Kingfisher, Canadian County Transportation Projects

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This is my third and final update of roads and bridges projects in our House district. This column focuses on those inKingfisher and Canadian counties.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) lists these projects as recently completed in Kingfisher County:

U.S. Highway 81 reconstruction from 5.4 miles north of the Canadian County Line to three miles north. Crews reconstructed the northbound lanes just south of Kingfisher at a cost of $9,110,507.

U.S. 81 over Kingfisher Creek in Kingfisher. Crews replaced this bridge at a cost of $3,689,243.

U.S. 81 starting 800 feet south of County Road 860 and extending north 0.3 miles. Crews added turn lanes at a cost of $646,468.

Recently completed in Canadian County:

State Highway 3 bridge rehabilitation project over U.S.-81 at a cost of $2,753,373

S.H. 3 pavement resurfacing beginning at State Highway 4 extending west to 0.5 miles west of Gregory Road.

These projects are ongoing:

U.S. 81 at Oklahoma Avenue in Okarche. This joint project between Kingfisher and Canadian counties, the City of Okarche and ODOT will replace the sidewalk along Oklahoma Avenue and replace the driving surface on the avenue as well as update the signal at U.S. 81 at a cost of $1,994,998.

In Kingfisher County:

State Highway 33 and U.S. 81 in Kingfisher. Pavement rehabilitation on S.H. 33 from the U.S. 81 Junction 0.4 miles east to Second Street, and on U.S. 81 from the S.H. 33 junction two blocks south. Crews are replacing the existing concrete pavement at a cost of $1,324,317.

S.H. 33 from the Logan County line extending west five Miles. ODOT is purchasing the right-of-way on S.H. 33 for an upcoming shoulder-widening project at a cost of $2,036,000. Crews also are relocating utilities on this same stretch at a cost of $2,622,283.

U.S. 81 northbound bridge over the Cimarron River. Crews are repainting the bridge beams at a cost of $618,993.

In Canadian County:

West Overholser bike route and sidewalk project will cost $377,071.

S.H. 3 pavement resurfacing from 4.75 miles east of the U.S. 81 junction extending east 3.26 miles at a cost of $2,622,283

Future work in Kingfisher County includes these projects in Fiscal Year 2021, which started July 1.

S.H. 33 from 0.56 Miles east of the U.S. 81 junction extending east 9.4 Miles. ODOT is purchasing the right-of-way on S.H. 33 for an upcoming shoulder-widening project at a cost of $4,295,100.

S.H. 33 from Second Street to the U.S. 81/S.H. 33 junction and south two blocks to Don Blanding Avenue. This will add or update sidewalks to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act at a cost of $119,217.

State Highway 51 from U.S. 81 in Hennessey east 7.53 miles. This project will widen shoulders, resurface pavement and include the bridge box extension and replacement over Camp Creek at a cost of $14,564,200.

Additional projects on S.H. 33 and 51 and U.S. 81 are planned through Fiscal Year 2027.

Future work in Canadian County includes the following projects for FY21:

S.H. 3 pavement resurfacing from the Canadian/Kingfisher County line to Radio Road at a cost of $7.5 million.

U.S. 81 pavement resurfacing from 0.15 miles north of Memorial Road, north to S.H. 3 at a cost of $5,787,754.

U.S. 81 bridge rehabilitation northbound over the Canadian River at a cost of $4,347,540.

U.S. Highway 281 spur pavement resurfacing from the U.S. 281 junction, southeast 4.21 miles at a cost of $1,070,030.

Projects on U.S. Highway 270 bridges over 6 Mile Creek and Unnamed Creek are set for FY22 and FY26.

Over the last 12 years, almost $59.6 million has been invested on transportation projects in Kingfisher County and almost $32.4 million in Canadian County.

