State Budget Covers Core Needs

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House on Friday passed a $7.6. billion appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2019, including money for the largest teacher pay raise in state history, more money for K-12 classrooms and additional funding for health care and humans services as well as other state services.

This budget gives $2.9 billion – a 19.8 percent increase over FY18 – to K-12 schools. This is the largest appropriation for common education in state history, even accounting for the rate of inflation. Teachers will get an average pay raise of $6,100 beginning in the 2018-19 school year and beyond. School support staff also will get an additional $1,250. Health care benefits are increased, and classrooms will get an additional $50 million for the coming school year.

The teacher pay raises move Oklahoma teachers to second in the region for average annual pay and to 12th in the nation when accounting for the cost of living.

The Legislature also approved $7.5 million for concurrent enrollment, allowing high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit without paying the high cost of college tuition, hopefully resulting in early college graduation.

The budget also includes $52 million for state employee pay raises of between $750 and $2,000 per year depending on current salary levels.

In addition to other budget items, one of the things I fought hardest for in this state budget was an additional $4 million to the state emergency fund to be used by rural fire departments as they assist communities hit hardest by the recent wildfires in Dewey and Woodward Counties. The Agriculture Department will receive $3.4 million for Rural Fire Operational Assistance Grants, and $325,000 for the 80/20 Reimbursable Grant Program to help with equipment and gear replacement.

An 11 percent, $1 million, increase to the Rural Economic Action Plan (REAP) will assist with economic development programs in our communities. This brings the REAP annual budget over $10 million for the first time.

This budget also increases funding for health and mental health care programs, including $24 million for the state’s child welfare system, managed under the Pinnacle Plan, and $110 million to the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University for their graduate medical schools. This is money the feds removed that was being used for doctor training and residency slots.

The budget also includes $2 million, a 100 percent increase, to help ease the Developmental Disability Services waiting list, and also restores reimbursement rates to those who provide medical and mental health services in our rural health care facilities and rural nursing homes. Overall, public health received an 8.6 percent increase over the last fiscal year. It’s been years since we’ve been able to increase health and mental health care funding. This will benefit so many of our agencies, including the Center of Family Love of Okarche and other facilities.

While it’s great to be able to restore some services cut in the state’s recent recession, we also must continually strive to ensure we’re operating government as efficiently as possible and that we’ve cut out every area of waste, fraud or abuse. I’m particularly pleased we were able to devote $2 million in this budget to the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission, enacted by the Legislature last session to audit the top 20 state appropriated state agencies. I have been championing such reform measures for years in an effort to modernize and streamline government. It’s important to remember that government works for the people not the other way around.

One additional note: we will be able to deposit more than $300 million into the state’s Rainy Day Fund at the end of this fiscal year, an Oklahoma Constitutional requirement when revenues exceed the official estimate. Boy is that nice to be able to say for a change instead of having to declare a revenue failure because we haven’t met our estimate.

This budget is the result of a lot of hard work and some tough decisions made by House leadership. It’s not perfect, but it helps us meet the needs of our citizens in a responsible manner. In next week’s column I’ll give some additional details and break things down a bit further.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Government Leaders Visit Fire Damaged Areas

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Fires in our area are mostly contained, and I thank God for that. I’m still working with county and state officials and local fire departments to help those affected by these terrible blazes. I’ll be out again this weekend to assess damaged areas.

Sen. James Lankford, Congressman Frank Lucas, Gov. Mary Fallin and Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and the governor all have visited communities in our district ravaged by these fires. I thank all of them for coming. I also want to again thank our local firefighters and our county workers who have worked tirelessly to battle these blazes, as well as to people from all across the state who have donated hay, food, clothing, money or time to help the victims of these terrible tragedies. What I witnessed over the last two weeks is truly humbling.

The governor recently declared a state of emergency, which will allow state agencies to make emergency purchases and acquisitions needed to expedite the delivery of resources to local jurisdictions. The declaration also marks a first step toward seeking federal assistance.

While we’ve been battling these fires, work has been ongoing at the state capitol. I want to point out a few bills that will help protect children and victims of crime.

Last week the governor signed into law House Bill 2552, which establishes a foster care bill of rights for children in Department of Human services (DHS) custody. Contained are rights regarding placement, safety, privacy, communication and personal growth. The rights are put in one place easy to access for children who are of age to do so and for foster parents. The measure also directs DHS and child-placing agencies to develop grievance procedures for children in custody, ensuring those are resolved no more than 60 days after they are filed.

