State of the State

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Governor J. Kevin Stitt gave his first State of the State address this week before a joint session of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Senate.

Gov. Stitt has repeatedly said he wants to see Oklahoma become a top ten state in the nation in many factors, including economic, job and business growth, as well as in areas such as government reform, education and health care.

He also outlined some of his budget priorities for the coming fiscal year.

Gov. Stitt said that Oklahomans are presented with revenue growth of potentially $600 million for the coming fiscal year, a 3.6 percent unemployment rate, rising wages and a spirit of optimism. He attributed this to Oklahomans who are working hard, opening businesses and creating jobs. He rightly pointed out that the government does not create wealth. Only individuals in the private sector create wealth. The government merely manages wealth for such services that are provided for in the state and federal constitutions.

I’m heartened to hear the governor say that every policy decision in his administration will promote a healthy economy. The governor suggests the first step in this process will be to return some of the power over the hiring and firing of state agency heads to the executive. He also would like to restructure some boards and consolidate where there is duplication. These are great suggestions. The Legislature should, of course, still have appointment authority to agency boards as a way to maintain oversight of taxpayer dollars and as a way to ensure programs make sense for state citizens. We’d also like to see these boards become more than just advisory and have actual authority. I am in complete favor of looking for duplication and sun-setting those that are no longer needed.

The governor also wants to make the government more transparent, offering incentives to agencies to come into the digital age with their outdated IT structures and financial reporting. He wants all government revenue and spending detailed and available in a format that is readable by the public – all laudable goals.

The governor is supporting more education funding for the coming year. He is asking the Legislature to approve a $1,200 pay raise for all state teachers to go with the pay raise already enacted last year. This would take the state’s teachers to the highest pay in the region. House Republicans also are interested in getting more money into our public school classrooms. We want to make sure the money is coupled with better student outcomes, particularly in reading and math.

I was pleased the governor addressed health care, particularly for low-income and rural Oklahomans. But he’s thinking beyond just Medicaid expansion, which eventually would leave the state with a $1 billion price tag when the federal government stops paying its share. House leadership will be focused on working with the governor and the Senate to come up with a solution that takes care of the needs of Oklahomans and is not just a cookie-cutter approach or one that eventually costs the state more than it can pay.

I also was excited to hear the governor’s wish for the state to save some of its surplus instead of spending everything we have when we know eventually we’ll go through another down cycle. We must be prudent with our money just as we encourage our private citizens to be.

In the coming weeks, I will be digging into the governor’s executive budget and highlighting those areas where I know we can build consensus and make positive gains for our state.

In the meantime, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts. Please contact my office by phone or email when you have any questions or concerns. Social media is great, but I don't always have time to check that as much as I would like. For faster results, I encourage you to reach out to me at the Capitol and visit with my assist Natasha Holliday or email me. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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General Revenue Collections Up So Far

By Rep. Mike Sanders

A bit of good news for the coming legislative session is that General Revenue Fund collections are up over the previous year. This means we have more to save for future revenue downturns, which we all know are an inevitable part of the economic cycle. It also means we have more to work with when considering the core needs of state government. We must be good stewards of state money and not spend every dime we have.

Collections in December were $620.6 million, up $108 million, or 21.1 percent, from collections in December 2017. Total collections over the first six months of the fiscal year are $442.1 million, or 15.8 percent, above prior year collections.

While these figures are positive, we must remain mindful that oil prices are trending low, and that always has an effect on state revenue.

A new day has arrived in Oklahoma. We have a new governor who has a slate of fresh ideas. I’ll be listening intently alongside other Oklahomans to his budget presentation during his first State of the State address. We’ll be matching that up against the Legislature’s appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year.

As we did last year, we’ll continue to focus on education, this year working to get more money into our classrooms. We’ll also address mental health care needs and work to restore funding for county roads and bridges, which was borrowed against during the years of recession.

Medical marijuana regulations will have to be written, especially those that deal with labeling and testing. We have to make sure we get this right. Although four out of five counties in our district voted against the state question that was put on the ballot by state voters, the state as a whole approved this measure. It’s now up to the House and the Senate to put in place regulations that will keep the public safe.