Transportation has always been a priority for me as a state lawmaker. Keeping our roadways safe for our families and open for commerce is a core function of state government. I worked hard during my service in the state Legislature to secure as much funding for roads and bridges projects in our district as I could. I’m proud of the $343.5 million spent over the past 12 years in House District 59. It’s been an honor to work with the dedicated leadership and crews at ODOT and in our counties

If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Woodward County Transportation Projects

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Every summer, I give a detailed update of roads and bridges projects in our House district broken down by county. This column focuses on those in Woodward County.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation lists this project as complete:

State Highway 15 located 6.4 miles east of the State Highway 46 junction and extending 4.4 miles northeast. Crews widened, resurfaced, and repaired the bridge that overlaps both Ellis and Woodward counties to include the town of Fargo at a cost of approximately $7.5 million.

These projects as ongoing:

Crews are nearing completion on a U.S. Highway 270 project that begins approximately 10.5 miles southeast of State Highway 50 and extends 3.7 miles southeast. This is a grade, drain, bridge and surface project adding two new lanes and rehabilitating the existing lanes to accomplish a four-lane divided highway at a cost of approximately $12.3 million. ODOT hopes to have this project completed by late fall or early winter.

The final section of U.S. Highway 270 in Division 6 also has been awarded. This is a milestone for the division as it completes the four-lane section of U.S. 270 from Woodward to Seiling. This portion of the project begins approximately 14.7 miles southeast of State Highway 50 and extends 4.3 miles southeast to the Woodward/Dewey County line. The grade, drain, bridge and surface project adds two new lanes and rehabilitates the existing lanes to accomplish a four-lane divided highway at an estimated cost of $21.5 million. The total cost of the overall projects, which began in 2003, is about $93 million.

Construction also is nearing completion on the 34th Street project in Woodward. This is a grade, drain, bridge and surface project beginning at U.S. Highway 412, extending south 2.07 miles. The cost is approximately $8.6 million and is a joint venture between ODOT and the City of Woodward. Work is expected to be complete by late summer.

The final ongoing project is an asphalt resurface on U.S. Highway 412 beginning 1.08 miles east of U.S. Highway 183 in Woodward and extending approximately 8 miles east. The cost of this project is $4.8 million. It should be complete by late summer.

Future work includes:

A Bridge replacement on State Highway 34 just north of Woodward over the North Canadian River. It is scheduled for 2021 at an estimated cost of $5.3 million.

ODOT currently is planning a bridge rehabilitation project on U.S. Highway 270 over the Unnamed Creek in the town of Woodward. The bridge is 0.4 miles east of the State Highway 15 and U.S. Highway 183 junction. This project will consist of replacing the bridge deck on both the east- and westbound lanes and will require a crossover where traffic will be moved to both the east- and westbound lanes while the deck is being replaced. This project currently is planned for 2021.

A resurfacing project on State Highway 34 in Woodward County begins at the U.S. Highway 270 junction and extends 7.9 miles south to near Sharon. Work is scheduled for 2022 at an estimated cost of $1.5 million.

Another project to widen, resurface and bridge State Highway 34 in Woodward County begins at the U.S. Highway 60 junction in Vici and extends approximately 8 miles north. The project is scheduled to let in 2027 at an estimated cost $15 million.

The final upcoming project is on State Highway-34 beginning at the junction of U.S. Highway 412 in Woodward and extending 0.8 miles north. This project is a grade, drain and surface and is scheduled for 2025 at an estimated cost of $4.0 million.

Over the last 12 years, approximately $108.5 million has been invested on transportation projects in Woodward County.

If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Celebrating our Nation’s Independence

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The Fourth of July is a day packed with emotion for me as it celebrates the founding of our nation and the ideals upon which it was founded: liberty, freedom, justice, fair representation and so much more. This emotion – shared by the entire nation – spills out into expressions of celebration such as parades, patriotism, picnics, fireworks, gatherings of friends and family and so much more. You witness the most outlandish displays of red, white and blue on this day, and I enjoy every bit of it.

For on this day the final wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress of the original 13 colonies of the United States of America. With this document, the legal separation of the colonies from Great Britain occurred and the new nation officially was formed.

What’s astounding to me is that the final version of the Declaration of Independence was prepared by what is known as the Committee of Five – five members of Congress who drafted and presented to the full Congress the document that would become America’s greatest announcement of independence from tyranny.

