Update on the COVID-19

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Update on COVID-19

By Rep. Mike Sanders

These are extraordinary times in which we are living.

With that said, I want to offer reassurance and hope. We are a strong district, a strong state and a strong nation. We have endured every past crisis we’ve faced in Oklahoma and in our nation. We will prevail over this as well.

As far as your state government, and the core services it provides, I want to reassure you that government is functioning, and I will continue to work on behalf of the people in our House district. We are just having to do some things differently. Right now, we are restricting Capitol access to elected state officials, essential employees, credentialed members of the press and state employees that are invited for critical meetings. This could change if necessary. We also voted on emergency procedures that will allow us to work remotely if necessary and to vote by proxy through a caucus designee. This will only happen if absolutely necessary to conduct the business of the state. We must pass a state budget and keep state agencies operational so they can continue to provide services for Oklahomans.

House members met Monday with the state health commissioner to get an update on the spread of this virus, the number of confirmed cases in Oklahoma, current testing protocols and other information that would be helpful for our constituents. At the time of our meeting, there were 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma – there are now 17; 186 people had been tested, and 27 were awaiting a test. Those numbers will change in the coming days.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The health commissioner stressed that about 80% of people experience only mild symptoms and can self-isolate. While you can check with your doctor, there is no current available treatment for this, so unless symptoms are extreme or a person has an underlying health condition that puts them at greater risk, health officials are asking people to stay away from hospital emergency rooms to allow the most severe cases to be tested and treated.

The health commissioner said the state is receiving more tests weekly and we also are set to receive more hospital supplies such as ventilators, masks, gowns and other items.

We all need to continue to practice good hygiene and common sense. Wash your hands frequently; wash surfaces regularly; avoid touching your face. If you feel ill, stay home and away from anyone who might be vulnerable. If you are experiencing a true medical emergency, seek help.

The White House and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are recommending people stay out of gatherings larger than 10. While the state Health Department and the federal government are offering guidelines, it is still up to each municipality to enforce its own codes. That’s why you will see some cities limiting restaurants to being open or closed, while other cities are taking different precautions.

Right now, state public schools are closed through April 6. Jury trials have been temporarily suspended. Visitations at state prisons and many jails are suspended. Many large venues have canceled concerts and other events. I know this puts a crimp on our modern lifestyles, but if we can slow the curve of this virus and not overwhelm our healthcare facilities, we can keep more people healthy and save lives. It’s important to note that very few people have died from this disease in our nation and we’ve had no deaths from this in Oklahoma.

We are a strong state and country. We are Americans, and we will get through this. We must remain vigilant to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and we should stay informed, but we must not panic.

Please offer prayer for our first responders, health care professionals and those affected by this virus. I am asking Almighty God to keep each of us safe and everyone calm during this time.

As always, if you have questions or concerns, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Cost-of-Living Adjustment for State Retirees Passes House

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The House this week passed legislation that would grant a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to state retirees in six of the state’s pension plans.

House Bill 3350 passed 99-0. The measure would grant a 4% COLA to any state pensioner that has been retired for five years or more as of July 1 this year and a 2% COLA to those retired at least two years but not five.

The House ran similar legislation last year, but it was not picked up by the state Senate. This year, a number of senators have signed on as co-authors of this bill. That gives me hope it will make it through that chamber and to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

It has been 12 years since state retirees received a COLA. Meanwhile, health care and other living expenses have risen in cost. It is time to give those who’ve dedicated years of their life to the state – our firefighters, police officers, teachers and other state employees – this much needed raise.

Another piece of legislation that passed the House this week would put to a vote of the people a question of whether to amend how state questions are placed on statewide ballots. House Joint Resolution 1027 would ask the people to vote on whether we should require signatures from voters in each of the state’s five congressional districts to place an initiative petition, a legislative referenda or a constitutional amendment on the state ballot. Currently, state law just requires a number of signatures from legal voters in the state to place such state questions on a state ballot. The number is based on how many voters voted in the last governor’s election. But the way the law is written, the signatures can be gained from the state’s two largest cities, and this leaves rural voters out of the process. This would even the playing field so our rural voters would have to have a voice before the state’s constitution or state law is changed.

