Session Overview

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

I am proud of what lawmakers were able to accomplish this session. We were able to address a $1.2 billion shortfall in the budget and at the same time dealt with a number of policy issues. Unlike Congress, we are constitutionally bound to balance the budget and had to make cuts. We managed to eliminate some wasteful spending, but some worthy programs also suffered. At the end of the day, we must try to run government like our households – spending only money that we have, and when there’s a surplus, saving it. That being said, I would like to take this opportunity to outline session accomplishments.

Health Care – Lawmakers approved a ballot proposal for the November 2010 election that gives Oklahomans an opportunity to vote to opt out of federal health care mandates. Most of us were opposed to this expensive, ineffective federal legislation, and I look forward to the proposal’s approval by voters. We also passed Senate Bill 2046. This bill increases competition among health insurers by authorizing the insurance commissioner to negotiate compacts with other states to allow out-of-state insurers to sell insurance in Oklahoma. The legislation also makes out-of-state insurers subject to premium taxes that will go to fund high risk pools.

Workers’ CompThe House passed legislation to improve the state’s workers’ compensation system for injured workers and reduce costs for Oklahoma employers. The reform was contained in four bipartisan bills that could save businesses in the state at least $60.5 million. The reforms ensure a shorter wait for injured workers to receive their claims and fewer costs for businesses. Changes include giving the Physicians Advisory Council a stronger position in the process, tightening up certain definitions to close inappropriate loopholes, requiring claims adjusters to take six hours of continuing education, better defining work-related activity, and setting up a task force to look at vocational rehabilitation for injured workers.

Transparency – Legislators voted to expand the state’s OpenBooks website to make state expenditures more transparent, passed legislation to require the Oklahoma Department of Education to display school districts’ financial information online, and approved a bill that will increase transparency of state stimulus fund expenditures.

Education Reform – Serious education reforms have been long overdue. I am proud to announce that we were able to pass significant tenure reform, extending the length of time and standards required to achieve career teacher status. Under the new law, districts can reward teachers who attain career status with enhanced pay based on performance rather than seniority. The legislation will bolster the state’s application in the federal Race to the Top education grant competition.

Public Safety – I am very proud of the Legislature’s work to restore public trust in the state medical examiner’s office this session. We found funding to help the agency hire new pathologists and obtain new equipment. We also passed a bill to create a new facility near the University of Central Oklahoma Forensic Science Institute. I was proud to see two bills I authored signed into law. Under House Bill 2968, registered sex offenders can no longer submit a P.O. Box or other address that cannot be mapped to the sex offender registry. They must instead submit a physical, map-able address. Under House Bill 2969, only Class AA wreckers may use red and blue light combinations at the scene of an emergency. Other towing and wrecker services may only use amber lights.

Protecting Unborn Children – The Legislature passed multiple pro-life bills this session. Several were vetoed by the governor, but became law after the Legislature overrode the vetoes. We expect there will be a legal challenge, but believe that we have carefully crafted the legislation to address the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s past decisions against similar legislation.

In addition to my two public safety bills, I authored seven other pieces of legislation, most of which are now law or awaiting the governor’s signature. Among them is legislation that will allow the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to make needed purchases and repairs up to $400,000 without going out for a bid. Last year, the Turnpike Authority made this change in their statutes and my legislation simply brings all agencies into parity.

Thank you to the Corrections Corporation of America for their years of service in Watonga. It is our greatest hope to see your doors reopen soon.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Budget Agreement Highlights

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Despite a $1.2 billion shortfall, legislators managed to balance the budget without raising state income or sales tax rates. The $6.675 billion budget cut agencies by less than we had originally believed would be required. I am particularly proud of avoiding trooper furloughs by holding the Department of Public Safety to a 1 percent cut. We were also able to ensure the survival of the Rural Economic Action Plan, the senior nutrition program, and scheduled road and bridge projects.

Though there will no doubt be some bellyaching from agency heads, I believe lawmakers have spared them from what could have been much deeper cuts. Tough times call for tough decisions. Personally, I believe the larger agencies could have absorbed greater cuts through better management of their resources. My hope is the agencies will learn to be thrifty from this experience and, after the economy recovers, will display sound judgment in their spending. I would even go so far as to press for a zero-based budget. Every agency should have to defend and justify every appropriation request.

