ACORN Loses Federal Funding

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

For conservatives, the most recent controversy surrounding the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) represents a validation of their many critiques of the group.

For years there have been allegations that ACORN has been committing voter fraud and other abuses with the use of taxpayer money. James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, in disguise as a pimp and his prostitute, were able to add merit to these allegations by catching ACORN employees in the act of trying to help the two disguise their “business” and avoid taxes. They caught ACORN employees on more than one occasion and at multiple locations – Brooklyn, Baltimore, Washington and California – proving the problem was systemic to ACORN rather than extraordinary.

In a time of tension between Republicans and Democrats, both came together quickly in the U.S. Senate to pass the measure restricting all federal funding to the group. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered all state funds going to the group frozen until a review of the organization had been completed, as a direct result of O’Keefe and Giles’ successful findings.

ACORN left Oklahoma not long ago and it does not appear the state has funded the organization, I am proud to say. I commend the federal government for taking quick and bipartisan action to freeze ACORN funding in light of the damning evidence that O’Keefe and Giles were able to uncover. Unfortunately, while conservatives have been onto the group for years, many liberal and moderate lawmakers have defended ACORN. Now, they will likely suffer politically for their decision. Allegations of fraud should never be taken lightly.

I would also like to comment on President Barack Obama’s involvement. He has yet to really rebuke ACORN. He was asked about it in several interviews and brushed it off. They were scheduled to help with the 2010 census, and he has not yet put the stop to that. His economic stimulus made $5.2 billion available to ACORN and similar organizations. They will hopefully not be involved in the census – it’s much too important to trust to them.

Hopefully, ACORN’s actions will make Americans more skeptical of such organizations and lawmakers more careful in how they spend taxpayer dollars and where they lend their support.

If you have any questions or concerns I can be reached at my office at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Shortfall Might Spark Special Session

Shortfall Might Spark Special Session

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Is there any fat left to trim from agency budgets? Does the budget we passed this past session still work in light of revenue shortfalls? These are the type of questions that may spark a special session this fall.

The budget we passed in May assumed we would bring in $6.51 billion in revenue during this budget year, which began in July. The revenue that is coming in is below that figure, although we designed the current budget assuming less money would be available than in the prior year. Although we are not facing a crisis like many of the other states around the nation, we need to address the shortfall through targeted cuts that protect vital areas of the budget that are most critical. Without a special session, the shortfall will be handled solely through automatic, across-the-board cuts.

Whether or not a special session is called will be determined by whether or not revenue stabilizes, falls further or increases. In the meantime, I continue to travel my district.

Compressed Natural Gas

I attended the grand opening of an OnCue compressed natural gas station in Oklahoma City with House Speaker Chris Benge. Oklahoma is third among states in the production of compressed natural gas and its promotion is vital to our state’s economy and to employing Oklahomans. It is also vital for national security reasons that we wean ourselves off of foreign oil. I could not be more proud that the Legislature and private companies in Oklahoma are working together to promote its use.

Department of Human Services

I’ve attended two town hall meetings in Seiling regarding concerns over problems in the way the Department of Human Services operates. Though the Legislature did enact DHS reforms this past session, the fact that child molesters are still showing up as foster parents shows that more is needed.

Painting in Okeene

Boy Scout Troop 169 of Okeene has been selected to beautify the Okeene city park with a fresh coat of paint on their park structures as a part of the 2009 Fresh Paint Days project designed to encourage volunteers to seek out unsightly community structures and renovate them.

On Sept. 17, I will join volunteers in picking up paint in Woodward. The paint will be donated by H.I.S. Pain Manufacturing Oklahoma City and we will also have a stipend for supplies funded by Public Service Company of Oklahoma. Then we’ll get to using it, transforming the buildings over a period of days.

District Events

I thoroughly enjoyed the county fairs in Kingfisher, Blaine and Major counties and am looking forward to the Dewey County Fair. I also visited Ames for the annual Ames Days. They put on a great display of fireworks.

One other event I was proud to attend was a ceremony in which the Occupation Safety and Health Administration recognized the U.S. Gypsum Plant with an award.