Just five men: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston worked on the final draft. The last two are barely remembered by anyone other than historians, and yet they helped accomplish this incredible task.

After serving in the state Legislature for 12 years among 101 members of the House of Representatives, 48 Senators and one executive, I know the rigors of getting legislation passed. It takes writing and rewriting, discussing and debating, amending and and adjusting. It’s a monumental task to get all parties to agree. And yet not one of these pieces of legislation, while well intentioned and helpful to our citizenry, will never achieve the status of this one document drafted by merely five men.

That just goes to show you the value of the few. Never take for granted that your one voice combined with just a few associates can make a vast difference for generations to come. A literal handful of men shaped the destiny of our nation for centuries, and I hope much longer.

On this July 4, I hope each of you take a moment to pause and reflect on the true greatness of our nation and to thank God for our unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As the Declaration of Independence proclaims, we will continue to assert our right to be free and independent, and as free and independent states, we still have “full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and all other things which independent states may of right do.

As the signers of this incredible document promised, let us likewise resolve: “for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Happy Fourth of July!

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Session Overview, Part II

By Rep. Mike Sanders

In my last column, I discussed some of the major pieces of legislation passed this year. This week, I’m writing about a few additional measures that are now law.

Senate Bill 801 changes the relationship of physicians to Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) from supervisory to collaborative. This issue is particularly important to rural Oklahoma as it increases our access to quality health care in areas where physicians are not always in ready supply. CRNAs point to their years of schooling and licensing requirements as proof they can take care of all but the most severe medical cases. This opens the way for faster and more affordable care for rural residents, while still ensuring patient safety. This is supported by the Oklahoma Association of Nurse Anesthetists (OANA), the Oklahoma Society of Anesthesiologists (OSA), the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA), and the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association (OOA).

Another measure, House Bill 3400, requires all Oklahoma public high schools to offer at least four Advanced Placement (AP) courses beginning in the 2024-25 school year. AP courses are proven to better prepare students for college, and even helps them earn college credit, saving them time and money on tuition. This law allows schools to offer the coursework through traditional teaching, through online instruction or by cooperative agreement with other schools. This is one more step in having a more skilled and trained workforce to add jobs to Oklahoma’s economy.

Two bills the Legislature had to enact by overriding the governor’s veto – House Bill 4018 and Senate Bill 1002 – allow us to establish a rural broadband expansion plan and add two members to the Rural Broadband Expansion Council, one appointed by the speaker of the House and one by the president pro tem of the Senate. This will ensure the people directly elected to represent Oklahomans have a voice in the process of broadband expansion. It was discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic that about 1/3 of public school students have no access to Internet. This posed a problem when schools were shut down and students were asked to do their work at home. This also affected adults who were asked to work from home, and it hampered business owners trying to deliver products and services. Building a reliable broadband network that reaches all parts of our states will help ensure everyone who wants access to the Internet can have it. This also will help us attract job creators and is another thing that will help build our state’s economy.

We also increased the penalty for porch pirates – those who steal packages or mail from homes, businesses or delivery vehicles. This has become more of a problem as people have moved to having many products delivered to their homes or businesses, especially during times such as the recent pandemic. House Bill 2777 ensures those who commit theft of these packages would face a misdemeanor for first and second offenses and a felony for three or more offenses. The goal is to thwart such theft.

Senate Bill 1125 directs the State Board of Education to issue Oklahoma teaching certificates to people who hold valid out-of-state teaching certificates, with no other requirements except a criminal history record check. This removes a barrier of having to get relicensed or recertified for these qualified teaching professionals who choose to relocate to Oklahoma to take the jobs that are open in many of our rural school districts. This is a win-win for our schools and our state. Our schools get more certified teachers, and the state builds its ranks of workers who contribute back to our economy.

