, lawsuit reform has passed and will drive down the cost of doctors’ insurance, lowering health care costs in the state.

I believe that the next step is to open up more private competition by allowing out-of-state health insurers to offer their services to Oklahomans and finding away to allow individuals to carry their insurance from one job to the next. Changing the tax code to end discrimination against self-employed individuals would also help, particularly in the agricultural field in rural Oklahoma.

Making sure all who need insurance have it is an important goal. However, the federal proposals are too expensive and unnecessary. Democrats and Republicans battle daily over funding and what rules industry and individuals have to follow. Do we really want to bring that battle into our health care system by putting the government in charge of it?

If you have any questions or concerns I can be reached at my office at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Say No to Cap and Trade

Say No to Cap and Trade

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Regular citizens from across the country made it known that current federal proposals to institute a government-run health care system were neither responsible nor welcome. My hope is that citizens will again make their voices heard once they are aware of the federally proposed “cap and trade” legislation that threatens to skyrocket energy prices in the Midwest, including Oklahoma.

What may concern regular folks the most is that the bill’s supporters defeated House Republican amendments over the summer to discontinue the program if gas hit $5 a gallon, if electricity prices rose more than 10 percent over 2009, or if unemployment rates hit 15 percent. Supporters of the legislation have clearly acknowledged the potential for those results and have made their disregard for average citizens pointedly clear by striking down such amendments.

Like the health care legislation, not only will the “cap and trade” system have adverse effects, but will also use our taxpayer dollars to do it. Unsurprisingly, the states that stand to benefit the most – California and Massachussetts – have senators and representatives who strongly support the legislation. Because their electrical power is not derived from energy intially generated by coal, they will not be burdened in the same way Midwestern states that do receive coal generated energy will be.

The tax increases made to pay for the legislation will partly go to Third World countries for the creation of clean energy sources. Oklahoma is already a “donor state,” which means that we contribute more to federal revenue through taxes than we receive in services. Why should we also help to fund development in Third World countries when there are Oklahomans who struggle?

What is the benefit we are to receive from all this? Protection from the dreaded global warming? Even though some scientist concur that it is occuring and that it could be manmade (a point disputed by other scientists), there is little evidence that its effects will be devastating and no proof that we have any reason to fear. The media has seized on the “gloom and doom” of the more extreme projections. Meanwhile, some predictions that concern dates that have already come and past have shown to be utterly inaccurate. Even if, out of caution, we were to try to reduce carbon emissions, there is no reason to do so in a drastic way that will hurt this country’s citizens.

The Oklahoma Legislature has been looking into wind energy as a potential source of some energy and been pushing the use of compressed natural gas as a more environmentally-friendly and cheaper source of vehicle fuel. Oklahomans, surrounded by so much natural beauty, aren’t anti-environment. I believe though that we might have just a bit more common sense than our federal government.

If you have any questions or concerns I can be reached at my office at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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ACORN Loses Federal Funding

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

For conservatives, the most recent controversy surrounding the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) represents a validation of their many critiques of the group.

For years there have been allegations that ACORN has been committing voter fraud and other abuses with the use of taxpayer money. James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, in disguise as a pimp and his prostitute, were able to add merit to these allegations by catching ACORN employees in the act of trying to help the two disguise their “business” and avoid taxes. They caught ACORN employees on more than one occasion and at multiple locations – Brooklyn, Baltimore, Washington and California – proving the problem was systemic to ACORN rather than extraordinary.

In a time of tension between Republicans and Democrats, both came together quickly in the U.S. Senate to pass the measure restricting all federal funding to the group. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered all state funds going to the group frozen until a review of the organization had been completed, as a direct result of O’Keefe and Giles’ successful findings.

ACORN left Oklahoma not long ago and it does not appear the state has funded the organization, I am proud to say. I commend the federal government for taking quick and bipartisan action to freeze ACORN funding in light of the damning evidence that O’Keefe and Giles were able to uncover. Unfortunately, while conservatives have been onto the group for years, many liberal and moderate lawmakers have defended ACORN. Now, they will likely suffer politically for their decision. Allegations of fraud should never be taken lightly.

I would also like to comment on President Barack Obama’s involvement. He has yet to really rebuke ACORN. He was asked about it in several interviews and brushed it off. They were scheduled to help with the 2010 census, and he has not yet put the stop to that. His economic stimulus made $5.2 billion available to ACORN and similar organizations. They will hopefully not be involved in the census – it’s much too important to trust to them.