A spending-related piece of legislation was signed into law recently. The governor signed the Task Force Accountability Act, a bill that will give task forces and other advisory boards a deadline to show their relevancy or else be eliminated. Oklahoma has more agencies, boards, and commissions than any other state of our size. The bill requires the advisory boards and task forces to conduct at least one meeting or issue a final report within three years of the date that they were created. Once certain task forces are eliminated, the state will save money on member travel and professional services associated with those task forces.

Legislation to modernize the Commissioners of Land Office was also signed into law. House Bill 3026, by House Speaker Chris Benge, puts in place a modern management infrastructure for the land trust, improves accounting practices, and updates or repeals obsolete statutes and rules. The Commissioners of Land Office, also known as the School Land Trust, administers the school land trust funds that provide funding for the support and maintenance of schools. The legislation will go a long way toward ensuring that the money generated through this agency goes where it is intended – to the Oklahoma school children.

During tough times, citizens have to tighten their belt. State government must also make adjustments.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Statesmanship a Must in Tough Times

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

In the face of a $1.2 billion shortfall, lawmakers must show statesmanship to create a budget that will help the state weather the downturn. The majority of state lawmakers, be they Democrat of Republican, know how to work together to pass important legislation. Unfortunately, the budget has become a regular point of partisan contention.

It is clear as daylight that no one is going to be 100 percent happy with the state budget when it is finalized. Though there are some inefficiencies in government, many state agencies will be cut beyond what a little belt tightening can solve. Most groups are afraid of the cuts, even if they don’t know the exact amount they will face.

Some individuals have chosen to criticize legislative leaders in the media and threaten to block the budget. These individuals are critical of a budget crafted by a small group in negotiation with the governor and would prefer each and every member of the legislature have a seat at the table.

I contend that the budget process is both fair and efficient. Created when Democrats were in the majority, it essentially cuts the amount of back-and-forth between the governor and two houses of the Legislature by allowing the legislative leaders and the governor to negotiate the sticking points before putting it up for a vote. I would add that any legislator who is straightforward in approaching the leadership can affect the final outcome of that negotiation. If legislative leaders ignored other members of the legislature, the budget would get voted down every year. Instead, a budget is always passed by a majority of lawmakers, many of whom have contributed ideas to it.

Every citizen has a right to campaign for public office. However, when elected and in session, lawmakers should focus on negotiating legislation on behalf of their constituents.

Rural doctors

A recent example of bipartisan legislation is a plan to help increase the state’s physician-to-patient ratio. Oklahoma has a shortage of rural doctors with a stunning 59 of the state’s 77 counties having too few doctors. The Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians has recently called on state lawmakers to support legislation to help mitigate at least one of the factors contributing to this shortage, the high cost of a doctor’s education.

The legislation would create an Oklahoma Medical Repayment Program. House Bill 1048 would empower the Physician Manpower Training Commission to provide student loan repayment assistance for up to six licensed physicians who have recently graduated from medical school and would be willing to move to one of these underserved areas and accept Medicaid patients. With new doctors averaging about $160,000 in debt and the state’s poor ratio, I supported the House passage of this legislation.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Sanders: Budget Plan Protects Rural Priorities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact: State Rep. Mike Sanders

Capitol: (405) 557-7407

OKLAHOMA CITY – The newly unveiled state budget agreement protects rural priorities, particularly the Rural Economic Action Plan, state Rep. Mike Sanders said today.

“From day one of this session, other rural legislators and I have vowed to oppose any effort to eliminate programs that benefit rural Oklahomans,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I am pleased our efforts have been successful. Like many areas of government, the REAP program is taking a budget cut this year, but the program remains intact.”

The Rural Economic Action Plan pays for infrastructure needs in rural communities. Gov. Brad Henry’s original budget proposal called for eliminating the program during the downturn.

“REAP grants help protect our rural way of life,” Sanders said. “The program helps pay for fire stations, puts police cars and ambulances on the streets, and even funds tornado sirens, which have proven invaluable this week. I believe the REAP program provides an important public service, which is why I and other rural legislators fought so hard to preserve it.”

Sanders noted the budget agreement also preserves tax credits that help pay for rural volunteer firefighters to obtain training. Early in the session, the governor had also suggested eliminating those tax credits.

“Obviously, in this down budget environment we have to make some tough choices, but I felt it was shortsighted to financially penalize rural firefighters who volunteer their time and risk their lives to protect their neighbors,” Sanders said. “Preserving the firefighter tax credit was another important victory for rural Oklahoma.”
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Tax Credits and the Budget

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Legislative leaders are hard at work trying to sway the governor on fiscal matters and hammer out a budget agreement for fiscal year 2011. The state faces a $1.2 billion shortfall and there are differences in how the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Brad Henry want to resolve the problem.

