The Budget Fix That Almost Wasn’t

The Budget Fix That Almost Wasn’t

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The agreement to fix the 2010 budget hole was almost killed in the Oklahoma Senate last week. Democrats in the Senate initially voted against emergency funding for state troopers and the Department of Corrections as a “protest” against the elimination of the senior nutrition program, which was slashed by the Department of Human Services.

It was stunning to see the budget agreement used as a partisan weapon. Voting to block emergency funding for the Department of Corrections and Department of Public Safety would literally put lives at risk because troops and corrections officers would both be furloughed for up to 16 days beginning this month. Idling so many law enforcement officers could have tragic consequences.

I was also disappointed to see Senate Democrats attempt to score points with seniors by playing along with DHS’s political maneuvering. As I’ve said in previous columns, I believe DHS officials cut the program not because they had to, but because they could then blame the Legislature for trimming their budget. Instead of finding ways to make their services more efficient, the agency used the destruction of a popular program to try to avoid taking the same cuts as everyone else.

The Senate Democrats finally backed down due to a combination of pressure from state troopers and corrections officers and a promise by Senate Republicans to examine senior nutrition concerns in the 2011 budget. After so much hard work and with so many constituents voicing their concern about the budget hole, I was pleased to see that the plan was not derailed. I would also like to make it clear that I understand the importance of providing for our elders. There is talk of the senior nutrition program being moved from DHS. This is a prudent move that will benefit Oklahoma’s seniors and will hopefully allow funding for the program to be reinstated.

I was pleased to support the House passage of workers’ compensation legislation. Many are deeply dissatisfied with the current system because it is plagued by fraud and high costs, and rarely produces consistently fair and equitable results. Despite the fact that the benefits provided in Oklahoma are comparable to those in other states, the actual cost of those benefits in our state is the most expensive in the nation.

The recently passed legislation seeks to both significantly improve employee benefits and lower business expenses, making Oklahoma more attractive to new industry. The reforms being sought will include defining the term “surgery” for purposes of compensation, strengthening the value-added attorney fee provision, and capping the time for temporary total disability.

Northwest Oklahoma represented itself well at the small school state basketball tournament in Oklahoma City. Congratulations are in order to a number of teams. Coach Meyers and the Okarche girls team won the Class A State Championship this past Saturday night, their first state title since 1982. The Okarche boys team came close, making it to the State Championship game. The Vici boys and girls teams and the Seiling Lady Wildcats deserve praise for their performances. The Okeene boys team have been named Academic State Champions for the fifth year in a row. The Watonga boys team qualified for state. The Seiling High School Choir also deserves praise for a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem.

Census workers are beginning to visit Western Oklahoma. I urge residents to fill out the requested information and send it in as soon as possible.

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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HOUSE PASSES SANDERS LEGISLATION TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM PREDATORS

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 8, 2010) – Under legislation passed today by the House, registered sex offenders would no longer be able to submit a P.O. Box or other address that cannot be mapped to the sex offender registry, state Rep. Mike Sanders said.

House Bill 2968, by Sanders, would require sex offenders to submit a physical, mappable address.

There are too many ways for sex offenders to slip through the system,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “I think we must close those loopholes in order to better protect the children of Oklahoma from child predators. Without a mappable address, parents can only determine what city a child molester lives in. For larger cities or unincorporated areas, the information is useless if it cannot be mapped.”

Sanders noted that many child predators become repeat offenders, even with psychological counseling. He said not only is he carrying this legislation, but has also supported another measure, House Bill 2965, which will make repeat offenders eligible for the death penalty and first-time offenders eligible for life without parole.

“Registries assist parents in keeping their children out of harm’s way, but are not foolproof,” Sanders said. “Unfortunately, many offenders disappear. That’s why I also supported House Bill 2965, which not only increases the penalties for sex offenders but also prevents offenders from claiming homelessness to avoid registering.”

House Bill 2968 passed 94-0 and next heads to the Senate for consideration.
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A Tale of Two Budgets

A Tale of Two Budgets

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Now that the Legislature and Governor Brad Henry have come to an agreement on filling the fiscal year 2010 budget hole, the new focus will be on crafting a budget for July onward.