A measure that classifies domestic abuse by strangulation, domestic assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and domestic assault and battery with a deadly weapon as violent crimes also passed the House this week with a 92-0 vote. House Bill 3251 only makes sense. These are violent crimes, and they deserve full punishment under the law, including that anyone convicted of these crimes will have to serve 85% of their prison sentence before being released. This is a further protection for our domestic violence victims.

We also passed two bills that promise to do away with the practice of surprise medical billing for health care patients. This occurs when someone goes in for care or a medical procedure they think is covered by insurance only to be surprised by a bill from an unauthorized provider. This sometimes happens during surgery or other procedures when many different health care professionals provide care to a patient. I’ve been told the authors of these bills will join forces to ensure one bill makes it through the Senate to be signed into law.  This should resolve payment issues between insurance companies and health care providers and get patients out of the middle.

One measure I voted against this week would have allowed local governments to create county hazard mitigation districts, but the districts could then assess an additional property tax of up to two mills for applicable projects. There have been a number of bills lately assaulting private property rights and property taxes for purposes other than for what they are intended. I did not want to allow this to happen to our rural property owners, including our farmers and ranchers.

This was deadline week. All House bills, other than those filed by the speaker or the budget chair, had to be passed out of the House to stay alive. We heard more than 230 bills and resolutions this week on the House floor. Combined with what passed previously, we are sending 410 measures in total to the Senate. Next week will be a light week before we ramp up to start considering Senate bills.

On a final note, I want to mention the Coronavirus, not to cause fear, but just to give you some common-sense advice passed along by the CDC. Older people or those with a compromised immune system should stay out of public gatherings for a bit. Wash your hands frequently and avoid being around anyone who is coughing or sneezing or has a fever. If you feel sick, stay home. The world will survive without your public appearance for a few days. I promise! Prayer is always a good idea as well!

As always, if you have questions or concerns, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Dyslexia Bills Pass House

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I passed both of my bills dealing with dyslexia out of the House this week with near unanimous votes on each.

House Bill 2804 would require any student enrolled in kindergarten through third grade in an Oklahoma public school who is not meeting grade-level reading targets after the beginning of the school year to be screened for dyslexia beginning with the 2022-23 school year. This follows legislation I passed last year that provides a professional development day for teachers across Oklahoma to help them better recognize signs of dyslexia in their students.

House 2889 makes the State Department of Education responsible for updating the Dyslexia Handbook, which already is available for teachers, parents and school administrators. This just puts in statute that it will be annually updated by the SDE with input from stakeholders.

All of this legislation came from recommendation by the Dyslexia and Education Task Force and the SDE as well as Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma.

This will be a game changer for students struggling with dyslexia. With early intervention and the proper help learning to read, these students will now enjoy tremendous academic success.

Also this week, the House passed a bill that recognizes Israel as one of our state’s largest trading partners and our top ally in the Middle East. House Bill 3967 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 people behind the BDS movement aren’t just advocating boycotts and sanctions, they would deny Israel the right to exist as a nation and would like to see the Jewish people cease to exist altogether. As a Christian, I just cannot watch blindly as this movement takes hold. I co-authored this bill with a host of other lawmakers. Oklahoma now joins 28 other states in adopting similar legislation.

I also was happy to support legislation that will help us place the national motto “In God We Trust” on state buildings. This motto is already on many of our federal buildings, and many local police and sheriff’s offices have chosen to put the motto on patrol cars. A majority of Oklahomans, including myself, do trust in God, and declaring this as a state is a way to honor our heritage and the blessings and protections we’ve enjoyed from our creator.