Also this year, there will be a number of bills that will seek to reform state government, increasing accountability of agency spending. This has long been a priority of mine and other conservative lawmakers and is now shared by the new governor. We will be looking at ways to give the executive greater authority in naming agency heads, much as a chief executive officer would have. I have long felt agency heads should report directly to the executive coupled with legislative oversight vs. only being accountable to unelected boards and commissions.

The Legislature will also form a nonpartisan group to oversee agency funding, much like the federal government’s General Accounting Office. This will ensure programs are needed as a core function of state government and that government isn’t needlessly grown just to match state revenue collections.

On a final note, if you haven’t received my survey yet, you should be soon. Please take a few moments to fill this out and let me know your opinions and concerns for our district. I value you input and want to hear your ideas.

As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Inauguration Promises Spark Hope

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Governor J. Kevin Stitt took office as Oklahoma’s 28th governor Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. It was a day filled with pomp and circumstance. Dignitaries were recognized during the inauguration ceremony; other state elected officials were sworn into office; flags waved in the brisk Oklahoma wind; a military band played; a choir sang; fighter jets rushed over the Capitol in an ear-shattering roar; and a 19-gun salute was fired. It was also a day of speeches and promises.

Gov. Stitt promised to bring Oklahomans a new sense of pride in our state as we move beyond years of recession and struggling to help people wean themselves from total dependence on government and work toward becoming what he calls a top-ten state. Stitt promised to address a pattern he’s seen repeat itself over and over in Oklahoma – living for each boom and starving through each bust. He said under his leadership the state will be open for business, and he promised to aggressively recruit new business to the state.

Stitt also promised greater accountability among state agencies. He said rightly that agencies have too much independence from voters. Agency leaders often ignore executive orders and legislative intent, skirt laws passed by the Legislature, hide pockets of money and protect their own interests by hiring lobbyists. Stitt has asked the Legislature to help him correct this by giving him more authority over hiring and firing agency heads. This is a priority for House leadership.

Stitt wisely stated that government alone cannot fix all of our state’s problems. It will take ordinary Oklahomans helping to make sure no one falls through the cracks. He said everyone must get more involved in their schools, churches, neighborhoods and local nonprofits. State government is not the best place to address community, municipal or county problems. Though state lawmakers can assist in regulation and freeing up funding, most decisions are best left to those closest to the source.

Stitt was quoted during his inaugural speech as saying, “Big goals can often feel unattainable. But don’t say that to a guy who was told it was impossible to a build a nationwide mortgage company with just $1,000 and a computer, and who was told a political outsider couldn’t become governor.”

Gov. Stitt is a political outsider. He’s the grandson of Oklahoma dairy farmers and the son of a preacher. He’s a salesman at heart, but he also has a solid business track record. He built a very successful national mortgage company before he decided to toss his hat into the political arena. He didn’t start small either, but went for the top prize in state government – the governor’s seat. I’m heartened by hearing this was a position he and his wife prayed over and sincerely felt God led them to pursue. You can’t do this job and bring change and stick to your moral compass without the good Lord’s help. I’m heartened also by Stitt’s work ethic, his enthusiasm and his love for our state. This combination will help him attract the people who will help him achieve the success he envisions.

Like everyone in our state, I’ll be watching Gov. Stitt to see if his actions follow his hopeful words. I’ll be cheering for his success. I like what I hear so far.

As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Proposed Legislation

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Happy New Year! I’m wishing each of you the best in 2019.

The legislative session is just around the corner. I will be running a number of pieces of legislation this session that will benefit veterans, students, firefighters, the State Fire Marshall and those who travel state roadways. I’ll give details of specific bills in separate columns, but for now I’ll highlight just a few.

First up, I’ll be working to secure tax-exempt status for the American Legion Department of Oklahoma. The American Legion has been in Oklahoma for 100 years serving our state veterans and their families as well as our youth via the Legion’s many patriotic educational programs. The Legion also promotes a mission of strong national security. This organization deserves to be exempt from sales tax on the sale of property and services. I’ve long been a proponent of this legislation, but our state recession precluded me from running it in the past. I’m optimistic we will be able to accomplish this this year.