I also spoke to a Kingfisher County retired teachers’ association about health benefits and how they should receive fair COLA’s. I also want to congratulate two district fire departments on their latest vehicles. The Kingfisher Fire Department has acquired a state-of-the-art water tank truck and a new ladder truck. The Isabella Fire Department has acquired a brush pumper.

Nellie, Davis and I are looking forward to the Friday night football games. We are planning on hitting many football games throughout the district.

If you have any questions or concerns I can be reached at my office at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Accomplishments of the Legislature

This year has been a historic one for Oklahoma. Numerous reform measures have been signed into law and the fact that so much was accomplished this year is a tribute to the many Oklahomans who voted for change at the state level in this past election. I thank you for your vote and am proud to outline what has been accomplished.

Let me begin with my own legislation. House Bill 1473 was signed into law May 11 and will make tracts of agricultural land that were annexed into a city prior to July 1, 2003 exempt from having to follow laws passed by the city. House Bill 1470 was signed into law in April and will allow county commissioners to pay a reward up to $1,000 for any evidence leading to the arrest or conviction of anyone who vandalizes county property. House Bill 1467 also became law and beginning July 1, elementary school teachers teaching kindergarten through fourth grade classes will now be eligible for professional development through the Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation. Senate Bill 1066 was signed into law May 22 and will increase the amount of money that can be reimbursed to county governments for road and bridge projects. Senate Bill 854, which will also increase the reimbursable amount counties can spend on road and bridge projects, was passed out of both legislative chambers and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Lawsuit Reform
After years of seeking to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits in Oklahoma, we brought everyone to the table and were able to get lawsuit reform signed into law. More than two thirds of medical lawsuits are frivolous and thrown out of court, yet millions are spent in defense of these bogus lawsuits. Oklahoma’s new law will limit the amount that can be awarded for non-economic damages except in cases of obvious negligence or permanent injury. It will also limit court-shopping and require a certificate of merit before a professional negligence case can advance. Oklahoma will now be able to attract more doctors, especially into the rural areas of our state.

Voter ID Reform
Oklahoma citizens will have the chance to opt for required voter identification now that the Legislature has sent it to the 2010 ballot. Legislation requiring voters to provide their voter registration card or any document with their photograph issued by a state, federal, county, municipal or tribal government was vetoed by the governor. If Oklahomans vote to require voter identification in 2010, the state will have a means to address potential voter fraud.

Responsible Budget
Lawmakers put together a $7.2 billion budget using both revenue collected by the state and from the stimulus funds. We used the stimulus money to increase education funding and for Medicaid obligations under the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Without that funding our budget would be $6.51 billion, a decrease in spending from last year’s $7 billion budget. Rural legislators also ensured the continuation of REAP funding, which was briefly in jeopardy in the last days of session.

Pro-Life Legislation
Oklahoma children cannot be targeted for abortion because of their gender under new legislation this year. The Legislature was also able to secure $5.5 million in funding for adult stem cell research.

Elected Officials Who Commit Felonies
Loopholes in Oklahoma law have made it possible for politicians convicted of a felony to still receive taxpayers-funded benefits. A new law created this session will close those loopholes.

Government Modernization
Lawmakers will save an estimated $70 million by freeing the Department of Central Services to negotiate the best possible terms and prices for state contracts. Another measure will centralize the state’s computer security of taxpayer data and streamline services to taxpayers by requiring an option to renew permits and licenses online.

Upping Trespassing Penalties
Because farm land and commercial hunting grounds are especially susceptible to taking great losses from theft and poaching, lawmakers strengthened penalties for trespassing on those properties. The new law will help to protect rural Oklahomans by deterring would-be thieves and poachers.

DHS Reform
A new law created this session will reduce the number of children needlessly coming into the foster care system by improving the training of Department of Human Services workers in risk and safety assessment. The law also requires that information about a child’s physical and behavioral health and education is available electronically to foster parents.

