Major Legislation on the Move

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

This legislation session is off to a fast start. New House rules have sped up the process and several major pieces of legislation are already on the move.

House Bill 2140 would consolidate seven state agencies into one. The consolidation is modeled after the central services governance structures used in Montana, Indiana and Utah. Lawmakers are hoping that it will save the state millions of dollars. Central services agencies provide employee benefits, purchasing, and financial services to other agencies. Their function is strictly bureaucratic.

Eminent domain reform and workers’ compensation reform are also making their way through the legislative process. House Bill 1226 gives property owners the right to buy back property taken through eminent domain if the property goes unused. They could buy it back at the price they were given for it or, if it had lost value, at the current appraised value. Senate Bill 878 would overhaul of the current workers’ compensation system in order to reduce litigation costs and speed up the resolution of cases.

Uninsured motorists will be unable to sue for pain and suffering if they are in an accident if House Bill 1045 passes. I could not be more pleased to see such a bill. It would protect law-abiding citizens from frivolous damages from individuals who are currently breaking the law.

I am pleased to announce the passage of several bills I have authored. House bills 1050, 1051, 1052, and 1060 passed through committee last week.

Lastly, some of you may have received a recorded call from Alabama criticizing my vote against a proposed House rule. The rule would give every bill a hearing, a practice that would be impractical and inappropriate because we have more bills filed than we have time to hear during the legislative session. There are also bills that Oklahomans wouldn’t expect us to hear. For example, a senator filed a bill this year to legalize marijuana. A bill like this doesn’t even deserve the time of the House to consider it, when we have very serious issues we need to be sure to spend time discussing like our current budget crisis and lessening the impact it will have on our state.

I did vote for new House rules that end the practice of using a chaotic process to sneak through unpopular proposals. The rules increase the opportunity lawmakers and citizens have to review proposals. We also ended the use of non-voting joint conference committees so that everything that we do would be open to public scrutiny.

I believe strongly in what you elected me to do as your state representative and want you to know how seriously I take each bill that I vote on. There isn’t one vote that I cast without being fully aware of the impact it has on each of you and Oklahoma. I’m sure this will be the first of many calls to come, considering the current political climate we’re in but please don’t hesitate to contact me about the facts. I have an open door policy and want you to know that I’m always here for you if you need me.

I would like to thank my pages this week, Scott and Shelby Dobrinski of Okeene. They are both freshmen at Okeene High School. I would also like to wish our district high school basketball teams good luck in regional and area tournaments. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Restricting Funeral Protests

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

An important piece of legislation passed this week. It would help protect grieving families by expanding restrictions against those who cruelly picket funerals.

House Bill 1074 has come about in response to the Westboro Baptist Church and their protests at soldiers’ funerals. The church is a radical group unaffiliated with any denomination, which claims the deaths of U.S. military personnel are a sign of God’s judgment on this country. These incredibly insensitive protesters also recently showed up at the funeral of a victim of the Arizona shooting. The legislation would make it illegal for them and anyone else to picket within 1,000 feet of the property line of a cemetery, funeral home, church or other place where any portion of a funeral service is held. The prohibition would begin an hour before and end an hour after the service. Violators could receive a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.

I wish that we could ban their picketing altogether, but unfortunately they are protected in their right to free speech. I can’t stand the idea of the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice having to endure this viciousness on top of mourning the loss of their loved one. Our hope is that the distance at which they will be restricted will help shield the funeral attendees from taking too great a notice of these individuals.

I am also happy to report that lawsuit reform bills have passed out of a Senate committee. The goal of this legislation is to get a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. By passing it, we will be helping to do away with one of the factors that lead to high health care costs.

The House Common Education Committee passed legislation that will grade schools on their performance. House Bill 1456 is modeled after Florida’s grading system that resulted in gradual improvements in student performance. Accountability goes a long way, especially when that accountability is out there for parents to see.

Finally, House Bill 1199 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would allow judges to grant former legal guardians visitation rights to see the children that used to be under their care. The intent is simple. For a child, family is whoever looks after them. Oklahomans support keeping families together.