Next, I’ll be pursuing legislation to help students with dyslexia better learn to read and to provide their teachers with additional professional development resources.

The first bill would revise the state’s Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) to better ensure students with dyslexia are receiving appropriate reading interventions and accommodations based on their individual education needs as well as additional benchmark assessments in advance of the third-grade reading exam. This bill would require a portion of RSA funding be spent on targeted professional development for Kindergarten through third-grade teachers in the science of reading and would increase funding for students not meeting reading criteria. The bill also will seek to reduce the student to teacher ratio for kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.

A second bill would create Dyslexia Professional Development Awareness and provide funding to assist teachers in gaining broader knowledge of this disability. Training would focus on recognizing the indicators of dyslexia and the science behind teaching students with dyslexia. The goal is to ensure educators are properly trained to meet the needs of this population of students.

Reading is the No. 1 life skill students need to be successful. Research shows that even students with severe dyslexia can read, they just need to be given different tools to unlock their learning potential.

A third focus this year will be to further amend House Bill 2005, which 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 state’s pension plan. The legislation, which took effect in November 2015, has resulted in 300 new volunteer firefighters joining rural fire departments over the past three years.

Amended language will allow retired firefighters to perform as volunteer firefighters for a volunteer department without it affecting their current retirement benefit but also without it counting as an accrued retirement benefit against the state’s pension plan.

State law previously prohibited willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state’s pension and retirement plan simply could not afford them. Many, however, have said they would be willing to serve without needing the retirement benefit. This amendment will allow trained and seasoned but retired firefighters to participate in protecting the states rural fire districts without affecting funding for other core government services.

In my next column, we will look at issues facing the state and topics that could be addressed in the upcoming 2019 session. The 57th Legislature will start on Monday, Feb. 4 with Gov. Stitt’s State of the State Address.

As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Such a Strange Way to Save the World

By Rep. Mike Sanders

There’s a popular Christian song with the title “A Strange Way to Save the World.” It’s written from the perspective of Joseph as he beholds the Christ child lying in the manger in Bethlehem.

He asks himself,

“Why me? I’m just a simple man of trade.

Why Him, with all the rulers in the world?

Why here inside this stable filled with hay?

Why her? She’s just an ordinary girl.

Now I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say,

But this is such a strange way to save the world.”

I think about the humility of Christ’s birth. No room in any inn, our savior was born in a manger. No crib in which to lay him, he was laid in an animal feeding trough filled with rough hay. No proper clothing, he was wrapped in strips of cloth. No world leaders or paparazzi waiting for the moment of his birth to report it in all of the tabloids. Angels instead heralded the news to lowly shepherds tending their flocks in fields during the night.

Later, in Christ’s ministry, his disciples would argue over who among them was the greatest. Jesus took a young child and set him in their midst telling them that whoever receives a child such as this receives Him and receives the Father who sent Him.

“For he that is least among you all, the same shall be great,” Jesus said.

It’s this humility that strikes me this season.

As someone who has served in leadership positions among state lawmakers and even at the national level, the humble path is not often promoted as the way to achieve greatness. And yet Christ showed us such a different way. In fact, one of his disciples urged him to call fire down from heaven on an occasion when he was rejected. Jesus rebuked such talk, saying instead that He did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.

I ponder such humility as I consider those who choose to serve us in so many ways – whether by fighting fires on our behalf, or policing our communities or patrolling our state highways, or serving in our national defense, or teaching our children, or providing health and mental health care, or building and repairing our roads and bridges and so much more. They don’t seek greatness. Instead they seek to serve. I’m thankful for each of them and such humble service.

I’m thankful as well for my family, my wife Nellie and our two boys, Davis and Walker. So many times they choose the humble road while I ride off to attend what seems at the time like pressing matters of state. I believe what I do for our district and our state is important; it matters. I hope I am making a difference in my short time here on this earth; that I am improving the quality of life for my family, my neighbors, my friends, my fellow Oklahomans. But at the end of the day, it is Christ’s example that draws me to my knees.