Another bill that passed this week is one I co-authored. House Bill 3298, authorizes the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority (OCIA) to bond $17.5 million and make use of a 65% federal match of $50 million to acquire property and invest capital into improving and repairing some of the high-risk flood-control dams across our state. Many of these dams are more than 50 years old and have reached their life expectancy. It is important to protect the homes and cities beneath these structures, many of which supply water to surrounding communities.

We continue to hear numerous bills each day on the House floor. March 12 is the third-reading deadline for bills to be passed in their legislative chamber of origin. That leads to a few weeks of long days and even a few night sessions. After that, we will begin hearing Senate bills in committees and on the House floor. 

As always, if you have questions or concerns, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.



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House Committee and Floor Work Begins

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Now that the legislative session is in full swing, House committees and subcommittees are meeting, and our first pieces of legislation are being considered on the House Floor.

We have until Feb. 17 to move bills out of an Appropriations & Budget subcommittee and until Feb. 27 to advance them from regular committees. We then have until March 12 to pass bills on the House floor before they move to the Senate.

Last week, the House passed House Bill 1182 that would revoke the license of a physician performing an abortion in the state. I’ve heard the argument by some that this bill does not go far enough in stopping the slaughter of our unborn, but it does at least further restrict this horrendous practice. In my view, every restriction we place on abortion is a positive step in the right direction until Roe v. Wade is overturned as the law of the land.

Another measure I supported was a bill that will now classify domestic violence strangulation as a violent crime. Oddly enough, the way the law is currently written strangulation committed during a domestic violence situation received a maximum penalty of less time than if it was committed as a random act. This law changes that and properly classifies it for what it is – a violent crime. It further seeks to protect victims by increasing the penalty for this crime to up to 10 years in prison for a first offense and 20 years for a second.

Also this week, the speaker of the House announced a bill that would give doctors who choose to practice in rural areas a $25,000 tax credit each year. The bill defines rural communities as any municipality with a population of less than 25,000 and that is also located at least 25 miles from the nearest municipality with a population greater than 25,000. This will give those who enjoy their rural way of life greater access to primary care doctors.

The speaker also intends to introduce additional legislation this session to address rural health care worker shortages by instituting improved professional licensing reciprocity for health care professionals. Doing so would make it easier for licensed health care workers from other states to practice in Oklahoma as long as their existing license meets Oklahoma’s standards.

One bill that earned my no vote is House Bill 1992. This would authorize the governing body of a municipality to initiate creation of a public safety protection district made up of all territory located in the municipality, and would allow the district to institute its own property tax for the purpose of funding public safety protections. This is being pushed by large urban cities, and yet rural communities filled with farmers and ranchers will be primary payers of this tax. Even residents in unincorporated areas who would not get a vote but could be forced to pay a higher property tax.

Municipalities already have the opportunity to raise sales taxes to support public services if their residents agree. Why doesn’t Tulsa do this instead of coming after farmers and ranchers for higher property taxes? This is just another example of urban vs. rural. I have voted no on similar bills my entire legislative career because I stand with my farmers and ranchers.  

I am so supportive of public safety, as you all know. I just think there was a better way to do this

In future columns, I will detail additional bills filed this year, including my own which are starting to be scheduled in committees.

On a personal note, I was honored recently by being named the Citizen of the Year for Kingfisher. There are so many people in our community deserving of this recognition; it truly is humbling and deeply moving to be the recipient of such a distinguished award. I am incredibly grateful to the people who considered me for this accolade.

As always, please remember that 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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Witnessing History

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I received a call from the White House last Saturday inviting me to attend the signing of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

To say I was honored and pleased is an understatement. Being a former White House staffer under President George W. Bush, I know how very special and rare moments such as these are. I was equally honored because this agreement represents a victory for the farmers, ranchers and others in the agricultural industry and the many manufactures not only in my House district but across the entire state of Oklahoma.

These are the men and women on whom I have based my entire career of public service – the very ones I fight for every day.