The governor also signed House Bill 2651, an effort to prevent human trafficking. This permits Oklahoma’s public safety commissioner to choose training material from Truckers Against Human Trafficking for education purposes to supply to drivers applying for Class A, B or C commercial licenses. The material includes training on recognizing, preventing and reporting human trafficking. Oklahoma’s position at the crossroads of the nation makes it particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Truck stops, unfortunately, have become places where victims are transferred. Supplying this material to commercial drivers is hoped to help save lives and stop this growing problem.

Victims of sex offenders now will have additional protection thanks to House Bill 1124, also signed into law by the governor. The law is named after Danyelle Dyer, of Bristow, whose attacker moved next door to her last year. This bill prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet and loitering within 1,000 feet from their victims’ homes. Under current Oklahoma law, sex offenders are banned from living near places like schools and playgrounds, but it did not apply to a sex offender living near his or her adult victim. This bill closes that loophole and hopefully will provide victims such as Ms. Dyer even greater relief.

On one final note, no opponent filed to run for my House seat, so I’m automatically re-elected to serve the next two years. Nellie and I are so humbled and blessed by this incredible honor to represent our friends and neighbors in House District 59. I promise you I will work as hard for you in my last term as I have the last 10 years. Thank you for the opportunity.

If I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Prayers and Donations Needed as Fire Recovery Starts

By Rep. Mike Sanders

At least one person perished and many families lost homes and livestock to fires raging through much of District 59. High winds and a five-month drought have made these fires among the worst in years.

Last week and this week, fires burned in Putnam, Vici, Seiling Taloga, Oakwood, east of Leedey and east of Camargo, consuming more than 280,000 acres in the Rhea fire in Dewey County. In Woodward, several homes have been lost and more than 70,000 acres burned in the 34 Complex fire. Thousands of head of livestock have perished or are missing in Dewey and Woodward Counties. Fire lengths have reached up to 225 feet.

These fires are just absolutely devastating. Many of our neighbors lost their homes and everything they own. And yet, the outpouring of support from people from across the state as well as my colleagues in the House of Representatives has been humbling. People have donated water, hay, money and more, really living up to the Oklahoma standard.

Please join me in praying for the families of the victims and those who have lost property and livestock. Pray God will send rain to quench these fires and will protect people and property still in the path. Pray also for the protection of the firefighters battling these blazes.

More than 600 firefighters from across the state and the nation have come to help assist in putting out the fires. I’m so thankful for the work of our local fire crews in protecting lives and property and for the help from states such as Kansas, Florida and Texas. I’m also thankful for the work of our county commissioners and emergency managers as they work to help people get out of danger and find help for recovery.

I’m also asking folks to consider donating monetarily to local volunteer fire departments; Dewey and Woodward Counties are particularly in need. 

Following is a list of a few sites that are taking donations of money or hay or have suggestions on how to help. Many are offering assistance to those affected as well.

Oklahoma Farm Bureau: http://okfarmbureau.org/index.php?action=news.newsdetail&rowid=1005.

The Oklahoma Cattleman’s Association: http://www.okcattlemen.org/wildfire-relief-fund

The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts: https://www.okconservation.org/news/okwildfirerelief

OSU’s Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: http://www.oces.okstate.edu/

American Farmers & Ranchers is accepting donations. Checks should be made payable to Farmers Union Foundation, Inc., with “Wildfire Relief” in the memo line. Donations should be mailed to Wildlife Relief, P.O. Box 24000, Oklahoma City, OK 73124.

Much of Oklahoma has been placed under a burn ban, so please, please, please do not light fires for any reason. Do not start the grill. Do not throw cigarettes out of your car window. There is a 100 percent ignition rate, so we must have absolutely no self-started fires.

The governor last week declared a state of emergency for 52 counties, including Blaine, Dewey, Kingfisher and Woodward and many surrounding us. The governor’s executive order allows state agencies to make emergency purchases and acquisitions needed to expedite the delivery of resources to local jurisdictions. The declaration also marks a first step toward seeking federal assistance should it be necessary.

Again, please stay out of harm’s way. Property can be replaced; lives can’t. Please pray and please consider donating to help those who have lost much in this tragedy.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Bill to Help in Opioid Abuse Fight Signed into Law

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The first piece of legislation recommended by the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse was signed into law by the governor this week.