Hopefully, ACORN’s actions will make Americans more skeptical of such organizations and lawmakers more careful in how they spend taxpayer dollars and where they lend their support.

If you have any questions or concerns I can be reached at my office at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Shortfall Might Spark Special Session

Shortfall Might Spark Special Session

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Is there any fat left to trim from agency budgets? Does the budget we passed this past session still work in light of revenue shortfalls? These are the type of questions that may spark a special session this fall.

The budget we passed in May assumed we would bring in $6.51 billion in revenue during this budget year, which began in July. The revenue that is coming in is below that figure, although we designed the current budget assuming less money would be available than in the prior year. Although we are not facing a crisis like many of the other states around the nation, we need to address the shortfall through targeted cuts that protect vital areas of the budget that are most critical. Without a special session, the shortfall will be handled solely through automatic, across-the-board cuts.

Whether or not a special session is called will be determined by whether or not revenue stabilizes, falls further or increases. In the meantime, I continue to travel my district.

Compressed Natural Gas

I attended the grand opening of an OnCue compressed natural gas station in Oklahoma City with House Speaker Chris Benge. Oklahoma is third among states in the production of compressed natural gas and its promotion is vital to our state’s economy and to employing Oklahomans. It is also vital for national security reasons that we wean ourselves off of foreign oil. I could not be more proud that the Legislature and private companies in Oklahoma are working together to promote its use.

Department of Human Services

I’ve attended two town hall meetings in Seiling regarding concerns over problems in the way the Department of Human Services operates. Though the Legislature did enact DHS reforms this past session, the fact that child molesters are still showing up as foster parents shows that more is needed.

Painting in Okeene

Boy Scout Troop 169 of Okeene has been selected to beautify the Okeene city park with a fresh coat of paint on their park structures as a part of the 2009 Fresh Paint Days project designed to encourage volunteers to seek out unsightly community structures and renovate them.

On Sept. 17, I will join volunteers in picking up paint in Woodward. The paint will be donated by H.I.S. Pain Manufacturing Oklahoma City and we will also have a stipend for supplies funded by Public Service Company of Oklahoma. Then we’ll get to using it, transforming the buildings over a period of days.

District Events

I thoroughly enjoyed the county fairs in Kingfisher, Blaine and Major counties and am looking forward to the Dewey County Fair. I also visited Ames for the annual Ames Days. They put on a great display of fireworks.

One other event I was proud to attend was a ceremony in which the Occupation Safety and Health Administration recognized the U.S. Gypsum Plant with an award.

I also spoke to a Kingfisher County retired teachers’ association about health benefits and how they should receive fair COLA’s. I also want to congratulate two district fire departments on their latest vehicles. The Kingfisher Fire Department has acquired a state-of-the-art water tank truck and a new ladder truck. The Isabella Fire Department has acquired a brush pumper.

Nellie, Davis and I are looking forward to the Friday night football games. We are planning on hitting many football games throughout the district.

If you have any questions or concerns I can be reached at my office at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Accomplishments of the Legislature

This year has been a historic one for Oklahoma. Numerous reform measures have been signed into law and the fact that so much was accomplished this year is a tribute to the many Oklahomans who voted for change at the state level in this past election. I thank you for your vote and am proud to outline what has been accomplished.

Let me begin with my own legislation. House Bill 1473 was signed into law May 11 and will make tracts of agricultural land that were annexed into a city prior to July 1, 2003 exempt from having to follow laws passed by the city. House Bill 1470 was signed into law in April and will allow county commissioners to pay a reward up to $1,000 for any evidence leading to the arrest or conviction of anyone who vandalizes county property. House Bill 1467 also became law and beginning July 1, elementary school teachers teaching kindergarten through fourth grade classes will now be eligible for professional development through the Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation. Senate Bill 1066 was signed into law May 22 and will increase the amount of money that can be reimbursed to county governments for road and bridge projects. Senate Bill 854, which will also increase the reimbursable amount counties can spend on road and bridge projects, was passed out of both legislative chambers and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Lawsuit Reform
After years of seeking to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits in Oklahoma, we brought everyone to the table and were able to get lawsuit reform signed into law. More than two thirds of medical lawsuits are frivolous and thrown out of court, yet millions are spent in defense of these bogus lawsuits. Oklahoma’s new law will limit the amount that can be awarded for non-economic damages except in cases of obvious negligence or permanent injury. It will also limit court-shopping and require a certificate of merit before a professional negligence case can advance. Oklahoma will now be able to attract more doctors, especially into the rural areas of our state.