The Legislature’s conservative leaders believe the most prudent course is to spread out reserve funds between the two budgets, using only three-eighths of the state’s Rainy Day fund to fill the current budget hole. I am pleased the agreement will maximize the resources we have to address fiscal year 2011.

The budget agreement provides a much-needed $80 million supplemental for our local K-12 schools and colleges. It will also provide a $33 million supplemental to the Health Care Authority and a $7.2 million supplemental to the Corrections Department, in order to address inmate growth and prevent furloughs.

I’ve said previously that Governor Henry’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 is a starting point. I take issue with at least one proposal; his budget eliminates funding for the Rural Economic Action Plan. However, I am proud to announce that Governor Henry has been convinced to maintain tax credits for rural firefighters. I will continue to fight for REAP funding in the budget.

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 2968, the first of five pieces of legislation I have in committee this week. Under my legislation, registered sex offenders would no longer be able to submit a P.O. Box or other address that cannot be mapped to the sex offender registry. Instead, they would have to submit a physical, map-able address.

Mine wasn’t the only important public safety legislation passed out of committee this week. House Bill 3380 will benefit Oklahomans by creating a registry for methamphetamine offenders. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics has reported a dramatic rise in meth labs in the state due to a new recipe for methamphetamine that requires less pseudoephedrine. A database of methamphetamine offenders will assist the law enforcement in cracking down on this dangerous trend.

I recently visited The Center of Family Love in Okarche, and met with Director Jim O’Brien. I couldn’t have been more impressed with Director O’Brien, his staff and the facility.

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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A Tale of Two Budgets

A Tale of Two Budgets

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Now that the Legislature and Governor Brad Henry have come to an agreement on filling the fiscal year 2010 budget hole, the new focus will be on crafting a budget for July onward.

The Legislature’s conservative leaders believe the most prudent course is to spread out reserve funds between the two budgets, using only three-eighths of the state’s Rainy Day fund to fill the current budget hole. I am pleased the agreement will maximize the resources we have to address fiscal year 2011.

The budget agreement provides a much-needed $80 million supplemental for our local K-12 schools and colleges. It will also provide a $33 million supplemental to the Health Care Authority and a $7.2 million supplemental to the Corrections Department, in order to address inmate growth and prevent furloughs.

I’ve said previously that Governor Henry’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 is a starting point. I take issue with at least one proposal; his budget eliminates funding for the Rural Economic Action Plan. However, I am proud to announce that Governor Henry has been convinced to maintain tax credits for rural firefighters. I will continue to fight for REAP funding in the budget.

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 2968, the first of five pieces of legislation I have in committee this week. Under my legislation, registered sex offenders would no longer be able to submit a P.O. Box or other address that cannot be mapped to the sex offender registry. Instead, they would have to submit a physical, map-able address.

Mine wasn’t the only important public safety legislation passed out of committee this week. House Bill 3380 will benefit Oklahomans by creating a registry for methamphetamine offenders. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics has reported a dramatic rise in meth labs in the state due to a new recipe for methamphetamine that requires less pseudoephedrine. A database of methamphetamine offenders will assist the law enforcement in cracking down on this dangerous trend.

I recently visited The Center of Family Love in Okarche, and met with Director Jim O’Brien. I couldn’t have been more impressed with Director O’Brien, his staff and the facility.

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 Denounces Proposed Elimination of Rural Firefighter Tax Credit

Sanders Denounces Proposed Elimination of Rural Firefighter Tax Credit 

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Sanders said today he will fight Gov. Brad Henry’s plan to eliminate a tax credit for rural firefighters.

“This is unacceptable; we had one of the worst fire seasons last year and these brave men and women put themselves in harms way to protect the general public,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “The majority of towns and cities in Oklahoma are small rural communities that rely on rural fire departments. Eliminating some tax credits is necessary and appropriate, but not when it affects public safety. I can’t fathom why the governor would consider slashing the budget of our rural fire departments when they are so vital to public safety.”

Sanders said Governor Henry has also proposed zeroing out the Rural Economic Action Plan.

“The proposal to eliminate the tax credit is just another kick in the teeth of rural communities and their way of life,” Sanders said. “Governor Brad Henry has already proposed eliminating the REAP program. What else does he want to cut that benefits rural Oklahomans? ”

Last year, Sanders and other rural lawmakers successfully fought to include REAP in the budget. It received the same 7 percent cut given to most state agencies, including the Legislature and Governor’s office. Funding for the program was generated through an increase in the fine for delinquent tag renewal, which increased from 25 cents to $1 a day. Of the 75 cents increase, 50 cents went to REAP while the other 25 cents would stay with the tag agent.