Alternative Energy Reform
Oklahomans will have access to a newly created tax credit to offset the cost of converting a vehicle to run on compressed natural gas or other alternative fuels and a $2,500 tax credit for installing home-fueling CNG stations. In addition, new law allows the Department of Central Services to provide public access to alternative fueling infrastructure in underserved areas unless a private provider locates within five miles.

Help for the Uninsured
Lawmakers pushed through legislation that will promote the Insure Oklahoma program, which has shown success in enrolling uninsured Oklahomans. It also creates a cheaper core benefits package for young, healthy Oklahomans.

It’s been an honor to serve you at the Oklahoma State Capitol in the 52nd Legislature. I promised to be a strong voice for Western Oklahoma and have now fulfilled that promise. In the interim, I look forward to spending more time with you as I travel the district. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407 or at my home phone at (405) 375-5442.
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Responsible Budget Created for Oklahoma

Legislative Update by State Rep. Mike Sanders

With the budget agreed upon and session set to end early, I thought it was about time to wrap everything up and enjoy spending a little more quality time with my wife, Nellie, and son, Davis Lee. Then I learned that the governor had removed a provision to provide for Rural Economic Action Plan funding and I knew there was still a little bit of work that needed to be done.

Fortunately, rural lawmakers have been fighting too hard to protect REAP funding to let it just slip through the cracks. Working with state Rep. Ken Miller and state Sen. Mike Johnson, the budget chairmen for their prospective chambers, we have identified a revenue source to fund the REAP program at last year’s level less a 7 percent cut that is being made to all areas of the budget except for education, roads and bridges and corrections. The revenue source will come from an existing bill that is set to increase the fine for delinquent tag renewal from $0.25 to $1 a day.

Now let’s get to the meat of the budget. I am proud to say that core functions of Oklahoma government – education, roads and bridges and corrections – were all protected. We found the money for a $40.5 million increase for public schools and a $31.6 million increase for higher education funding. The Department of Transportation is getting a slight increase and the Department of Corrections is being funded at last year’s level. As I mentioned above, other areas of the budget are being cut. The Department of Human Services will get a 1.7 percent cut. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse is going to lose 2 percent of its funding. The Legislature and governor’s office are both taking cuts to their budgets as well.

The state’s budget last year was $7 billion. This year it has gone up to $7.2 billion because the state is accepting a portion of the stimulus money. Without the stimulus money, the budget would be about $6.51 billion. We are using the stimulus money in the areas of education, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which oversees Medicaid in the state and for transportation.

Working with the governor, Republicans have been able to create a responsible budget despite shortfalls in revenue and I am pleased to be a part of that.

I would also like to mention the success of the Ten Commandments legislation that will allow private entities to place a Ten Commandments monument on Capitol grounds. The monument will serve as a reminder that our government system has a basis in the Ten Commandments.

In my next update, I will give you a rundown of what the Legislature has accomplished this year. 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 Adopts Resolutions Opposing Cap-And-Trade

House Adopts Resolutions Opposing Cap-And-Trade and

Opposing Repeal of Tax Incentives for Oil and Gas Exploration

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 12, 2009) – Lawmakers joined state Rep. Mike Thompson today in his opposition to a federal cap-and-trade system on greenhouse emissions and opposition to a repeal of tax incentives for oil and gas exploration with two resolutions to be distributed to the president and members of the U.S. Congress.

“The federal cap-and-trade system will be an economic hardship on top of the troubles Americans are already experiencing,” Thompson, R-Oklahoma City, said. “The repeal on tax incentives for oil and gas exploration hits closer to home. It will have a direct negative impact on Oklahoma industries.”

House Concurrent Resolution 1035, by Thompson, refers to President Barack Obama’s proposal to implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. On March 31, 2009, Congressman Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey released a draft of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which includes language implementing a cap-and-trade system.

“Why anyone would want to risk such a large impact on the economy by creating such a far-sweeping system is beyond me,” Thompson said. “I think that while any such system would be a burden on the economy, this one will have a much deeper negative impact.”

