Legislative Session Begins

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The 56th Legislature starts Monday, Feb. 6. The House convenes at noon, and the governor will give her State of the State address shortly after.

This year again will be a challenging session. Budget talks will likely take up a good portion of our time at the Capitol. As a member of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee, I’m proud of the work already begun on this pressing issue. Before session, we asked five of the state agencies that receive nearly 80 percent of state appropriated dollars to appear before the committee, opening the doors to all representatives and anyone interested from the public. The agencies presented their next fiscal year budgets as well as gave us an overview of projects and programs and a glimpse into their decision-making process of what constitutes a valid use of state money. We heard from the state Education Department, the Oklahoma Transportation Department, the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education, the Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. As the session progresses, we’ll be diving into the budgets of other state-appropriated agencies as well.

You’ll hear a lot this year from sources on both sides of the budget issue – those saying the state still has a spending problem, and those saying we’re cut to the bone and now we must consider we have a revenue problem. The truth is we have both. The state has been through a protracted recession as a result of our dependence on oil and gas revenue. We know we must diversify, and we’ve worked to do that. But, to attract businesses from other sectors, past Legislatures have voted in a number of tax incentives and credits, which now we must examine to see the true benefit of our investment. We’ve been doing that now through the state’s Incentive Evaluation Commission. That work will continue, and I will keep you apprised of the commission’s recommendations. One piece of good news is that most sources agree oil and gas revenues are trending up. On the spending side, I know there is still waste in state government. To think otherwise is simply to be naïve. While some agencies have been cut to the proverbial bone, I know that as we delve into the line items on budgets we will be able to find areas that can at least be held for a more profitable year.

There are several pieces of legislation that are already getting a lot of talk for the coming session. First, I’m confident we will pass a REAL ID piece of legislation that will comply with federal regulations but will protect the private information of Oklahomans. I also think there is a legitimate opportunity to pass a teacher pay raise this year. House Bill 1114 proposes a $6,000 pay raise over three years, which I feel is a reasonable approach given the state’s current economic picture. The big question, of course, will be how to pay for this raise. I know there already are several plans underway to tackle this. I believe we will find a way.

As always, this year I will be particularly attuned to legislation that affects our rural way of living. I will continue to support rural firefighters, law enforcement officials, county governments, highway and county transportation funding, rural schools and other issues that affect those who live in my district.

In closing, keep in mind, that more than 2,200 bills and resolutions were filed by the Legislature this year. If historical precedent holds true, only about 400 of those will make it into law by the end of thesession.  That means we legislators have our work cut out for us to decide what will best serve the needs of the people of our state and what can be left on the editing room floor.

I’m proud to serve Oklahoma House District 59. As always, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Responding to Constituent Concerns

By Rep. Mike Sanders

One of my primary jobs as a state legislator is to talk to constituents and address their concerns. I get many calls and emails from constituents on a daily basis, and I try to help each one.

One recent concern dealt with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service at Oklahoma State University and the thought that the state Legislature cut the budget of this service over the last few years. The service receives money from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education not directly from the Legislature. Any budget cuts would have been made by the regents. It is true that higher education received about 16 percent less last year than the previous year and about 23 percent less in the last four years as the state has struggled through a recession, but I see plenty of other places in their budget they could have cut instead of this service. The University of Oklahoma could have sold an Italian monastery it owns in Tuscany, Italy, for instance; the chancellor could take less than his $400,000 annual salary. Those are just a few examples.

Another issue brought to my attention is the flashing lights out at the intersection of State Highway 183 and Highway 60 west of Seiling in Dewey County.  This has been the site of numerous auto accidents, including several fatal wrecks. I’ve received several calls from concerned citizens, and I wanted to give everyone the update I received after I reached out to the Department of Transportation for assistance in this matter.