“Rural lawmakers aren’t going to take this sitting down,” Sanders said. “We were successful in fighting for REAP funding last year and we will find success again in this year’s fight to ensure rural Oklahoma is not forgotten in the budget process.”
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Purchasing Reforms Save State Big

Purchasing Reforms Save State Big

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

As committees continue to send legislation to the House floor, I thought I would give you a bit of good news regarding the success of past government modernization reforms. I was informed this week that state agencies are looking at the possibility of saving as much as $12 million from recently completed and ongoing contract negotiations made possible by purchasing reforms.

Oklahoma’s state purchasing agency is the Department of Central Services. Deputy Director Randy Ross has informed the House Government Modernization Committee that the expected savings to the state from new contract negotiations is set to be as much as $12 million. Municipal and county governments might save as much as an additional $7 million by taking advantage of these contracts.

The purchasing reforms were enacted by legislation that gave Central Services additional tools to negotiate the best products at the lowest price for the state. The department has also been able to streamline purchasing orders and the receiving of bids with the use of modern technology. This in turn gives Central Services more time to negotiate contracts.

Ross projects that the state will save at least $10 million in the short term and increasing amounts as more contracts are renegotiated. Many of the reforms were first suggested during a 2007 government modernization interim study, which suggested that if the state utilized technology and purchasing best practices, the state could save as much as $75 million annually. Government modernization remains a top priority for House Republicans this year.

The House Government Modernization Committee has also been busy moving legislation. One bill that passed will ban the use of kids in advertisements for the state lottery. Basically, I would compare the use of children in these ads to the use of cartoon characters such as Joe Camel and candy-flavored cigarettes in tobacco advertising. There’s just no reason that children should be associated with something that they are prohibited from taking part in. Gambling, like alcohol and tobacco, can lead to a serious addiction. As the bill’s author says, “it makes no more sense to use them as pitchmen for gambling than to us them to sell tobacco and alcohol.”

I want to thank the following FFA chapters for their visit during FFA week – Kingfisher, Okeene, Dover, Lomega and Woodward. I’d also like to congratulate all FFA national winners. This organization does so much to give our youth opportunities to develop leadership, an appreciation for hard work, and agriculture. I’m very pleased to see their great work.

I visited the state medical examiner’s office today with Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Ken Miller, Public Safety Committee Chairman Randy Terrill and other House members. We wanted to see firsthand what a mess the office was in. It’s had staffing problems, building problems, and a long backlog of paperwork. I believe it is critical that we address these problems. Oklahoma families depend on it.

I visited the Panhandle Nutrition Center in Vici this past Friday to discuss the cuts to the senior nutrition programs. I enjoyed visiting with the nearly 40 seniors who attended the lunch, and I would like to extend a special thank you to Panhandle Nutrition Center Director Sara Herring for allowing me to join them.

Most of my legislation is scheduled to be heard next week in committee and I’m looking forward to talking to my fellow lawmakers about the importance of each measure.

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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Contract Awarded for Pedestrian Improvements in Kingfisher County: Kingfisher

Contract Awarded for Pedestrian Improvements in Kingfisher County



OKLAHOMA CITY – A contract was awarded recently for pedestrian improvements in Kingfisher County, Sen. Mike Johnson and Rep. Mike Sanders recently announced.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the project involves pedestrian improvements along US-81 from just South of SH-33, extending North in the city of Kingfisher.

Sen. Johnson, (R-Kingfisher) said the State Transportation Commission awarded a $573,407.50 contract on the project to Rudy Construction Co. The Oklahoma City company was the lowest of six bidders for the job, said Rep. Sanders, (R-Kingfisher).

Once construction begins, the project is estimated to be completed within two months.
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Contract Awarded for Pedestrian Improvements in Kingfisher County: Okarche

Contract Awarded for Pedestrian Improvements in Kingfisher County



OKLAHOMA CITY – A contract was awarded recently for pedestrian improvements in Kingfisher County, Sen. Mike Johnson and Rep. Mike Sanders recently announced.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the project involves pedestrian improvements along US-81 from Iowa Street, extending North in the city of Okarche.