Senate Bill 1078 adds fentanyl, a powerful opioid, to the list of drugs eligible for a felony trafficking charge, along with marijuana, cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and others. The law takes effectNov. 1.

Opioid abuse is a serious problem in Oklahoma, and fentanyl is one of the most deadly drugs. Law enforcement reports that fentanyl causes 1,000 Oklahoma deaths per year and thousands of deaths nationwide. They say even the dust from fentanyl is enough to cause a fatal overdose.

Other bills from the commission are making their way through the legislative process, and hopefully will be signed into law soon.

Also headed to the governor’s desk is a bill that will put the rights and protections of Oklahoma’s children in foster care into state statute.

House Bill 2552 establishes certain rights for the 9,600 children in the custody of the Department of Human Services (DHS) with regard to their placement, safety, privacy, communication and personal growth.  It also directs DHS and child placing agencies to develop grievance procedures for children in its custody.   The measure also ensures the families who welcome these children into their homes are equally informed about these rights and the grievance procedure. Protecting these children is of the utmost importance.

Another bill making its way through the legislative process is one requested by Oklahoma firefighters. It would modify the arbitration process by eliminating the Public Employees Relations Board, replacing it with the Oklahoma Department of Labor. 

I’ve had several constituents ask about state agency audits. Late last fall, House leadership formed the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission to audit the top 20 appropriated state agencies. The commission is auditing the first four right now – the Oklahoma Tax Commission, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, the Department of Corrections and the District Attorney’s Council. The Department of Health is next in line. We will find cost savings through these audits and root out any inefficiency, waste or abuse.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Largest K-12 Budget in State History Signed

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I commend teachers from my district who visited my Capitol office this week. They were respectful in their questions and patient in listening to answers. I have no problem with teachers taking time to visit their government in the people’s house, but I’m grateful as well to the schools that stayed in the classroom. I also want to thank community and business leaders who have called or emailed to thank me for my support of education.

The House and Senate last week passed the largest K-12 education budget in state history -- $2.9 billion that will support an average teacher pay raise of $6,100 beginning in the 2018-19 school year, school support staff raises of $1,250, $33 million in textbook funding, $24.7 million in added health care benefits, and an additional $17 million to be distributed through the school funding formula to support classroom instruction. The budget is more than $480 million above what schools received for the current fiscal year, and about $400 million above the previous highest budget in 2009.

With that being said, there is lots of incorrect information being shared.

In February, the Oklahoma Education Association spokeswoman stood in the House lounge supporting a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for all state teachers. Less than two months later she’s unhappy with the higher pay raise the Legislature secured. She’s also not satisfied with the largest education budget ever passed.

This is unfair to those educators who appreciate and support the education budget and the pay raises passed. It is unfair to most of the state’s 42,000 teachers who are not part of a union.

I also want to make note of the fact that for the first time in 30 years, a compromise funding measure cleared the hurdle of getting more than 76 votes in the House. I’m not asking for a pat on the back for this; I just want people to realize how unprecedented this is.

And yet the union clamors for more. It works its members into frenzy by telling lies and half-truths.

Here are the facts:

Fact: Education will receive about 53 percent of the state budget. More than 60 other state agencies – including transportation, health and mental health care, and public safety will share the rest.

Fact: We passed the largest K-12 education budget in state history. We gave teachers the largest raise in state history. This puts beginning year Oklahoma teachers at the highest pay rate in the region and all teachers at the 12th highest pay in the nation when cost of living is factored.

Fiction: We don’t have enough to pay for the raises or the education budget, and this is just a temporary fix.

Fact: The governor’s signature guarantees the $2.9 billion budget for K-12 education. We passed measures that will raise more than $500 million in recurring revenue for the state. This includes raising revenue from the oil and gas industry as well as taxing cigarettes and little cigars at a higher rate. We also adjusted the price of gasoline and diesel, which has not been done in 31 years, and we passed tax reform measures that will result in additional revenue. Even without the hotel/motel tax that was part of the original package, we have plenty of revolving funds, unclaimed property money and other funding sources to shore up this budget until the state economy hits full recovery. That is already happening, with collections each month exceeding last year at a record pace. We anticipate ending the fiscal year with a surplus instead of the revenue hole first predicted. All of these monies are recurring. That means, these monies come back every year.