I would like to end by congratulating Grey Berry from Seiling, who served as my page and was named Page of the Week.

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

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Governor Mary Fallin’s eloquent State of the State address touched on a number of important topics for the 2011 session. I was pleased to hear her commitment to a reduction in state government spending. She believes, as I do, that Oklahoma’s government has grown too big and bureaucratic. I also agreed with her call for a pro-business climate, workers’ compensation reform and true lawsuit reform.

The governor received a standing ovation when she called on state agencies to voice what they could do to become more efficient rather than their opposition to cuts. Her proposed state budget would reduce most agency budgets by 5 percent, reduce education and human services funding by about 3 percent, and reduce health spending by 1.4 percent. While there will be areas of disagreement over budget details, I support the overall 5.4 percent spending cut she has proposed and look forward to the Legislature’s collaboration with her on the creation of a responsible, balanced budget. We’re facing a serious budget crisis and although it’s hard to see cuts made to any important areas, they are necessary with the current economic landscape we face as a state.

The workers’ compensation system in our state has been plagued with problems that hurt our business climate and do too little to actually help injured workers. Frivolous lawsuits have also hurt our state by raising health care costs and negatively affecting businesses. I was grateful to hear that Governor Fallin will support legislative efforts to reform both these systems.

The governor discussed the need for education reform and the fact that in opposing the federal health care law, we must come up with state solutions to local health care problems. I believe that opening the state up to greater competition and true tort reform are important steps to accomplishing our health care goals. I think that we must find ways to get more education dollars into our classrooms and find ways to ensure that those dollars are used effectively.

We celebrated the 100th birthday of President Ronald Reagan this past week. He too advocated for making the government work for the people, not the other way around. The governor’s address confirmed that we have common conservative goals and a similar plan of action. I am looking forward to the Legislature’s collaboration with her in moving our state forward.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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My 2011 Legislation

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Although my primary focus during the 2011 legislative session will be the state budget, I have filed four bills at the request of local county governments and two bills that will increase community safety. I have also re-filed legislation to create a sales tax exemption for the American Legion.

The American Legion is the only auxiliary group in Oklahoma that does not qualify for a sales tax exemption to help them in their excellent tradition of community service. House Bill 1325 would create a targeted sales tax exemption which doesn’t amount to much money in the overall scheme of things, but helps out a service organization that is known for its positive effect on communities throughout the state.

You may remember my legislation to limit the use of emergency lights with the red-and-blue combination. After House Bill 2969 was signed into law, I realized that state and county road workers would no longer be able to use those lights. I filed House Bill 1061 this year to correct that problem and ensure the safety of those workers from being hit by vehicles.

Two of my bills change the county clerk’s responsibilities. House Bill 1050 changes the process of electing a fair association board of directors. My legislation would require candidates to the board to file with the county election board instead of the county clerk. House Bill 1051 makes each elected county officer responsible for their inventory records, files and reports. Currently, this responsibility rests solely with the county clerk.

House Bill 1052 will aid counties in making day-to-day purchases. Blanket purchase orders basically allow repetitive purchases without having to approve each and every purchase. My legislation will increase the maximum amount that a county can issue on a blanket purchase order to aid counties in taking care of their day-to-day business. House Bill 1060 will give county commissioners greater flexibility in repairing county roads and bridges.

My final piece of legislation for this year will better define the levels of firefighter training that are eligible for existing tax credits. Rural firefighters are sometimes unpaid or only part-time and these tax credits give them an incentive to work towards the same level of training firefighters in larger fire departments would generally receive. To me, this is a public safety issue, plain and simple. Better training ensures better safety in our rural communities.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Pruitt’s Challenge of Obamacare

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

On Jan. 21, Oklahoma’s new attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal health care overhaul signed into law by President Barack Obama. I could not be more pleased that the new attorney general is fully committed to fighting Congress’s unconstitutional and impractical legislation. Despite the dramatic change this last election brought to the U.S. Congress, it is unlikely that a repeal will be passed. It is up to state attorney generals to defeat the new federal law.

As I have said in the past, I believe a federal mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. I have noted that it will trigger the largest tax increase in the history of the United States, while at the same time cutting Medicare by $520 billion.