Various groups have visited the capital lately, trying to find ways to spare cuts to the state programs they represent. Some of them are calling for a broad elimination of tax breaks, saying the state “gives away” close to $5.6 billion annually through tax incentives, credits and reductions. However, the truth is that the “give away” figure includes your personal exemptions and standard or itemized deductions. The figure also includes exemptions on Social Security and most retirement benefits. In reality, only $256 million worth of tax credits have been targeted and most of those credits are designed to bring jobs to Oklahoma.

Lawmakers are reviewing these tax credits and do plan to dispose of any that have failed to produce jobs. I assure you that a broad elimination of tax breaks would be counterproductive and hurt families in Oklahoma. It is also clear that eliminating some tax credits will not be enough (in and of itself) to patch the budget hole. We need to apply common sense in government and make targeted cuts rather than look for a scapegoat to take the brunt of the hardships the shortfall has created.

Gov. Henry has signed Senate Bill 1940. The legislation is my sixth bill to become law. It will reduce the number of county bridge projects that require engineering plans and specifications from the county engineer, raising the threshold from $300,000 to $400,000. This will make it easier for county government to maintain local infrastructure by reducing the cost of smaller projects.

I was happy to greet a number of constituents at the Capitol recently. I was visited by Patrick Griffin of the Hennessey School Board, Hennessey optometrist Dr. John Smith, and Dr. David Jones of Woodward, who came up for a special screening put on by the Oklahoma Optometrists. Jeanne Martin, the director of the Fairview Chamber of Commerce, and Ken and Vicki Woods were here for Small Business Day at the Capitol.

I would like to congratulate Dr. Michael Talley, a physician at the Okeene Municipal Hospital who was appointed to the Physician Manpower Training Commission. Okeene can also take pride in its boys’ track team who under the excellent supervision of Coach Mike Jinkens won its first track title. Our district has had a powerhouse of competitors this year. I want to congratulate the Watonga track teams; the boys’ and girls’ teams have both captured state titles. The Lady Eagles earned their third crown in four years and the Eagles won their first state championship win since 2006. The Kingfisher girls’ golf team took their third straight 3A title, winning the state tournament by 61 strokes. Bethany Darrough won her second straight individual title, just barely overtaking her teammate, Whitney Weems. I offer my congratulations on their hard work and to their coach, Craig Patterson. I also want to congratulate the Okarche boys’ baseball team, who were runner-ups in the state tournament and the Hennessey girls’ and boys’ track teams for their third place finish. Not only do these student athletes excel on the field, track and golf course, but these fine young people excel in the classroom.

Jared Crain from Woodward was recently named a 2010 OSU Outstanding Senior. He is also a Fullbright Scholar and will be conducting research with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Babies Represented at State Capitol

For Immediate Release

Contact:  Belinda Rogers 943-1025

March of Dimes holds Lobby Day

Oklahoma City, OK—April 29, 2010,---March of Dimes held Lobby Day on April 26, 2010. The goal of the event was to help educate legislators about the growing issue of premature births and what the March of Dimes is doing through advocacy to address this serious and costly issue. The March of Dimes Public Affairs agenda focuses on public policies and programs that relate to the Foundation's mission -- improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality -- and on issues that pertain to non-profit organizations. 

Many activities took place during Lobby Day.  A proclamation signed by Governor Henry, designating April 26, 2010 as “March of Dimes Lobby Day at the State Capitol” was read in the House by Representative Mike Sanders. March of Dimes volunteers and staff, dressed in purple, were recognized in House Gallery, followed by a meet and greet reception in the House Lounge. Representatives were invited to meet those volunteers from their districts and learn about the vital efforts March of Dimes to fund research and programs to find the causes of prematurity.

“Premature birth is the number one killer of newborns and a major cause of serious health problems and disability among so many of the survivors,” said Belinda Rogers, State Director of Programs, March of Dimes Oklahoma Chapter.  “One out of every eight babies born in Oklahoma are born too soon, we are working to increase awareness of premature birth and to help improve health outcomes.” Premature birth is a common, serious and costly problem for Oklahoma families. An early birth means more than a baby simply being small. It means the baby’s organs and other systems have not finished developing, and that the baby may not be ready to survive on its own. Prematurity takes an enormous emotional toll on families and costs society billions.