Fiction: We are giving money to roads and bridges and health care and not education.

Fact: Some of the revenue raised will go to roads and bridges and health care funds, but we will swap the dollars currently used from the general revenue fund for these services and give them instead to education.

Education and our teachers have always been a priority for me. When we educate students and prepare them for the workforce and to be good citizens, we save in other areas such as mental health care and incarceration. That’s why I fought so hard to raise revenue to properly fund education. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

 

 

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Teacher Pay Raise Passes House

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House on Monday night passed a historic teacher pay raise, giving first-year teachers a $5,000, or 15.8 percent, raise. This is a step plan. Teachers will receive more money for years of service and each higher level of education. A 25-year teacher will earn $7,700, 18.2 percent, more under this plan as a reward for their longevity. Those 25-year teachers who hold a doctorate will make an extra $8,300.

Teachers can see the proposed new salary schedule here, starting on Page 2: http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/cf_pdf/2017-18%20ENGR/hB/HB1023XX%20ENGR.PDF 

Not only will this help recruit beginning teachers, it rewards those who decide to stay in the profession, helping us retain good teachers. This is a win win for teachers and our state.

The Senate passed the bill Wednesday evening, and the governor has said she will sign it.

The raises would begin next school year and carry into the future. The raises are aside from benefits teachers already receive. In addition, school support staff will receive a $1,250 increase, and state workers will make between $750 and $2,000 more beginning in July, depending on their current pay level.

This will move Oklahoma teacher pay from 48th in the nation to 34th, 12th when you consider cost of living, and second highest in the region. New teachers will actually be first in the region.

K-12 public schools will receive almost $500 million more in funding for Fiscal Year 2019, including the restoration of $33 million for textbooks, money for the raises and more for flexible benefits as well as additional money to be sent to schools through the school funding formula. For the first time since I’ve served in the Legislature, the House delivered an overall education budget in advance of the April 1 deadline. The Senate passed this bill Thursday morning, and it heads to the governor.

In all, the House passed 11 bills Monday night, including measures to fund the raises and the overall education budget mentioned above. Funding will come from a variety of sources, including an increase to 5 percent of gross production tax on oil and gas wells; a $1 increase on a package of cigarettes and other tobacco products; a 3-cent increase on a gallon of gasoline and 6 cents on a gallon of diesel. 

About 70 percent of Oklahomans polled said they would favor a cigarette tax. The tax on motor fuels has not been adjusted since 1987, even while the price of construction material for roads and bridges has steadily climbed. This package takes a little bit of funding from a number of sources. Not only will it go toward better teacher and state employee pay and overall education, it will be used for roads and bridges and health care.

I’ve received positive support for this plan from teachers and other educators throughout my district as well as business and community leaders.

The House has been working to secure a teacher pay raise and better education funding for several years now. Because of the constitutional requirement for a 75 percent supermajority, it took months of compromise to achieve the exact right combination to gain the bipartisan support needed for these bills to pass. The fact that 11 separate bills passed the House seems nothing short of a miracle.

Also this week, the House recognized our state’s veterans on 2018 Veterans Awareness Day. We held a joint session of the Legislature to give honor and recognition to the men and women who have served our country at the selfless peril of their own lives. I am so thankful for their sacrifice and their service, and I’m grateful we had to opportunity to show them in this small way how much we appreciate them.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

 

 

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Teacher Pay Plan Announced

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The speaker of the House last week announced a teacher pay raise plan that would increase base salaries for all teachers by 5 percent beginning next school year and by $10,800 for all first-year teachers and $20,000 for 25-year teachers by the end of six years.

By the end of year six, 25-year career teachers would be earning $70,000 including benefits. This would make Oklahoma teachers the highest paid in the region, 18th in the nation and third-highest in the nation when accounting for cost-of-living.

This plan will give new teachers an incentive to enter this noble profession, and it will give career teachers an incentive to stay in the field and a reward for longevity. Retention of our teachers has been a concern for some schools in the state as they’ve seen the number of emergency certification requests grow. This should help us make sure we have highly qualified teachers in our classrooms.