Oklahoma has had a law on the books for years that required anyone submitting an absentee ballot in an election to have it notarized. The Oklahoma Supreme Court earlier this year struck that requirement down, not because the notarization process itself was deemed illegal, just that the requirement relied on the wrong section of law. We came back in and fixed that with the caveat that for the June 30 statewide election voters could submit a photocopy of their ID instead of having to have their absentee ballot notarized. After the June 30 election, the law will again require notarization. This helps keep our elections free of fraud, and protects this important right.

Just a reminder that I am still in office until mid-November, so if there is anything I can help you with, please reach out to me. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Session Overview, Part I

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The second session of the 57th Legislature ended Friday, May 22. Technically, we are recessed until sine die is official at 5 p.m. May 29. Unless something unforeseen occurs – and this year, it could – we have completed our work.

We started the year with more than 3,000 pieces of legislation filed. We ended with only 167 measures becoming law. This is less than half the number of measures enacted in a normal year. For those who think we have too many laws on the books, this is a good thing.

We did pass a few measures, however, that bear noting.

One is the Unborn Persons and Wrongful Death Act. This holds physicians liable for the wrongful death of an unborn child if it is proven that they acted fraudulently to coerce the mother to have an abortion or if they did not properly disclose the harm that can be done to the woman. Thousands of women have signed affidavits saying they were coerced into having an abortion or they were given an abortion against their will when they thought they were only going in for a routine exam. Others say they were irreparably harmed during the procedure. This bill gives these women a way to fight back against a multi-billion dollar industry that cares nothing for their health or safety, much less that of their unborn child, but only seeks to profit off of this murderous practice.

Another bill signed into law this year would prohibit the state, cities, counties or any political subdivision from enacting red flag laws. These laws, which are starting to gain a foothold in other states, seek to take firearms from people that others deem “might” pose a danger to themselves or others but who have committed no crime. This practice poses a threat to all citizens’ Second Amendment rights. We already have background checks and age restrictions in place for those who seek to own firearms. Those are sufficient.

Also this year, we were able to get a cost-of-living adjustment for state retirees across the finish line. The House has passed a COLA the past two years, but the Senate failed to vote on it until this year. The governor, thankfully, signed it into law. So, retired teachers, firefighters, police and other law enforcement, state employees and judges and justices will receive between a 2% COLA if they’ve been receiving benefits for two to five years and a 4% COLA if they’ve received benefits for five years or more. This is welcome news for retirees who’ve seen health insurance premiums and costs for other living expenses rise in the 12 years since the last COLA.

Legislation that strengthens Oklahoma’s support of Israel as one of the state’s top trade partners and the nation’s greatest ally in the Middle East also was signed into law this year. The measure specifies that unless exempted by the secretary of state, the state of Oklahoma will not enter into contracts with companies that advocate boycotts, divestments or sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The state also will not adopt a procurement, investment or other policy that has the effect of inducing or requiring a person to boycott the government of Israel or those doing business in or with Israel or territories under its jurisdiction. There are people and nations that would like to see Israel cease to exist as a nation and who also would like to wipe out the Jewish people altogether; they use the BDS movement to help accomplish their goals. This legislation puts a stop to that.  

In addition to the measures the governor signed into law, he vetoed 12 House bills and six Senate bills, including the overall state budget and three appropriations’ bills that supported the budget. The Legislature came back and overrode 10 of those vetoes. This was necessary to ensure we have a budget that minimally and not drastically cuts state services, and to ensure several policy measures protect our constituents.

Just a reminder that I am still in office until mid-November, so if there is anything I can help you with, please reach out to me. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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FY21 Budget Details

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House in early May passed a $7.7 billion general appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2021. The governor first vetoed three of the appropriations bills that supported the budget. When those bills got overridden with votes in the House of 97-3, 95-5 and 94-4, he vetoed the entire budget. In what was perhaps the fastest veto override in state history, the House overrode his veto within hours of it being filed. The budget is now law.

Frankly, the governor’s assessment of this budget was just inaccurate.