For more information on prematurity or how you can become involved in local March of Dimes advocacy efforts, contact the Oklahoma State Chapter office at 405-943-1025 or marchofdimes.com/oklahoma.

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org.
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Last Leg of Session

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoma Legislature is down to the last month and last leg of the legislative session. In February, there were more than 3,500 bills and joint resolutions to review. Now, with some legislation signed into law and other bills dead for the session, lawmakers have only about 700 left to weigh in on.

Recent legislation passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives will help cities attract retirees through a Department of Commerce program. Senate Bill 1640 authorizes the Department of Commerce to establish an Oklahoma Certified Retirement Communities Program to market communities as retirement destinations if they apply and meet certification requirements.

House lawmakers also passed a bill that will ensure the preservation of crime scenes in nursing homes. Senate Bill 1879 requires the nursing home facilities to report suspected rapes and make every effort to preserve the scene of the crime until law enforcement arrives.

Constituents have called on state officials to respond to the federal health care legislation. I am proud to announce the House passage of House Joint Resolution 1054. The legislation amends Oklahoma law to allow citizens to opt-out of the new federal system and retain their current coverage. It also allows the Oklahoma Legislature to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care mandates. HJR 1054 protects every person, employer, and health care provider in Oklahoma from being compelled to participate in any health care system. It also prohibits financial penalties for failure to purchase insurance and enables doctors to continue to accept direct payments.

I was pleased to attend Oklahoma’s 84th FFA Convention at the Cox Convention Center. It was quite enthralling to watch tomorrow’s leaders in action. I also wish to mention what a great job the Okeene Chamber of Commerce did in putting on the Okeene Rattlesnake Roundup. Nellie, Davis, and I had a great time.

I had a wonderful evening at the Blaine County Agricultural Appreciation Dinner last week. I would like to congratulate the award winners and hall of famers recognized. Congratulations are also due to the state champions from Canton, the high school men’s rugby team.

The budget shall be my main focus from this point forward. I am dedicated to protecting core government services and the Rural Economic Action Plan program from the worst of the cuts, while looking for ways to scale back programs of lesser importance.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Contrasting State and National Debt

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The Oklahoman recently reported that Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn will be one of 18 members of a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The commission will be looking for ways to address the nation’s debt, which is approaching $13 trillion. If nothing is changed, our debt could reach 100 percent of America’s Gross Domestic Product in 2020.

The new federal health care mandates will only make the deficit worse. Not only do they come with a huge price tag of $940 billion, but they create entitlement spending that could grow beyond the new taxes they have put in place to pay for it. State lawmakers intend to do battle with the federal government on this front. House Joint Resolution 1054 authorizes the Senate President Glenn Coffee and House Speaker Chris Benge to file a lawsuit on behalf of Oklahomans. In doing so, the Oklahoma Legislature is bypassing Attorney General Drew Edmondson. He has made his position clear in declining to file the lawsuit at their request. In addition to the cost, the federal mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. The lawsuit will also challenge the unfunded burden it will place on the state.

I am pleased to see Senator Coburn among those chosen to address our national government’s bad spending habits. Unlike the federal government, Oklahoma has little tax-supported debt. The adjusted annual payments for the state as a percentage of the 2010 appropriations is projected to be 3.76 percent. The state’s relative bond position was so strong last year that we got a better bond rating. Our state government reflects the values of its residents who are among the most thrifty, fiscally responsible people in the nation.

Lawmakers are also looking to stabilize Oklahoma’s economy with the passage of comprehensive workers’ compensation reform. The current workers’ compensation system has a 50 percent more attorney involvement than the national average, yet doesn’t produce consistent results for injured workers. Senate Bill 1973 will cut the number of workers’ compensation judges, limit the judges to a single, eight-year term, and exempt employers from liability for injuries arising outside the course of employment. The bill will make Oklahoma more business-friendly and help attract new jobs to the state.

Another bill that will be of great benefit to our state is Senate Bill 1921, which will increase the maximum penalty for felony and misdemeanor violations of the election code. The legislation was filed in response to the activities of employees of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and also establishes new felony violations that include the false submission or application for an absentee ballot and conspiracy to commit election fraud.

Two of my bills have been signed into law since my last update. Under House Bill 2968, registered sex offenders can no longer submit a P.O. Box or other address that cannot be mapped to the sex offender registry. Instead, they must submit a physical, map-able address. Senate Bill 2104 gives the county clerk an additional four days to mail a notice of lien by the affected property owner after filing a lien statement.