Sen. Johnson, (R-Kingfisher) said the State Transportation Commission awarded a $320,517.40 contract on the project to TMC Construction Company. The Kingfisher company was the lowest of 11 bidders for the job, said Rep. Sanders, (R-Kingfisher).

Once construction begins, the project is estimated to be completed within two months.
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Committee Meetings Mark First Week

Committee Meetings Mark First Week

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Committee meetings are where the action takes place in the first week of session as each bill must be vetted before the full House votes on it. In meetings, committee members diligently review, amend, and offer suggestions to improve legislation before considering whether or not to pass it on to the next step in the process.

The House Rules Committee, which I serve on, will be looking at a number of bills that affect election procedures, ethics, and constitutional amendments that, if passed, will be added to the 2010 ballot. Because of the number of constitutional amendments already on the 2010 ballot, it will be very important that we give careful consideration to how pressing the need is before approving any new ones.

An important piece of legislation that has passed out of the House Judiciary Committee is a bill that would allow the use of the death penalty for repeat child molesters. Though the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled against the use of the death penalty for sex crimes, conservatives feel that this will be an opportunity to again challenge the decision. The legislation also sets the maximum penalty for a first offense at life without parole and the maximum penalty for failure to register as a sex offender at 20 years imprisonment.

Legislation to prevent tornado deaths is also headed to the House floor. The bill would require mobile home parks and RV parks to develop a plan to either shelter or evacuate their residents. In the Lone Grove tornado, seven of the eight people who died lived in a mobile home park. Throughout Oklahoma, mobile and RV park residents are particularly vulnerable and I think this legislation is a good first step in preventing needless deaths.

I would like to congratulate Linda Huffman of Kingfisher who served as Nurse of the Day on February 4. It was a pleasure having her up here. Father Stephen Hamilton of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Kingfisher also came by the Capitol to join the pro-life rally.

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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The Governor’s First Offer

The Governor’s First Offer

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Though the start of session was relatively calm, Governor Brad Henry’s proposed budget hinted at a hiccup in the negotiations between his office and the Legislature’s conservative leadership.

Conservatives in the Legislature look to make targeted cuts in response to the revenue shortfall and hope to use less of the Rainy Day fund to fill holes. With little idea of how long the shortfall will continue, this seems like the most prudent course. It’s expected we could face another $600 million budget hole next year because stimulus funds will have to be replaced. If so, maintaining some money in the Rainy Day fund this year will be crucial. In the governor’s proposed budget, 80 percent of the Rainy Day fund will be immediately used to stave off painful yet necessary cuts.

To be clear, there are many things that Governor Henry and lawmakers agree on. The Legislature plans to do the utmost to protect education funding. By targeting cuts to less essential services and taking advantage of stimulus dollars, education should come out of the budget process in much better shape than other agencies, including the Legislature and the Governor’s Office, both of which will take a large cut. The governor also wants to consolidate a number of agencies, which conservatives support.

One area where rural lawmakers on both sides of the aisle differ with Governor Brad Henry is on the funding of the Rural Economic Action Plan. Last year, you may remember, an effort was made to remove it from the budget. Rural lawmakers fought to get it back in and were successful. REAP received the same 7 percent cut as most state agencies. Funding for the program was generated through an increase in the fine for delinquent tag renewal, which increased from 25 cents to $1 a day. Of the 75 cents increase, 50 cents went to REAP while the other 25 cents would stay with the tag agent. Governor Henry’s proposed budget this year zeroes out REAP funding. We plan to fight and save it again.

Lastly, I will note the Governor’s tactful omission of any discussion of workers’ compensation legislation in his State of the State address. I think that despite the importance of this legislation in attracting business to the state and improving the time it currently takes to get benefits to injured workers, it will likely be an item of contention. Many attorneys support Democratic candidates with campaign contributions, and workers’ compensation attorneys would lose a cash cow if this legislation passes, although injured workers would be better off.

But, on a positive note, I do believe the Legislature and Governor Brad Henry will resolve their differences on the budget. Often, the governor’s proposed budget is like the beginning of a barter. He gives the Legislature an offer and they return with something a bit different. My hope is that by the end of the year, the budget will include REAP funding and will draw less on the reserve funds we may need in the next couple of years.

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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