We can address local health care problems ourselves. The Oklahoma Legislature enacted lawsuit reform to drive down health care costs and exempted certain insurance plans from state mandates to reduce premiums. 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 a way 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.

Pruitt’s lawsuit also defends the Oklahoma Health Care Freedom constitutional amendment approved by Oklahoma voters this past election. I was a proud supporter of this amendment which declares that Oklahomans cannot be required to purchase individual health care coverage.

On Jan. 25, I joined the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety in hearing performance reviews from the state fire marshal, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, ABLE Commission, the Department of Public Safety, the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation, and the state medical examiner’s office. With an estimated revenue shortfall of $500-600 million, this is going to be a year full of tough decisions. However, I am confident we can streamline government. Government is meant to work for us; we are not meant to work for our government.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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The 2011 Legislative Session

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The 2011 session is set to begin Feb. 7. This session, I plan to focus primarily on the budget and ensure that public safety funding remains intact. I will also support education reform, health care reforms, and maintaining our roads and bridges.

The state faces an estimated $500-600 million revenue shortfall in 2011. In the past two years, the Rainy Day fund and stimulus monies had helped fill holes in the budget. This year, those funds will not be available.

I expect that we will be looking at the consolidation of certain state agencies. Most states that are comparable to Oklahoma use fewer agencies to provide the same services provided by numerous central agencies in Oklahoma. For example, Montana has one agency representing the same services as provided by our Department of Central Services, Office of State Finance, Office of Personnel Management, Employees Benefits Council, Merit Protection Commission, State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board, Archives and Records Commission, Department of Libraries, and a series of retirement system organizations. A mandate to achieve 20 percent savings through the consolidation of some of these agencies would yield an annual savings of $10.6 million.

Education reforms that could be discussed this session include: proposals to reward teachers based on performance, professional development for math and elementary school teachers, and remediation for teachers that perform below standards. Past reform efforts have included professional development for reading teachers and a statewide teacher evaluation system that allows districts to reward teachers based on year-to-year improvements in the education of their students.

I recently learned that local school districts have outperformed districts statewide on the Academic Performance Index put together by the State Department of Education. The state average API score is 1092. Just a few examples of local schools that scored higher are: Kingfisher High School scored 1388 out of 1500, Gilmore Elementary School scored 1397, Okarche Elementary School scored 1397, Okarche High School scored 1318, Vici Elementary School scored 1299, Lomega Elementary School scored 1289, and Taloga Elementary School scored 1215. API scores are put together based on ACT scores and participation, attendance, dropout and graduation rates, state mandated tests, and Advanced Placement scores.

I would like to encourage folks to take advantage of the annual Oklahoma Mission of Mercy, a two-day event at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Feb. 4-5. More than 2,000 volunteer professionals will offer free dental care including cleanings, fillings, extractions, and root canals. There is no eligibility or income requirement to attend.

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

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

On Jan. 5, 1925, my wife Nellie’s great-grandmother and namesake was sworn in as the first female governor in the United States. Wyoming Governor William Bradford Ross had passed away while in office just a few months earlier. A mourning widow, his wife Nellie Tayloe Ross refused to campaign for office, but won handedly. As governor, she continued her late husband’s policies of tax cuts, banking reform, protecting children, and strengthening prohibition laws. To this day, Nellie Tayloe Ross is the only woman to have served as Governor of Wyoming.

Watching as Governor Mary Fallin was sworn in as Oklahoma’s first female governor, I could see the pride my wife Nellie has in our great state and the history we have made with our new governor. I could not be more proud to serve alongside Governor Fallin. At a time when the state is facing some of its toughest challenges, it eases the burden of the Legislature in addressing the looming budget hole to have a governor who is on the same page. I was especially honored to have many constituents in attendance at the swearing in ceremony. Girl Scout Troop 500 from Kingfisher helped pass out programs. High school students from Lomega High School and a number of folks from Okeene, Watonga, Okarche, Hennessey and Kingfisher were all in attendance. Thank you to all who attended and were a part of history.