Voter ID Reform
Oklahoma citizens will have the chance to opt for required voter identification now that the Legislature has sent it to the 2010 ballot. Legislation requiring voters to provide their voter registration card or any document with their photograph issued by a state, federal, county, municipal or tribal government was vetoed by the governor. If Oklahomans vote to require voter identification in 2010, the state will have a means to address potential voter fraud.

Responsible Budget
Lawmakers put together a $7.2 billion budget using both revenue collected by the state and from the stimulus funds. We used the stimulus money to increase education funding and for Medicaid obligations under the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Without that funding our budget would be $6.51 billion, a decrease in spending from last year’s $7 billion budget. Rural legislators also ensured the continuation of REAP funding, which was briefly in jeopardy in the last days of session.

Pro-Life Legislation
Oklahoma children cannot be targeted for abortion because of their gender under new legislation this year. The Legislature was also able to secure $5.5 million in funding for adult stem cell research.

Elected Officials Who Commit Felonies
Loopholes in Oklahoma law have made it possible for politicians convicted of a felony to still receive taxpayers-funded benefits. A new law created this session will close those loopholes.

Government Modernization
Lawmakers will save an estimated $70 million by freeing the Department of Central Services to negotiate the best possible terms and prices for state contracts. Another measure will centralize the state’s computer security of taxpayer data and streamline services to taxpayers by requiring an option to renew permits and licenses online.

Upping Trespassing Penalties
Because farm land and commercial hunting grounds are especially susceptible to taking great losses from theft and poaching, lawmakers strengthened penalties for trespassing on those properties. The new law will help to protect rural Oklahomans by deterring would-be thieves and poachers.

DHS Reform
A new law created this session will reduce the number of children needlessly coming into the foster care system by improving the training of Department of Human Services workers in risk and safety assessment. The law also requires that information about a child’s physical and behavioral health and education is available electronically to foster parents.

Alternative Energy Reform
Oklahomans will have access to a newly created tax credit to offset the cost of converting a vehicle to run on compressed natural gas or other alternative fuels and a $2,500 tax credit for installing home-fueling CNG stations. In addition, new law allows the Department of Central Services to provide public access to alternative fueling infrastructure in underserved areas unless a private provider locates within five miles.

Help for the Uninsured
Lawmakers pushed through legislation that will promote the Insure Oklahoma program, which has shown success in enrolling uninsured Oklahomans. It also creates a cheaper core benefits package for young, healthy Oklahomans.

It’s been an honor to serve you at the Oklahoma State Capitol in the 52nd Legislature. I promised to be a strong voice for Western Oklahoma and have now fulfilled that promise. In the interim, I look forward to spending more time with you as I travel the district. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407 or at my home phone at (405) 375-5442.
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Responsible Budget Created for Oklahoma

Legislative Update by State Rep. Mike Sanders

With the budget agreed upon and session set to end early, I thought it was about time to wrap everything up and enjoy spending a little more quality time with my wife, Nellie, and son, Davis Lee. Then I learned that the governor had removed a provision to provide for Rural Economic Action Plan funding and I knew there was still a little bit of work that needed to be done.

Fortunately, rural lawmakers have been fighting too hard to protect REAP funding to let it just slip through the cracks. Working with state Rep. Ken Miller and state Sen. Mike Johnson, the budget chairmen for their prospective chambers, we have identified a revenue source to fund the REAP program at last year’s level less a 7 percent cut that is being made to all areas of the budget except for education, roads and bridges and corrections. The revenue source will come from an existing bill that is set to increase the fine for delinquent tag renewal from $0.25 to $1 a day.

Now let’s get to the meat of the budget. I am proud to say that core functions of Oklahoma government – education, roads and bridges and corrections – were all protected. We found the money for a $40.5 million increase for public schools and a $31.6 million increase for higher education funding. The Department of Transportation is getting a slight increase and the Department of Corrections is being funded at last year’s level. As I mentioned above, other areas of the budget are being cut. The Department of Human Services will get a 1.7 percent cut. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse is going to lose 2 percent of its funding. The Legislature and governor’s office are both taking cuts to their budgets as well.

The state’s budget last year was $7 billion. This year it has gone up to $7.2 billion because the state is accepting a portion of the stimulus money. Without the stimulus money, the budget would be about $6.51 billion. We are using the stimulus money in the areas of education, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which oversees Medicaid in the state and for transportation.

Working with the governor, Republicans have been able to create a responsible budget despite shortfalls in revenue and I am pleased to be a part of that.