The USMCA replaces the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which essentially eliminated tariffs on most goods traded among the U.S., Mexico and Canada. This new agreement is much better trade policy. It evens the playing field so that companies are no longer encouraged to leave America for cheaper labor. This puts American first, and consequently it puts states like Oklahoma, which produces a large portion of the nation’s agriculture and energy, in a leading position.

The new agreement governs $1.2 trillion worth of trade, affecting nearly a half billion North American consumers. It improves labor standards, grants U.S. farmers increased market access and puts new e-commerce rules in place.

The deal gives American farmers greater access to Canada’s agriculture markets, including dairy. It also sets rules for agriculture biotechnology and addresses labeling requirements.

In addition, it requires a higher percentage of autos be made from parts manufactured in North America (75% vs. 62.5% under NAFTA) and requires that at least 40% of vehicle production be done by workers earning at least $16 per hour.

This is a rare bipartisan agreement that improves life for American workers.

Combined with the signing of the “Phase One” trade agreement with China recently, this will additionally help boost our economy.

Of course I said yes to the incredibly gracious invitation from the White House. I flew out Tuesday to attend the Wednesday signing ceremony. I watched as President Trump put pen to paper – a move that ensures American workers a better stake in the future. What an amazing experience, one for which I will always be grateful.

On a separate note, my annual survey was sent this week to all of my constituents in House District 59. Please return to me with your answers and thoughts so I can know best how to continue serving you this year.

Please remember that if I can help you in any way, I’m happy to do so. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 ormike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Preparing for the Legislative Session

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The legislative session will start in just a few weeks on Feb. 3, but lawmakers have already been meeting to hear early details of this year’s economic outlook. All indications are we will have a flat budget year after a few years of revenue growth. This is primarily due to a slowdown in oil and gas, on which our state is still heavily reliant.

This slowdown is shown in the state’s December General Revenue Fund (GRF) collections, released this week. We received a total of $631.8 million, which is $11.2 million, or 1.8%, above collections in December 2018 but $8.9 million, or 1.4%, below the estimate for the month.

And, even though our total GRF collections for the first six months of Fiscal Year 2020 are above estimate by $28.3 million, or 0.9%, that’s not enough of rise to pull us much above what we had to appropriate during our last legislative session – hence the flat budget projections for Fiscal Year 2021. 

This will mean some conservative budgeting for state agencies. Honestly, though, this is always my heart – fund only what is absolutely necessary to deliver core state services. We will continue to keep transportation as a priority, making sure our roads and bridges plan stays on pace. We also will likely add more money to education again this year to limit classroom sizes and see better education outcomes in the number of students reading and performing math and other subjects on grade level. Graduating students who are ready for the higher education or the work force is important not only to our young people but to our state as a whole.

Health care and public safety also will continue as a priority in our state budget, and we will continue to save money to prudently plan for possible future downturns in the economy.

On the topic of health care, lawmakers are awaiting the governor’s plan on how to best receive more federal Medicaid dollars. We don’t want to put Obamacare into our state constitution and tie our hands to spending billions of our taxpayer dollars in the likely event the federal government will quit paying its share in the future. We also want some flexibility over things such as work requirements for non-disabled individuals. Lawmakers have plans to address these issues, but we must pass something the governor will sign. This is why we are waiting on his lead in this.

In the meantime, the governor has yet to resolve his dispute with Oklahoma tribes over gaming revenue, which by law is to be handled between the executive branch and the tribes. The governor contends the gaming compacts ended Jan. 1; the tribes contend they renewed automatically. The governor wants to renegotiate for higher revenue to match what is received in surrounding states. I trust this business arrangement can come to a resolution soon. 

Due to term limits, this is my final year in the Oklahoma Legislature. I’ve been blessed with many legislative successes over my last 11 years. These include laws that crack down on drunk drivers, strengthen the rights of crime victims, add training to help teachers recognize students with dyslexia so they get help earlier, a tax exemption for the American Legion that helps our veterans, laws that ease restrictions for volunteer fire departments to recruit qualified firefighters and access better equipment among many others. I also remain a staunch defender of adequate transportation funding, Highway Patrol Trooper Academies and many other areas of core services that help everyday Oklahomans.