I would like to congratulate the entire city of Okeene for being featured in the Oklahoma Municipal League’s Oklahoma Cities and Towns for April. Okeene was chosen due to the dedication of its citizens to the community and the economic development it is experiencing.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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DHS Down $2.4 Million in Lawsuit

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Two recent Tulsa World articles examined the ongoing lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. The state agency has spent a whopping $2.4 million to defend itself since April 2008.

Meanwhile, the agency may furlough employees for four hours a week for 46 weeks if the Commission for Human Services approves the plan on April 27.

The lawsuit accuses DHS of placing foster children in harm’s way when they assign too many cases per worker, fail to make enough home visits, make multiple placements, and undertrain foster parents. DHS says the accusations are false.

On the one hand, Children’s Rights is a perpetual-lawsuit machine that appears more interested in press and contingency fees than in truly helping children. The group has sued child welfare systems in at least 12 other states. Many of these states have settled, signing consent decrees agreeing to reforms and providing millions to Children’s Rights’ attorneys.

On the other hand, legislators are aware the agency needs reform, and we have passed legislation to improve DHS based on an independent study.

I believe the inept management at DHS has put Oklahoma in a no-win situation. The state is being forced to waste millions to defend itself. Settling could result in even more money lost. The money could have gone to help children in foster care and avoided a furlough of  the staff in charge of caring for those children.

Based on their track record, it appears Children’s’ Rights might have sued Oklahoma no matter what, but we would have been in a better position to beat that lawsuit if DHS officials had just done their jobs.

On a somber note, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing should give us pause. Most of us remember the tragedy of that day and the brave efforts of firefighters, volunteers, and other Oklahomans who responded to it. It was a very difficult day, but we came together on it. I urge everyone to reflect on the lives lost in the bombing. A total of 168 people died in the official count, three of whom were pregnant with unborn children. Those 171 individuals were everyday heroes in their communities and are greatly missed.

I’m proud to be the House author of Senate Bill 1997, which has been signed by Governor Brad Henry. The new law will allow any Oklahoma sheriff to contact the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association, tell them how much help he needs, and let them coordinate that help from surrounding jurisdictions. The law allows for a more coordinated flow of assistance. It also allows the sheriff to stay focused on the community and emergency at hand.

I was also the House author of Senate Bill 2093, which passed 96-1 and now heads to the governor for his signature. The bill clarifies that shooting into private land from a public road is considered trespassing and a misdemeanor.

I was happy to have the fourth grade students from Okarche visit the state Capitol this past week. They wore their Okarche colors! I also wanted to congratulate area students that have been named Academic All-Staters: Carmen Sander of Seiling High School, Peter VanGee of Hennessey High School, Chelsea Williams of Woodward High School, and Paul Inman of Okarche High School. These fine young adults have demonstrated excellence in the classroom, and I commend them for this great honor.

I also wanted to congratulate John Michael Johnson of Kingfisher for achieving his rank of Eagle Scout. His dedication and hard work is a model for others.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Lawmakers Experience Firefighter Training

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Reps. Mike Sanders and Joe Dorman today received a first-hand taste of the rigorous training Oklahoma firefighters undergo to protect state citizens.



The bipartisan duo toured the OSU Fire Training Facility in Stillwater today and then participated in a “live burn” training exercise.



“As a state legislator who fights for greater firefighter funding at the Capitol, I felt it was important to personally experience the challenges of their educational process,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “If the men and women who do this work are willing to put their lives on the line for us, the least I could do is share in some of their training experiences.”



“I have always had great respect for Oklahoma firefighters, but I have to say I am even more impressed after today’s training,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “Even dealing with fire under a carefully controlled setting is pretty intense, and it really made me appreciate the courage of these men and women.”


The state lawmakers toured the OSU Fire Training Facility in Stillwater today before participating in the training exercise.



The training involved an interior fire demonstration where the lawmakers – wearing the roughly 45 pounds of equipment and gear typically worn by firefighters – received instruction on how to assess the situation and apply water to douse the flame.



“It’s one thing to talk about fighting fire in the abstract, and another to view it up close,” said Sanders. “This was a great opportunity to gain insight into the daily lives of firefighters.”



“Oklahoma firefighters are one of our greatest public safety assets in Oklahoma,” Dorman said. “They deserve all the honor and respect we can give them – and then some.”

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