I would also like to mention the success of the Ten Commandments legislation that will allow private entities to place a Ten Commandments monument on Capitol grounds. The monument will serve as a reminder that our government system has a basis in the Ten Commandments.

In my next update, I will give you a rundown of what the Legislature has accomplished this year. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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House Adopts Resolutions Opposing Cap-And-Trade

House Adopts Resolutions Opposing Cap-And-Trade and

Opposing Repeal of Tax Incentives for Oil and Gas Exploration

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 12, 2009) – Lawmakers joined state Rep. Mike Thompson today in his opposition to a federal cap-and-trade system on greenhouse emissions and opposition to a repeal of tax incentives for oil and gas exploration with two resolutions to be distributed to the president and members of the U.S. Congress.

“The federal cap-and-trade system will be an economic hardship on top of the troubles Americans are already experiencing,” Thompson, R-Oklahoma City, said. “The repeal on tax incentives for oil and gas exploration hits closer to home. It will have a direct negative impact on Oklahoma industries.”

House Concurrent Resolution 1035, by Thompson, refers to President Barack Obama’s proposal to implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. On March 31, 2009, Congressman Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey released a draft of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which includes language implementing a cap-and-trade system.

“Why anyone would want to risk such a large impact on the economy by creating such a far-sweeping system is beyond me,” Thompson said. “I think that while any such system would be a burden on the economy, this one will have a much deeper negative impact.”

House Concurrent Resolution 1036, also by Thompson, notes that Oklahoma is an energy state, where more than 76,000 Oklahomans or 3.3 percent of the workforce in 2007 were directly employed by the oil and natural gas industry. Directly or indirectly, the oil and gas industry supports one in seven jobs in Oklahoma.

“These small- to medium-sized businesses, which are so numerous in Oklahoma and so important to our local economy, will reinvest that money they get in the form of tax incentives,” Thompson said. “Repealing them would truly be a poor policy choice.”

Both resolutions were adopted by the House and pending Senate approval will be distributed to the president and all members of the U.S. Congress.


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Legislative Update – Knee-Jerk Protectionism Blocks Legitimate Reform

After years of doing things one way, some Oklahoma officeholders have been slow to warm to the reform measures the Republican-led Legislature are trying to enact.

Gov. Brad Henry’s recent veto of a lawsuit reform measure is the latest example of this trend. The legislation, which is carefully worded to target only frivolous lawsuits, simply requires that an expert sign off on the validity of a lawsuit before it is taken to court. The bill makes so much sense that the governor signed into law a similar measure in 2004 that targeted only medical malpractice lawsuits. The 2004 law was thrown out in 2006 for unconstitutionally applying to only one industry. This year’s law therefore was written to apply to all industries.

It is not unexpected to see this type of knee-jerk protectionism of old systems, but it is disappointing. Though there is nothing in either party’s platform that would place a lawmaker against lawsuit reform or government modernization efforts, the vote on those reforms has been divided along partisan lines. My belief is that it is rooted in a fear of changing the status quo, especially when that change comes from the opposite party.

Take for example the argument against tort reform. Trial lawyers have muddied the water by marching out truly rare cases of severe medical malpractice and trying to create a feeling that Oklahoma is rampant with bad doctors who are held at bay by the current system. Data has been gathered to show the true effects of changing the law will actually benefit people with legitimate cases, but the parade of sob stories and unfounded fear that some critical-but-unidentified right of average Oklahomans will be imperiled has caused the minority party to vote against the reform in the Legislature and the governor to veto legislation that he has acknowledged is needed.

A second example of how instinct is being used in place of information is in the significant opposition to government modernization. Republican lawmakers received debate and opposition on such common-sense measures as centralizing information technology services and allowing the state to renegotiate contracts.

The final example of this phenomenon is voter identification reform. The lawmaker who introduced this legislation pointed out states that had enacted similar reform and had seen record turnout in subsequent elections. It seemed like a good argument to deter the legitimate if protectionist concern that changing the system might disenfranchise voters. The legislation divided the Legislature again along party lines and was vetoed by the governor.

The changes that the Republican-led Legislature is trying to enact are meant to fix problems that have emerged over time in the status quo. Reform should be embraced by both parties, especially when the change is not nonpartisan in nature. Opponents of such measures should take a hard look at their positions and make sure they are not becoming roadblocks in the path to progress in Oklahoma.

Thank you for stopping by my office, Joy Rhodes of Watonga. I would also like to thank the Oklahoma FFA choir, who sang beautifully at the state Capitol recently. I am always excited to meet with visiting FFA members.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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