Just because this is my last session, I have no intention of slowing down. I will be as active as ever in pursuing laws that improve the lives of Oklahomans. In my next column, I will detail my legislative agenda for this year. I also remain the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, so I will be able to help some of the new lawmakers coming up behind me as they transition into leadership roles. I also will continue to serve this year as the chair of the House Utilities Committee.

As always, it is an honor to serve you. If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 ormike.sanders@okhouse.gov.


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Best Christmas Ever

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I’m afraid sometimes we’ve heard or read the Christmas story so often we take for granted how amazing it truly is. We too easily glide past the static Nativity scenes; we know the next scene in the Christmas pageant; we’ve heard all the words of the carols numerous times. We eat, drink and make merry, but do we really take time to consider the true meaning of this holiday?

Our Savior chose to leave Heaven and come to this earth to be born to a young virgin girl in the midst of utter chaos. The Jews were under brutal Roman rule. They hadn’t heard from a prophet of God in 400 years. They had a promise of Messiah, but they obviously had lost hope that one would truly come for them. When the Messiah did appear it was in such unlikely circumstances that many missed Him altogether, refusing to believe that Jesus was truly the Son of God. He was merely the carpenter’s son to many.

If we’re not careful, we miss this humble Messiah as well.

And yet I find myself approaching Christmas asking the Lord for a new childlike faith to believe that miracles really are still possible. Like the one where the angel appeared to Mary to tell her she would be with child even though she was not yet married and had never been with a man. Like the one where the angel then had to appear to Joseph to reassure him that this really was the hand of God. Like the one where the angels sang to the shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem on the night of our dear Savior’s birth, alerting them to the fact that a Savior had been born and that God’s peace had now come to mankind. Like the miracle of the wise men following a star all the way to place where they encountered the Christ child, giving gifts in adoration and worship.

I want to see Christmas anew this year, and every year. 

I love the thrill of the holidays – the activities and parties, the decorations and lights, the music and presents. But, I want to appreciate the deeper meaning – the best gift of all: my salvation, brought in the form of this tiny baby. He was born into the most humble of circumstances and would grow to be the man crucified on a cross to save me from my sins, to save the whole world if they will just believe. This to me is the best part of Christmas – God with us, Immanuel.

This year, as I spend time with my wife Nellie, our sons and our extended family, I will be grateful to God for all of His blessings in my life. But most of all, I will be thankful for this most precious gift – salvation and the promise of eternal life. I hope you will do likewise.

Merry Christmas to all!

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New Laws in Effect

By Rep. Mike Sanders

More than 300 laws took effect Nov. 1. Let me give you a snapshot of a few of them. The first two are laws I authored.

House Bill 2051 allows retired firefighters who are already part of the state’s pension program to return to service in volunteer fire departments without it affecting their current retirement benefit and without it counting as an accrued retirement benefit against the state’s pension plan. This bill is a companion to one I authored several years ago that eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement that they be added to the pension plan. These bills help build the ranks of our rural fire departments, which are largely staffed by volunteers, and they help protect lives and property.

House Bill 1228 will provide professional development for teachers beginning in the 2020-21 school year to help them recognize students with dyslexia and determine how best to help these students to put them on a better pathway toward learning on pace with their peers. This will help these students be able to perform well in school, join the workforce and avoid many of the challenges currently experienced by students with dyslexia.

House Bill 2640, Francine’s Law, requires law enforcement to put into the NamUs national database information of unidentified bodies so that families of missing persons can search for their loved ones. The bill was named after Francine Frost, a mother of two who was abducted in Tulsa in 1981. Her case was cold for more than three decades until a grandson found information in the NamUs system that later turned out to be that of his grandmother. This law will lead to quicker identification.