Senate Bill 1922 is $237.8 million, or 3%, less than the FY20 budget, which was the largest in state history. It is much improved over the $1.4 billion, or 17%, cut the governor and the state Board of Equalization estimated would be necessary in late April. The Legislature arrived at this budget by utilizing several creative, fiscally conservative and innovative measures – including using some state savings and money in agency revolving funds, utilizing apportionment reforms and issuing transportation bonds. This holds cuts to about 4% for most agencies and 2.5% for education. With the use of federal money, education actually will see an increase for the year, and those relief funds could help offset cuts at other agencies as well.

This budget is one that protects core services of government without raising taxes. If our revenue picture is actually better than the executive branch predicts or improves quickly, some of these cuts could be offset at mid-year.

I want to delve into a few specifics of this budget. First, for education. If the governor’s vetoes had stood, education could have been cut 12.5%. Our budget cuts only 2.5%, or $78.2 million, cut from common education’s $3 billion appropriation, and still protects public schools, where we increased funding by $650 million over the last three years. Nor will this cut affect the $7,300 teacher pay raises enacted over the last two years. Public schools are receiving $200 million in federal stimulus funds that can be used on any COVID-related expense. This could include technology purchases for distance learning and other instructional practices changed as a result of the pandemic. Lawmakers will continue to pursue greater flexibility over these and other federal funds in the coming months, but for now school boards will be able to code for a number of COVID-related expenses.

As to the Legislature’s temporary reduction in the additional amount appropriated to state pension funds, let me answer a few questions I’ve heard. The Legislature is not taking money from the pension funds as has been inaccurately said by the governor and some who have reported his words. The Legislature is still sending more than $200 million in additional money to the funds on top of employee and employer contributions, which remain the same. We just are not sending as much money as we have the past. The additional money was initially needed to build the plans’ fiscal solvency from years when the plans were not performing as well as they are now. Benefits this year are unchanged. In fact, the House has passed a COLA that would increase benefits should it pass the Senate and be signed into law by the governor. We are not touching the corpus of the funds. Again, no withdrawals are being made from these funds. This budget instead temporarily redirects $111.9 million to education, and that amount will be put back into the pensions with an increase when the state revenue picture improves.

I am proud to say that the FY21 budget increases transportation funding to by about $4 million. We moved some transportation money to education but offset that with bonding some roads projects. The transportation secretary told us at the time we presented this to him that this actually preserves transportation’s eight-year plan and does not harm it.

This budget also holds the Oklahoma Health Care Authority budget flat at a little over $1 billion. Other areas of health care do see some reductions, but mostly in the form of one-time expenses.

This year’s budget is far better than many expected when we first heard the revenue projections resulting from COVID-19 and the global trade war that dramatically dropped the price of oil and gas. Just as many Oklahomans are having to do right now, the state had to tighten its belt. That we were able to do so while keeping cuts to state services to a minimum is a relief. This budget prioritizes education, but also protects things such as the state’s eight-year transportation plan and the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges fund. It protects many services for rural residents, something I fought hard for. We’ve also planned for FY22 by leaving some money in savings that can be used if we need it. We have every reason to believe the Oklahoma economy will rebound, but we are prepared if that recovery is slow. Because we built our reserve funds in good years and were prudent in our expenses, Oklahoma is in much better shape than many states that are projecting double-digit reductions. We’ve been here before, and we’ve survived. We will survive this time as well.

Please remember, I’m here for you if you need anything. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Sanders, Bice Dyslexia Screening Bill Signed by Governor

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill requiring dyslexia screening for early elementary students not reading on grade level was signed into law by the governor Tuesday.

House Bill 2804, authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, requires screening for dyslexia for students in kindergarten through third grade who are not reading on grade level beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

“I’m thankful to the governor for signing this legislation that will be life-changing for these children,” Sanders said. “Too many of our children with dyslexia have been left behind in learning, and getting them the help they need is as simple as properly identifying this disorder. When these kids catch up with their peers in reading and other subjects it not only leads to a happier school experience but a better life.”

Bice said the issue was personal because her godson was dyslexic. She thanked the governor and fellow legislators for supporting the legislation.