House Concurrent Resolution 1036, also by Thompson, notes that Oklahoma is an energy state, where more than 76,000 Oklahomans or 3.3 percent of the workforce in 2007 were directly employed by the oil and natural gas industry. Directly or indirectly, the oil and gas industry supports one in seven jobs in Oklahoma.

“These small- to medium-sized businesses, which are so numerous in Oklahoma and so important to our local economy, will reinvest that money they get in the form of tax incentives,” Thompson said. “Repealing them would truly be a poor policy choice.”

Both resolutions were adopted by the House and pending Senate approval will be distributed to the president and all members of the U.S. Congress.


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Legislative Update – Knee-Jerk Protectionism Blocks Legitimate Reform

After years of doing things one way, some Oklahoma officeholders have been slow to warm to the reform measures the Republican-led Legislature are trying to enact.

Gov. Brad Henry’s recent veto of a lawsuit reform measure is the latest example of this trend. The legislation, which is carefully worded to target only frivolous lawsuits, simply requires that an expert sign off on the validity of a lawsuit before it is taken to court. The bill makes so much sense that the governor signed into law a similar measure in 2004 that targeted only medical malpractice lawsuits. The 2004 law was thrown out in 2006 for unconstitutionally applying to only one industry. This year’s law therefore was written to apply to all industries.

It is not unexpected to see this type of knee-jerk protectionism of old systems, but it is disappointing. Though there is nothing in either party’s platform that would place a lawmaker against lawsuit reform or government modernization efforts, the vote on those reforms has been divided along partisan lines. My belief is that it is rooted in a fear of changing the status quo, especially when that change comes from the opposite party.

Take for example the argument against tort reform. Trial lawyers have muddied the water by marching out truly rare cases of severe medical malpractice and trying to create a feeling that Oklahoma is rampant with bad doctors who are held at bay by the current system. Data has been gathered to show the true effects of changing the law will actually benefit people with legitimate cases, but the parade of sob stories and unfounded fear that some critical-but-unidentified right of average Oklahomans will be imperiled has caused the minority party to vote against the reform in the Legislature and the governor to veto legislation that he has acknowledged is needed.

A second example of how instinct is being used in place of information is in the significant opposition to government modernization. Republican lawmakers received debate and opposition on such common-sense measures as centralizing information technology services and allowing the state to renegotiate contracts.

The final example of this phenomenon is voter identification reform. The lawmaker who introduced this legislation pointed out states that had enacted similar reform and had seen record turnout in subsequent elections. It seemed like a good argument to deter the legitimate if protectionist concern that changing the system might disenfranchise voters. The legislation divided the Legislature again along party lines and was vetoed by the governor.

The changes that the Republican-led Legislature is trying to enact are meant to fix problems that have emerged over time in the status quo. Reform should be embraced by both parties, especially when the change is not nonpartisan in nature. Opponents of such measures should take a hard look at their positions and make sure they are not becoming roadblocks in the path to progress in Oklahoma.

Thank you for stopping by my office, Joy Rhodes of Watonga. I would also like to thank the Oklahoma FFA choir, who sang beautifully at the state Capitol recently. I am always excited to meet with visiting FFA members.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Legislative Update – Pro-Life Measures Will Become Law

Pro-life advocates arrived at the Capitol this week to celebrate the first pro-life measure signed into law this year by Gov. Brad Henry. Oklahoma is the first state to sign into law a measure to allow mothers to use lethal force in defending an unborn child.

I am encouraged to see such high-spirited activism regarding the protection of human lives. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 240,000 pregnant women are subject to domestic violence each year and pregnant women face twice the risk of battery. This legislation is aimed at affording those women the right to defend themselves and their unborn children.

I attended The Americans United for Life press conference marking the event. Not only is the passage of the legislation important, but getting the word out is also important. It encourages those who believe in the right to life who may not have yet gotten involved in the movement, to consider getting involved.

Unfortunately, Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a measure banning embryonic stem cell research. The bill drew opposition from the Oklahoma City and Tulsa chambers of commerce and I believe that the governor was influenced by the misinformation they spread. For others who may have been mislead, let me make it clear that the numerous state representatives who voted for the ban are not opposed to the use of adult stem cells for medical research. They are also acutely aware of the fact that only adult stem cell research has led to both cures and medical advances while the use of stem cells created from human embryos have not produced a single cure or medical advance.