House Bill 2597, otherwise known as constitutional carry, allows citizens 21 years old and above who are lawfully allowed to carry a firearm and active duty military below 21 to carry firearms in public without having to first secure a permit or license. The law still requires background checks and does not allow convicted felons, those with adjudicated mental illnesses or illegal aliens to carry. Private property owners can still prohibit people from carrying firearms openly on their property, and guns are still prohibited at airports, colleges and government buildings. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms without the requirement of paying for a permit or license. Oklahoma is one of 14 states to restore this right.

Senate Bill 142 requires a nursing home resident or their legal representative to provide informed consent prior to being prescribed anti-psychotic medication unless a physician deems it necessary. Oklahoma has been No. 1 in the nation for nursing home residents taking anti-psychotic drugs without a psychiatric diagnosis. This will improve the lives of those who are too often prescribed medications to modify their sleep or behavior without proof they need these powerful medications.

House Bill 1071 permits, but does not mandate, speed limit increases on rural segments of the interstate highway system and on state turnpikes if the changes are supported by engineering studies. Such safety studies are expected to be completed early next year, and then reviewed and potentially approved by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Commission or the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority Board.

Senate Bill 89 expands Oklahoma’s current “Move Over” law to require all drivers on multilane highways to change lanes when approaching a vehicle stopped on the side of the road with flashing lights on, when it safe to do so.

House Bill 1926 allows law enforcement to use cameras on school buses to track down drivers who illegally pass buses that have stop arms extended. The law requires a minimum ticket of $100 for violators; 75% of the money collected will be deposited into the newly created Cameras for School Bus Stops Revolving Fund, a grant that schools without video surveillance on buses can apply for in order to purchase the equipment. Drivers that pass stopped school buses endanger our children and should face stiff penalties.

Senate Bill 1019 allows pharmacists to dispense emergency prescription refills to patients who need life-saving medications but who don’t have a current prescription on file if the patient can’t get in touch with their doctor for a refill. Pharmacists will be able to dispense a “reasonable” amount of medication if the patient has a record of the prescription on file and the pharmacist determines the medication is essential to treating a person’s chronic condition. Examples of such medications include insulin and rescue inhalers.

House Bill 2380 creates a criminal penalty for possessing or using a scanning or skimming device to access, read, obtain, memorize or store – temporarily or permanently – information encoded on the a credit or debit card without the permission of the authorized user of the card and with the intent to defraud.

This is just a snapshot of all of the bills passed and signed into law this year. You can see a full list here: https://www.sos.ok.gov/gov/legislation.aspx.

Remember, I am always available. 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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Reps. Sneed, Frix, Sanders Meet with Rural Fire Chiefs

OKLAHOMA CITY – Wednesday, State Reps. Chris Sneed (R-Fort Gibson), Avery Frix (R-Muskogee and House Majority Leader Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher) met with rural fire chiefs from Muskogee and Cherokee counties in Muskogee.

“We discussed issues facing our rural fire departments and firefighters,” Sneed said. “This included a discussion on the need for a cost-of-living adjustment through their state pension plan, other issues surrounding pensions, recruitment and retention, aging equipment, ways to attract younger volunteers and more. I was happy to help facilitate this meeting as we look at ways we as lawmakers can support our rural fire departments.”

Frix, who has run legislation the past few years to give firefighters and other state retirees a COLA, said today’s discussion was productive. “This gives us a better grasp of the issues facing our rural firefighters and their needs as they work to protect lives and property.”

Sanders said he has spent much of his career as a lawmaker working to ensure the needs of rural fire departments are met. He’s passed several pieces of legislation that have allowed fire departments to recruit volunteers over the age of 45 who do not need to be added to the state’s pension plan.

“I have always been on the side of our rural fire chiefs, and will continue this work to build the ranks of volunteers and to make sure they have what they need to do their jobs,” he said.

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