Several measures that could fund this plan already have passed the House, including a tax reform package that would result in $105 million in savings for the state. Another measure would modernize casino gaming, earning another $22 million at the minimum. Several additional measures are being considered that could result in income for the state but that don’t require the 75 percent vote threshold required by the state Constitution. I will provide a better breakdown of these plans as firmer details emerge. If enough reforms and savings are found, the plan could be accelerated.

In addition, please remember the state is on much better financial footing this year than it has been the past few years as we climbed out of a recession. The economy is dramatically improving, with 13 of 14 months of positive revenue collections to the state treasurer. We can use these increased collections from income and sales tax to fund education along with other necessary state services.

Funding education is part of a long-term conservative plan, just as restoring funding to our state pension plans and roads and bridges has been. We made these areas a priority, and we’ve seen slow, steady growth. We’ll see that happen for education as well. There are those who question our methods, but we have kept our word on flex benefits for all teachers, and we are keeping our word to find the right mechanism to fund teacher pay raises. We’re going to make sure this plan is paid through its entirety.

This is not the $10,000 pay raise being demanded by the state’s largest union, the Oklahoma Education Association. When combined with other costs demanded by that group, the price tag of $1.4 billion over the next three years is too steep of a curve to achieve the 75 percent of votes needed to pass revenue-raising measures in the state Legislature. The House has worked for 14 months to achieve a teacher pay raise, but we have yet to reach the 76-vote threshold required to raise revenue to fund a raise; these efforts also have failed in the Senate. So, instead we will continue to pursue measures similar to the ones mentioned above.

The teacher pay plan laid out by the House speaker is achievable and sustainable.

Teachers are a priority. We value the hard work they do in our classrooms every day to prepare our students for their futures. We want to give them a pay raise that will help put them on a level playing field with their peers in surrounding states and in the nation. This plan does that in a fiscally responsible manner.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

 

 

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Working on Solution for Teachers

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I’ve talked to many teachers throughout my district in the past few weeks about the potential of a walkout as they fight for additional pay.

I want to assure teachers and parents I am working night and day to find a solution that will increase pay for our educators and keep them in the classroom. At the same time, I’m seeking additional pay for state workers.

In 1990, teachers walked out of classrooms, resulting in House Bill 1017, which contained a number of education reforms and more money for schools. Teachers celebrated that success, but the public – mad about new taxes – responded by raising enough signatures on an initiative petition to place State Question 640 on the ballot. That question requires any revenue-raising measure be passed by a three-fourths majority in both legislative chambers. In the House, that’s 76 votes. With extremes on both side voting against each revenue-raising measure posed to the House over the last regular session and two special sessions, it is clear other methods of funding a teacher pay raise must be employed.

There is cause for hope. The House has passed a bill to cap itemized income tax deductions, exempting charitable giving. The bill, which would result in a savings of $106 million per year, now awaits a vote in the Senate. An additional measure would allow the modernization of tribal gaming, resulting in an additional $22 million a year. Additional measures are making their way quickly through the House and Senate with the aim of saving the state additional money that could be redirected to teacher and state employee pay raises. I am hopeful a resolution will occur.

In the meantime, a bill designating a 2 percent stipend for state retirees, including teachers, police, fire and all former state employees, passed the House on Monday.  This bill passed 90-5 in a bipartisan manner. It’s responsible and affordable and a key step in helping provide relief for our retirees for the first time since 2008.

On a final note, I’m happy to report a number of reform measures aimed at placing agency directors under the authority of the office of the governor passed in the House this week. In the past, many of our state agency directors reported to unelected boards that answered to no one in particular. As evidenced in the recent misspending scandal at the state Department of Health, better oversight of our state’s largest agencies is needed.

This is deadline week for all House bills to be passed out of the House. I will keep you updated on additional measures as they make their way through the Senate.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

 

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Work Requirements Put People on Path Out of Poverty

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The governor on Tuesday released an executive order requiring those receiving state Medicaid benefits to work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week unless they are exempted for age, medical or mental health reasons. The House passed a bill the same day accomplishing the same thing as the governor’s directive.

The objective is to provide a path out of poverty for those who are able to work. It mirrors legislation of those receiving food purchase assistance. Those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid can transition to the state’s Insure Oklahoma plan and still be insured. All who can work should work. We should not have barriers that keep people on government assistance.