A Senate bill I sponsored in the House will increase the amount of a county purchasing agent can spend on the next highest bidder if the low bidder cannot meet the terms of a contract. It increases the amount that can be spent from $5,000 to $10,000. The House passed the legislation by a 63-28 vote and it will now return to the Senate before being sent to Gov. Brad Henry.

I would also like to note the House passage of a Senate bill that would increase the penalties for trespassing and theft or vandalism on farms and ranches. The measure was approved almost unanimously and protects Oklahoma’s agricultural providers from losses due to theft or damage to livestock and farm equipment that can be quite costly. I was a proud supporter of the measure.

Thank you for stopping by my office, Ernest and Flo Hellewege of Kingfisher. I would also like to thank Mark Huff, a fire marshal from Watonga for stopping in.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Legislative Update – Fighting Domestic Violence, Government Waste

Public safety and the pro-life movement got a boost this week from House lawmakers who approved a bill to protect women and their unborn children from domestic violence.

Domestic violence is a problem in Oklahoma as it is nationally. There are men who attack their pregnant wife or girlfriend if their wife or girlfriend refuses to abort their child. According to the American Pregnant Association, 240,000 pregnant women are subject to domestic violence each year. The Senate bill passed by the House would give women the right to use lethal force to protect the life of their unborn babies.

Oklahoma is one of only four states without a centralized technology officer. House lawmakers voted to change that, approving legislation that would streamline and consolidate technology services across state agencies. By consolidating the technology purchases under a chief information officer, the state is estimated to save millions by improving Oklahoma’s purchasing power.

A bill I authored and that I’ve mentioned in past columns has now passed the state Senate with the help of state Sen. Bryce Marlatt. House Bill 1470, which would raise the amount of money that a county can use to reward anyone with information about the vandalism of county property. The bill will now head to the governor’s desk, and with his signature, become law.

The last item I will touch upon is a resolution passed by the House urging the federal government to encourage natural gas vehicle usage. House leadership has already been pushing through legislation to diversify Oklahoma’s energy production to help protect our local economy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. One measure incentivized the purchase of a compressed natural gas vehicle. The resolution urges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to quickly revise and restructure its natural gas vehicle certification requirements.

Natural gas is a domestic fuel that is plentiful in Oklahoma and now composes the greater portion of the oil and gas industry in the state. Because current EPA regulations are hindering the natural gas vehicle market, we have asked them in the resolution to help make these conversions as safe and inexpensive as possible to give Oklahomans access to alternative fuel vehicles. The resolution also encourages the EPA to continue a natural gas vehicle research, development and demonstration funding program.

The ultimate goal would be to increase the number of natural gas vehicles on the market and on the road, which would allow industry and the public to more quickly decrease the dependency of the nation on imported petroleum.

I would like to thank Kingfisher residents Mr. and Mrs. John Gooden for stopping by the Capitol and meeting with me. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Legislative Update – Priorities: Roads, Public Safety and Education

Having recently met with Hardy Watkins, executive director for the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, I thought I would fill you in a bit on the progress of renovations to Watonga’s Roman Nose State Park and Lodge.

I attended the meeting along with state Sen. Ron Justice. According to Watkins, the renovation of the lodge is right on schedule.

Aside from its stunning natural beauty, the Roman Nose State Park is an important way in which tourism dollars are brought to Watonga and other nearby towns. In order to reach it and other parts of the district, it is of course important to fix and update our roads and bridges.

Which brings me to the topic of this weeks’ column – as the state budget gets tighter, what are the core responsibilities of our state government?

Both myself and members of the conservative majority in the state Senate and House would contend that public safety, transportation and public education are the core areas of state government that need attention.

Throughout Oklahoma, residents have called upon the Legislature to improve our roads and bridges that have been long-neglected. In recent sessions, the conservative majority responded by providing record funding for road and bridge projects. I cannot promise you that we will again provide record funding because of the budget shortfall we may be facing. Roads will continue to be a priority, however, and will not get short-changed in this year’s budget negotiations.