What a beautiful way to save the world.

Merry Christmas to all who live in House District 59. Happy New Year as well.

As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Practicing Thankfulness

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Thanksgiving is a holiday often overlooked by retailers and others in the marketing profession. If you visit a store this time of year, you might see bins of leftover Halloween candy crowded in front of rows of Christmas decorations. If you search long and hard, you might eventually find a few turkey-themed items.

For many, Thanksgiving is about food or football or planning for Black-Friday Christmas shopping. But Thanksgiving for me is a time to reflect on all for which I’m truly thankful.

On top of my list is my incredible wife, Nellie, and our two sons Davis and Walker. They have stood by me while I’ve served in the state Legislature, including times when I’ve had to be away from home or have carried the stress of making decisions that will impact people throughout the state. They’ve done it with grace and patience and smiles on their faces, and for that I couldn’t be more thankful.

I’m also thankful for my father, who continues to work in our family business. I’m thankful as well for the memory of my dear mother.

As I anticipate spending Thanksgiving with my family, I can’t help but be cognizant of all of those who will spend the holiday away from their loved ones in service to their communities, our state and our nation. This includes police officers, firefighters and others in emergency service as well as those who serve in our military, both here and overseas. I offer each person who serves in one of these areas a very heartfelt thanks for keeping us safe and staying on watch. It is because of you that we enjoy the freedom to spend this day as we please in peace and safety.

Thank you as well to those who teach in our schools, who work in our hospitals and doctor’s offices, who build our roads and who keep other state services in place and running smoothly.

And I’m thankful for all of my constituents who reach out to me with suggestions, questions or concerns. Their goals are to make our communities better places to live and work. I appreciate their input.

Truth is, I’m thankful for the people on my list each day of the year, not just at Thanksgiving. But this holiday gives me an extra reason to acknowledge my gratitude. This Thanksgiving week, I hope you will join me in taking time to tell those you love why you are thankful for them. Say thank you also to those who serve you in any number of ways.

Happy Thanksgiving House District 59. We are truly blessed.

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Sanders Sworn in to Serve Sixth Term

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. and House Majority Leader Mike Sanders was sworn in to serve his sixth term in the Oklahoma House of Representatives today by Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice James Winchester. 

“Serving the people of House District 59 at the state Capitol has been a wonderful privilege,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I’m honored to have been selected to my post six times. This has allowed me the opportunity to respond to needs and requests and help make sure our tax dollars are spent efficiently in the delivery of services that improve transportation, education, public safety and health care needs of the citizens in my district as well as throughout the state. In my final legislative session, I will continue to advocate to cut waste in state government even as we continue to deliver needed government services.”

Sanders was surrounded at the ceremony by his wife, Nellie, and their two sons, Davis, 9, and Walker, 7, as well as other family members, friends and co-workers.

Sanders was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008. He has served in House leadership every year since his first election. In 2016, he was named by House Speaker Charles McCall to serve as House Majority Leader. Prior to that, he was elected by his fellow legislators in the Oklahoma House Republican Caucus to serve as deputy majority whip and also worked as House Political Action Committee chairman under three speakers of the House.

His committee work included serving as chair of the House Subcommittee on Transportation for four consecutive years and serving as vice-chair of the Human Services Committee, focusing on reforming the Department of Human Services. He also served as chair of the Appropriations & Budget Transportation Subcommittee as well as a member of the Agriculture & Rural Development, Appropriations & Budget, Energy & Natural Resources and Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget committees.

Sanders ran unopposed in the latest election. His district includes Blaine and Dewey counties as well as portions of Canadian, Kingfisher and Woodward counties.

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Land of the Free

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Driving to the state Capitol the other day, I noticed a large flag flying high above a local business. Just seeing the red and white stripes and the white stars on their field of blue waving in the breeze evoked such a wave of gratitude in me.

I found myself saying a prayer of thanksgiving to God for allowing me to be born in a nation where I’m free to choose where I live, where my children go to school, the career I wish to pursue and so much more.