I’m told that new lighted perimeter stop signs should be up by later this month, and that rumble strips leading to the intersection should also be in place. I was reminded this was not a planned event, but the lights were knocked down by a truck that was over the height limit for this area. Considering how often the lights were hit in the past, the lighted stop signs will be a better fit for this intersection, according to the transportation department.  Public safety is one of my top concerns, so when I hear of an issue like this, I act immediately to seek a remedy.

Another concern voiced is that state services for rural Oklahoma are declining, including rural fire protection, county roads, rural schools, conservation districts, rural health care and more.

I am a fierce advocate for rural Oklahoma, particularly rural Western Oklahoma. In 2015, I voted against the fiscal year 2016 state budget because it cut these priorities in Western Oklahoma. During last year’s budget negotiations, I fought successfully to maintain funding for rural fire department grants even while the state secretary of agriculture continues to cut this funding to balance his books. I will continue to stand in the gap and fight him on this issue. It is another example of why we need this as a line item in the budget.

As chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Transportation Subcommittee for the past four years, I fought for and secured adequate funding to keep the Transportation Department’s 8-year road plan on track as well as for numerous county road projects. In addition, I have fought to keep rural hospitals and health care centers open to serve our rural residents, and I have been a strong advocate and supporter for our rural schools.

These are all perfect examples of the way a citizen’s government should operate. Constituents should always feel free to call their legislators and voice their concerns. I’m thankful when citizens give me the opportunity to listen to them and help see their needs met. It’s why I ran for office in the first place – to serve the public.

So, please, let me hear from you. I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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Sanders Announces Committee Assignments

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Sanders today announced he is on four standing committees for the Oklahoma House of Representatives for the 56th Legislature, which convenes its first legislative session Feb. 6.

Sanders was selected by House leadership to serve on the Agriculture & Rural Development, Appropriations & Budget, Energy & Natural Resources, and Utilities Committees.

“Being from a rural district where rural electric and phone cooperatives as well as energy and agriculture play a very significant role in shaping the economy, I’m pleased very much to serve on these committees,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “At the same time, I’m glad to have a spot on the full Appropriations & Budget Committee. Shaping the budget for all Oklahoma state agencies is the primary focus of state government. Making sure we balance the financial needs of transportation, education, health care, public safety and all of the other myriad core services of government is paramount to everything else we do at the Capitol. I’m honored to have this seat at the table.”

In addition to his roles on these four committees, Sanders has been selected to serve as House majority leader for the 56th Legislature. This is an all-inclusive role that helps guide policy, communicate caucus initiatives to the public and steer the House agenda.

Sanders said a large part of his role will be to meet with House leadership to help determine policy behind major pieces of legislation this year and then to communicate that policy to the remainder of the House and the public. Examples of legislation likely to be considered this year are the passage of the REAL ID Act, which will bring Oklahoma Driver’s licenses into compliance with federal law; judicial and corrections reform; teacher pay raises; and examination of all state incentives, to name a few.

“I want to praise the leadership and vision of Speaker Charles McCall in putting together his leadership team and in the makeup of these committees,” said Sanders. “His vision for our state will return us to prosperity while protecting the conservative values we all cherish.”

Sanders served as chair of the House Subcommittee on Transportation the past four years and previously served as a deputy majority whip. He also worked as House Political Action Committeechairman under three previous speakers of the House. He has been a part of House leadership each of the eight years he has been a representative.

In addition to transportation, Sanders’ prior committee work includes serving as vice-chair of the Human Services Committee, focusing on reforming the Department of Human Services, and as a member of the Agriculture & Rural Development, Appropriations & Budget, Energy & Natural Resources and Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget committees.

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Creating a More Open Government

By Rep. Mike Sanders

On Jan. 3, the Oklahoma House of Representatives seated its 56th Legislature during what is formally called Organizational Day.

The Oklahoma State Constitution mandates this as a day for the House to convene and certify all elected members and then finalize the election of the House Speaker and Speaker Pro-Tempore.

Speaker Charles McCall, a Republican from Atoka, was formally sworn in to lead the House for the next two years. It was a great privilege to be among those chosen to lead him to what is called “the well” of the House, a podium, where he took his oath of office. It was another honor to be able to make the first motion to let the official House Record reflect McCall as the new speaker.