State government should always focus on public safety. For this reason, conservative lawmakers have continued to push for new legislation to aid law enforcement and to target specific problems. One such bill passed this year increases the penalties for bringing a cell phone into prisons from a misdemeanor to a felony. Another would outlaw membership in a criminal gang and increase the penalties for attracting underage members. Despite a large prison population, the conservative majority has also resisted efforts to reduce sentences while passing at least one bill intended to decrease recidivism rates.

Education is another area that has received record funding recently from conservative lawmakers. Legislators this year have also worked to pass several pieces of legislation allowing for more local control. By continuing to look for ways to streamline the state’s education services while continuing to ensure its funding is prioritized over services of lesser importance, conservatives will continue to protect public education in Oklahoma.

I would like to thank Kingfisher resident Anna Langdon for stopping by recently. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Northwest Oklahoma State Representative, Chairman of Oklahoma House Budget Committee tour rural Oklahoma Conservation Infrastructure; Flood control needs, water quality work highlighted on tour.

Oklahoma City, March 27, 2009—In an effort to get a “first-hand look” at the conservation infrastructure needs of rural Oklahoma, State Representative Ken Miller,(R-Edmond) Chairman of the Oklahoma House of Representatives Appropriations and Budget Committee toured flood control dams, riparian areas, no-till fields and other conservation improvements in Kingfisher, Blaine and Canadian Counties. The tour was conducted on the invitation of Representative Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher), a former Senior Advisor to the Chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“I am so glad that Rep. Miller was able to come out and see some of the needs of Conservation in Rural Oklahoma,” Rep. Sanders said. “Ken has been a great supporter of natural resource conservation work in the past, but it always help to see this work first hand to really get a grasp of what we are doing to help protect the environment.”

Representative Sanders said that he first came up with the idea of having the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee come with him on a tour of Conservation improvements shortly after the start of the 2009 legislative session.

“I have a unique perspective after serving in Washington D.C.,” Sanders said. “I saw how folks who have little day to day experience with rural America sometimes miss the importance of the work farmers, ranchers and other landowners do to protect our natural resources. When I had a chance to visit with Chairman Miller about Conservation, I took the opportunity of inviting him to come out to my part of the world and see some of these needs first hand. Ken jumped at the chance to get out and see the actual work on the ground.”

A resident of Edmond and a suburban Representative, Representative Miller said that it was extremely helpful to see up close the work done by the funds he has helped appropriate to Conservation in Oklahoma.

“I have always supported natural resource work and the effort of those who protect our soil, water, air and wildlife habitats through voluntary means. That said, we don’t have many terraces, waterways or riparian buffer strips in the city limits of Edmond,” Rep. Miller said. “It’s easy to hear things like ‘our state has more flood control structures built under the USDA watershed program than any other state in the union,’ or ‘by implementing best management practices like no-till and riparian buffer restoration we can reduce nutrients and bacteria in our water,” but it is all pretty academic until you see these things up close. I really want to thank Representative Sanders for asking me out for this tour.”

The two House members toured flood control structures in Kingfisher and Canadian Counties and toured Blaine County land enrolled in the newly initiated clean water act section 319 water quality project on the North Canadian River between Canton Lake and Lake Hefner. The conservation improvements they viewed, while in rural areas, have a direct impact on urban and suburban areas of Oklahoma, according to Clay Pope, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

“The dams we toured with Representative Sanders and Chairman Miller protect areas around Guthrie and the west side of El Reno, suburban areas of the Oklahoma City Metro Area and the water quality work we saw in Blaine County helps protect the water on the North Canadian River, which provides Oklahoma City with a large portion of its drinking water,” Pope said. “I think these sights highlight the importance Conservation work in rural Oklahoma in protecting the environment for all Oklahomans. We really want to thank Representative Sanders for putting this tour together and we want Chairman Miller to know how excited we were to show him these needs first hand.”
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