In other business, this week and next are incredibly busy as many of the bills passed out of committee are being heard on the House floor. Bills and resolutions must pass from their chamber of origin by March 15. That means all House bills must be passed to the Senate and all Senate bills to the House by that date. We then have until April 26 for measures to be passed by the opposite chamber. If legislation is amended, it returns to the chamber of origin to get a final vote. If it is accepted as is, it goes to the governor for her signature to become law.

A lot of work happens in the background in the meantime. A bill’s author, for instance, is talking to constituents, those most affected by a bill, and the author in the opposite chamber to make sure the bill’s language and intent is exactly as it should be before it comes to a final vote. The author also talks to other legislators to ensure bills are understood and questions answered before they are brought for a vote.

Here’s a look at a few of the bills that passed the House this week:

House Bill 2910 would consolidate the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. These two agencies often work together now. This bill would get rid of duplicative services and has the potential to save the state some money. 

House Bill 2632 would extend Oklahoma’s stand-your-ground protections to places of worship, granting immunity to churches that wish to allow parishioners to carry weapons for purposes of defense.

House Bill 2913 would create the Oklahoma Industrial Hemp Agricultural Pilot Program, allowing farmers in partnership with universities or colleges to grow hemp in order to study the environmental and economic impact of this crop. Hemp is non-narcotic. It has no THC, and people cannot get high from it. It is federally legal and regulated. Farmers say it would make a good rotation crop and could help them earn additional money. It’s worth studying.

At the same time lawmakers are working to get regular legislation passed, budget talks are continually ongoing. We have fewer bills this year than in the past, so that gives us more time to focus on the budget.

As always, I will keep you updated on legislation and the budget as the session progresses.

In the meantime, if I can help you with anything, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Reform Legislation Advances

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The governor this week signed the final budget for Fiscal Year 2018 budget. Agencies were able to retain more than 99 percent of their funding for the fiscal year. She also signed a bill that will protect many programs for the elderly, disabled and children that are administered by the Department of Human Services.

I’m glad that action is finally complete. Now we can turn our focus to reform and accountability measures that will help us ensure state agencies are spending taxpayer dollars as efficiently as possible and in the manner intended to best serve the people of this state.

Several measures have been filed this session to increase accountability and oversight. These include:

  • House Bills 3208 and 3209, which would allow the governor to appoint and remove directors at our largest state agencies. Right now many of these agencies are headed by directors hired by boards who are accountable to no one in particular.
  • House Joint Resolution 1048 would amend the state Constitution to authorize the governor to appoint the offices of state treasurer, insurance commissioner, superintendent of public instruction and labor commissioner. This would allow for much more efficiency in state government with all leaders pulling toward the same end goal instead of in multiple directions.
  • House Bill 3585 would create a Governmental Accountability Office within the Legislative Services Bureau. This is one of my favorite reforms. It would give us a team of dedicated professionals who focus on nothing but agency spending and ways to increase efficiency and find savings while scouring for waste and abuse. This vital arm of government has been missing, and has resulted in instances like the recent debacle at the state Health Department. This department would provide lawmakers substantial additional resources and staff to perform Constitutional duty of oversight of taxpayer dollars.
  • House Bill 3597 would prohibit agency directors from serving in the governor’s cabinet. I think you can see why this is significant. You don’t want an agency head – like the director of the Health Department, for instance – who reports only to himself as the secretary of health and human services. This can lead to fraud and abuse.
  • House Bills 3583 and 3584 would strengthen statutory qualifications for the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and members of the Oklahoma Department of Health Board of Directors.
  • Numerous measures have been filed to limit pay for executive branch agency directors and officers and cabinet secretaries.

On a separate note, my House Bill 3329 passed out of committee this week and should be heard soon by the full House. This bill will allow firefighters retired from municipal fire departments to work for rural volunteer departments without having to be added to the state’s pension plan. This is an addition to my House Bill 2005, which became law in 2015. That eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement of being added to the state’s pension plan. Many of these volunteers already have their own businesses, or they work in the oil field or in other lucrative careers. They were happy to volunteer without needing to receive a state pension. Since HB2005 was signed into law, we have added over 200 volunteer firefighters across the state. This is a win-win for Oklahoma.

One final suggestion: If you wish to contact me to invite me to events or meetings in your communities, please call my office at (405) 557-7407, or email me at mike.sanders@okhouse.gov. I don’t always have time to track everything posted on social media, but I do check my phone and email many times a day.

As always, I’ll keep you updated as the legislative session continues.

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