“With proper screening, we can get dyslexic children the help they need to become stronger readers, giving them the tools to be successful in school and in life,” said Bice. “This is going to make a positive difference in the education outcomes of countless Oklahoma children.”

HB 2804 requires the State Board of Education to develop policies for dyslexia screening, and to adopt a list of approved qualified dyslexia screening tools. The bill also requires school districts to provide the State Department of Education with data about dyslexia, including the number of students screened for dyslexia each year, the number of students identified, and the process used to evaluate students.

“Our student advocates have given a face to dyslexia in Oklahoma. They have struggled to learn to read, but have been determined not to see others have the same fate. As their parents and educators, we have advocated for HB2804. Alongside the State Department of Education, the Dyslexia and Education Task Force, and members of the Legislature, we have worked to improve reading outcomes for struggling readers, including students with dyslexia,” said Michelle Keiper and Tiffany Jenkins of Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma.  “Change in education is never easy, but OSDE is providing the leadership needed in the Reading Sufficiency and Special Education departments.  Together we are making great improvements in Oklahoma.”

Last year, Sanders secured passage of House Bill 1228, which provides professional development for teachers across Oklahoma to help them better recognize signs of dyslexia in their students. Adding screening through HB 2804 was the logical next step, he said.

Sanders also authored legislation this year to add the Dyslexia Handbook to the list of tools available to teachers, parents and school administrators at no cost through the State Department of Education. Sanders said all of the legislation was a recommendation by the Dyslexia and Education Task Force and the SDE as well as Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma. All of the bills represent several years’ worth of work on this issue.

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DUI Victims’ Impact Panel Bill Signed by Governor

OKLAHOMA CITY – The governor on Tuesday signed into law a bill that strengthens the role of victims’ impact panels in helping to stop driving under the influence (DUI) offenses in Oklahoma and will help reduce the number of repeat offenders.

House Bill 2877, by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, was a request by victims’ impact panel programs currently operating in Oklahoma. It follows up on successful DUI legislation Sanders has passed in 2016 that strengthened prosecution of repeat drunk drivers by creating the Impaired Driving Elimination Act, moving all DUI cases to a court of record, ensuring district attorneys statewide would have access to records of DUI offenses. 

“I’ve fought much of my legislative career to curb the horrible crime of driving under the influence, which leaves death and devastation in its wake,” Sanders said. “This law ensures that those offenders who commit this crime will now have to face their victims or even worse the family members of those victims who were killed as a result of their actions,” Sanders said. “This strategy has proven to be 90 percent effective in our state, and it will save lives.”

Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, is the Vice Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Senate author of HB 2877.

“This is an important measure that is going to make Oklahoma roads safer and save lives.  We have too many cases of repeat DUI offenders and we’ve got to stop that,” Paxton said.  “House Bill 2877 will also make sure that Oklahoma’s impact panels are legitimate and following all necessary rules and regulations.  I want to thank my legislative colleagues for supporting and Governor Stitt for signing this important public safety measure into law.”

The legislation accomplishes three things:

First, it puts teeth in the enforcement of current statutory requirements for operating a victims’ impact panel. The District Attorney’s Council now will collect information and certify the panels by ensuring they meet all statutory requirements and operate properly. 

Second, the bill ensures that all defendants are being sent to a victim’s impact panel and standardizes the sentencing requirements statewide.

The bill also makes the fee for a victim/offender reconciliation program and Victims’ Impact Panel program a flat $75 instead of the sliding scale that now exists across the state.

Sanders said victims’ impact panels have to pay a $1,000 filing fee and the fee helps offset that and the cost of services provided. Equalizing the fee throughout the state ensures residents in rural areas will have access to such panels without having to make a long drive to attend.

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Remembering our Heroes

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Over the course of my public career, I’ve taken part in dozens of Memorial Day ceremonies. I’ve listened to the solemn tributes paid to those who made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives for our freedoms. I’ve heard stories of their valiant service and poignant memories shared by those who loved them. I’m always touched by the sadness that comes from wondering how life would be different had they continued to live among us.