However, in this time of celebration, it is also appropriate to comment on the tragedy that took place in Arizona this past weekend. We cannot truly comprehend the full extent of the tragic losses of the loved ones who were killed on that day. While the blame game begins to play out in the media, we need to remember that it is a single, clearly deranged individual who was responsible for this heinous crime. Sadly, some of the media and a handful of politicians have already begun an attempt to silence our right to free speech. As individuals, we’re responsible for our own actions and shouldn’t have our rights as American's stripped because of individuals who choose to barbarically act out in society.

On an exciting note, I would like to congratulate the many basketball team victories we had in the district. Both the Seiling boys and girls won the Cherokee Invitational championship. The Watonga boys were the champions of the Three Rivers Conference in Hennessey and the Kingfisher boys were runners up in the Wheat Capital Tournament. A number of other district teams came in just shy of the championships, in which they took part. I would like to congratulate all of these athletes on their success.

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

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

I wish you all a healthy and blessed 2011. The Oklahoma House of Representatives kicked off the new year this week with the swearing in of the new House leadership. Speaker of the House Kris Steele and Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Hickman both spoke on the need to fix the state’s unfunded pension liability of $16 billion, to increase transparency and bipartisanship through new procedural rules, and to overhaul the state workers’ compensation system.

I cannot yet predict how the procedural rules will change, but I do know that both the state pension system and workers’ compensation system are in need of large-scale reforms. According to official actuarial reports, the Oklahoma Retirement System has a combined unfunded liability of over $16 billion. Pension reform is critical to ensure we meet our current obligations and that our future obligations are manageable. The current workers’ compensation system is stock full of problems that create hardships for both workers and private businesses.

The unfunded liability of the pension system threatens to take tax dollars away from core government services. With our current revenue shortfall, this is unacceptable. The current workers’ compensation system hurts our state economically while underserving the workers that are supposed to benefit from it. I believe that we will enact meaningful reform to fix both of these broken systems this session.

I would like to congratulate the Okeene State Guaranty Bank on serving the community for 111 years. The bank began as a frame building as the Bank of Okeene on January 1, 1900, with a first day’s business of $4,798. The bank remains locally-owned and managed by the Durham and Graalman families.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Speaker-elect Announces House Leadership Appointments

Contact: House Media
Capitol: (405) 557-7421

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele today announced key leadership appointments for the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.

“Given the significant challenges facing our state, it is critical the Legislature focus on conservative, pro-growth policies that will move Oklahoma forward,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “I believe that we have chosen a team of effective leaders who will ensure the upcoming legislative session is conducted professionally and efficiently to maximize our accomplishments.”

The leadership appointments for the Oklahoma House of Representatives are as follows:

Assistant Majority Floor Leaders:
Mike Jackson, R-Enid
Gary Banz, R-Midwest city
Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan
Lisa Billy, R-Purcell
George Faught, R-Muskogee
Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle

Assistant Majority Whips:
Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher
Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville
Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond
Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond
Fred Jordan, R-Jenks
Dennis Casey, R-Morrison
Corey Holland, R-Marlow
Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore
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Sanders Receives Committee Assignments

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker-elect Kris Steele has appointed state Rep. Mike Sanders as a member of two committees and one appropriations subcommittee for the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions. Sanders was named vice chair of the House Human Services Committee and Assistant Majority Whip in late November.

Sanders said he was especially pleased to serve on the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety.

“Public safety is near and dear to my heart,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “I think that there are lawmakers that would prioritize other areas of the budget over public safety and it will be my job to ensure our rural firefighters and members of law enforcement get the support they need to keep our communities safe.”

Sanders said he will continue to keep the farmers’ and ranchers’ best interest in mind while serving on the House Agriculture, Wildlife and Environment Committee.

“This committee will examine legislation that affects rural communities,” Sanders said. “I am honored to serve on it.”

Sanders said the House Energy and Utility Regulation Committee will be important to boost the natural gas and domestic oil industry in the state.

“I plan to look for ways to promote natural gas and domestic oil,” Sanders said. “These resources are a cornerstone of the state’s economy.”
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