Of course this freedom comes at great cost. Much of that cost is paid by our veterans and those who currently serve in our military. They’ve paid the cost of time spent away from family, of forgoing the comforts of home, of enduring things experienced in battle that those in civilian life can barely imagine. They have been willing to risk the ultimate sacrifice of paying for our freedoms with their very lives. Many return from battle wounded or mentally wounded. They deserve care and respect.

As our nation approaches Veterans Day, Sunday November 11, I’m mindful of such sacrifice. Veterans Day commemorates all of those who have served our nation and are still living. Memorial Day, in May commemorates those who have died in service to our nation.

Veterans Day was first observed as Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the armistice with Germany that ended hostilities during World War I. That armistice was signed Nov. 11, 1918 – exactly 100 years ago. The official end to the war would not come for another seven months. In reality, however, war is never truly over. One conflict ends. Another begins. We must be ever vigilant to protect our freedoms and our lives. And so we add ever increasing numbers to the list of those we call veterans.

This begs a question for me. How do we properly thank our veterans?

We start by saying thank you. We honor them, not just with parades and days named in their memory but by taking part in civic life. We vote for those who will work to make sure their long-term care and other needs are met. We listen to their stories and learn from their experiences. We live decent lives, not taking even one moment of happiness for granted, knowing it came at incredible price.

On this Veterans Day, please join me in expressing to the veterans you know or meet how grateful you are for their willingness to serve and to sacrifice. Never take for granted the price they’ve paid for you to live in this land of the free.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Number of Volunteer firefighters up three years after law signed

OKLAHOMA CITY – Almost 300 new volunteer firefighters have joined rural fire departments three years after successful legislation eliminated the age limit for new volunteers.

House Bill 2005, authored by Rep. Mike Sanders and Sen. AJ Griffin, took effect Nov. 1, 2015. The law 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 state’s pension plan.

In the three years since the law took effect, 270 new volunteers have been added to fire service roles. Sanders said about 85 percent of the firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers. Of the state’s 915 fire departments, 866, or 95 percent, are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program.

“Our rural fire departments depend on volunteers to keep our citizens and our property safe,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher and House Majority Leader. “State law, however, previously prohibited willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state’s pension and retirement plan simply could not afford them.” 

Sanders said he asked constituents above the age of 45 if they would be interested in volunteering and about whether or not they needed a pension. Most said they already had pensions but would be more than willing to serve. Sanders worked with Griffin and with former Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) Executive Director the late Jon Hansen and rural fire coordinators from across the state in drafting the bill.

In addition to saving lives and property, Sanders said the law also can help lower insurance rates.

“I’m thankful we were able to find a solution to grow our volunteer firefighter base,” Sanders said.

The legislation was approved unanimously in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and approved by the Oklahoma Senate before being signed by the governor in April, 2015.

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Sanders Earns 100% Voting Record on Small-Business Issues

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Sanders today was notified that he achieved a 100 percent NFIB voting record in the 2017-2018 legislative session on issues that impact Oklahoma small businesses.

The voting record is compiled every two years on every member of the Oklahoma Legislature by the NFIB, a national small business advocacy organization. Only votes directly impacting small businesses in Oklahoma are considered.

“Small business is the lifeblood of our state and national economy,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I’m pleased for this recognition of my voting record, but I’m even more pleased to stand with the men and women who own and operate small business in House District 59 and across our state who benefit from a free market economy and the cutting of over-burdensome regulation.”

NFIB’s Oklahoma Voting Record includes votes on seven key issues, including property rights, health insurance, and lawsuit reform.

The 2017-2018 NFIB Oklahoma Voting Record includes legislation regarding:

  • The sale of insurance across state lines
  • Protecting businesses from website accessibility claims
  • Holding trespassers liable for damages
  • Agri-business exemption from federal truck log rules
  • Privatization within state agencies

NFIB State Director Jerrod Shouse said, “Mike Sanders clearly recognizes the challenges of running a small business. By consistently supporting small business and free enterprise, Mike Sanders supports entrepreneurs and working families back in his district and across the state.”

 

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