I never fail to be moved by the mournful notes of Taps sounding from a lone bugler, the sight of the American flag flown at half-staff waving crisply in the breeze, watching as families place flowers on the graves of those taken from them too soon. In these moments, I’m always cognizant that my own sadness doesn’t touch the grief they’ve known.

The sight that always undoes me the most, however, is watching veterans stand at such sharp attention, saluting their fellow fallen service members, folding flags carefully into triangles, firing guns in somber salute, blinking back tears from their eyes. I’ve talked to a number of these men and women, and they say it is always a mixture of gratitude and grief they feel at these moments – gratitude to be among the living, grief and survivor’s guilt that they lived while their friend and fellow brother or sister in arms died in battle.

After these graveside services, come the parades. Red, white and blue bunting, patriotic music playing, horns honking, people waiving, children running for candy, families celebrating.

As I consider the two emotions these ceremonies evoke – the grief of the grave, the joy of the parade – I realize both are important and appropriate. We must honor our fallen. We must remember their lives and their sacrifices. We must pay tribute. We must let the full weight of the cost of liberty sink in – blood, sweat, struggle, life itself. But, then we must shake off the dust of grief. Our heroes, after all, did not die so that we would sink into the grave with them. They died so that we could live free.

So this Memorial Day, stand in silence at the graveside. Trace your fingers on names and eternal dates etched in stone. Take a moment to watch the flag wave in the breeze. Place flowers on the graves of those you loved, or just on the graves of those who sacrificed their lives for you even if you never had the opportunity to meet them. Consider the cost of your own freedom.

But then, celebrate. Take part in the parade. Laugh. Smile. Eat to your fill. Enjoy the sunshine on your face and the wind in your hair. Hug your spouses and your children. Spend time with those you love. Be kind to those you don’t.

Most of all, bow your head. Say a prayer of remembrance for those who served our nation – giving their own lives in sacrifice for ours. Remember their families and those who loved them; pray for their comfort and peace, their protection and provision, and that they will find a way forward through their grief and pain. Say a prayer of thanksgiving for your own life and your liberty. Thank the Lord above that He allowed you to be born into a nation such as ours – the greatest nation yet on the face of this earth. Pray that it will always be free. Finally, offer thanks for the men and women who secured that freedom for your sake and for mine.

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The Check is in the Mail

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I think we’ve all learned to be a little bit hesitant when we hear the phrase the check is in the mail, but this time it is true. Checks are being delivered to Oklahomans as we speak. These IRS economic impact, or stimulus, payments are meant to help during the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Electronic deposits to tax filers whose bank information is on file with the Internal Revenue Service are being made now. Physical checks will be distributed beginning in May. Payments are being made first to those with lower incomes. There are some income caps, so those with higher incomes may not receive a check. For more information, you can visithttps://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments.

At the same time, there is help for small business owners through the Small Business Administration.

This website contains a lot of helpful information on the various types of small business loans and debt relief that are available: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources.

Small businesses and nonprofits in all 77 counties in the state that have been affected by COVID-19 can apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans and loan advances. Payment on loans on these and any from previous disasters can be deferred until Dec. 31, 2020. Applications can be found here: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.

Small businesses, nonprofits, veterans’ organizations and tribal businesses affected also can and should apply for Paycheck Protection Program 7(a) loans. These loan payments will be deferred for six months, and those businesses that maintain their workforce from Feb. 15 through June 30 will be forgiven the portion of the loan proceeds that are used to cover the first eight weeks of payroll and certain other expenses following loan origination. Note these dollars are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Even as the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 – 2,263 as of this writing - and the number of deaths – 123, also as of this writing - continue to climb in Oklahoma, there is still some positive news to report. It was reported on April 14 that the number of new hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus were tracking well below predictions modeled by the Oklahoma Department of Health. Of the more than 29,000 people tested, almost 27,000 of those have tested negative. We are still urged to be cautious, to continue practicing social distancing, to keep washing our hands frequently, wiping down surfaces, etc., but I remain hopeful that we will see a strong recovery.

As always, I’m here for you if you need anything. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

 

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