After serving the last four years with McCall, I have developed a great respect for his soft-spoken and respectful leadership style all while doggedly pursuing conservative principles that promise to move our state toward prosperity and family centered principles. McCall is a man of impeccable character and a true servant leader. I am humbled to serve as part of his leadership team this year.

The House also formally elected Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, as speaker pro tempore. Wright is another fine leader who has served the House well during his tenure and who I know will continue to show tenacity towards a strong conservative agenda.

This year, I am serving as majority leader for the House. In this all-inclusive role, I will be helping to guide policy, steer the House agenda and will be heavily involved in crafting the initiatives of the Oklahoma House Republican Caucus. I also will be communicating major pieces of legislation proposed by House leadership to the public. Among those mentioned by Speaker McCall on Organizational Day are plans to raise teacher salaries and continued corrections reforms.

I also plan to be heavily involved in the budget process this year. That started this week. The House asked five state agencies that represent about 80 percent of state appropriations to come to the House for a series of public hearings. The hearings are designed to give citizens and lawmakers – particularly the 32 newly elected members – a chance to see how agencies spend taxpayer dollars and how they develop public programs. This process will help lawmakers prioritize spending in a year when we face another budget deficit. I look forward to attending these hearings.

On a final note, the bipartisan House Rules Committee has been tasked with investigating the wrongful termination settlement agreement paid to a former House employee under former House leadership.The committee has been granted “special authority” to investigate the settlement, the allegations that led to the settlement and the House process for dealing with allegations of sexual harassment. In addition, the committee will review the authority of the House to use operational funds to settle claims and will also review all prior sexual harassment allegations against current House members.

Speaker McCall promised that all findings by the committee will be made public, and the House will take any available actions against lawmakers warranted by the investigation.

Unfortunately, sexual misconduct is something that occurs everywhere. It happens in our schools and workplaces. But, it must not be tolerated. Speaker McCall has assured us that the House of Representatives will be a safe and professional place to work, free from discrimination and harassment. I’m confident this will be the case. In fact, you have my solemn vow on that.

I would like again to wish everyone a New Year. Blessings to you and your families.

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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Keeping Up With State Government

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I’m sending this column with a link to my latest video blog: https://youtu.be/ZaP8TGxkj4s. You can watch previous blogs on this site as well. This is another way I’ve found to inform the people who live in my district about all that is going on at the state Capitol. Adding video to the regular newspaper columns I send throughout the legislative session will help ensure more Oklahomans are apprised of the status of bills that affect areas of concern – such as transportation, education, health care, public safety and more.

I also try during session to stay very active on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. I find these are quick ways to let a multitude of people know what’s happening at the Capitol that might have consequences to their daily lives. Sometimes things move very slowly in state government; at other times they move swiftly. I might have drafted a piece of legislation early in the session, for instance, only to be told in May that it will be heard on the House floor that day. This is an example of something I might post to social media, just to get the news out as quickly as possible. Of course, I’ll then follow up with either a press release or column to my local news outlets in hopes they will let people know the latest status of the legislation.

This year I’ve been given a new role in House leadership, that of majority leader. This is an all-inclusive role that helps guide policy, communicate to the public the initiatives of the Oklahoma House Republican Caucus and steer the House agenda.

Part of my job will be to communicate the major pieces of legislation proposed by House leadership. These include passage of the REAL ID Act, which will bring Oklahoma Driver’s licenses into compliance with federal law; judicial reform; teacher pay raises; and the examination of wind tax credits, to name a few. We’re considering the idea of weekly press conferences and other methods to communicate our successes as we move through session.

In addition, I plan to be highly involved in the budget process this year. I came into the House alongside Appropriations & Budget Chair state Rep. Leslie Osborn. I admire her fearlessness in attacking areas of government waste, and I agree with her conservative approach to government. We must have government that is responsible. There is a plan already to bring in the top five appropriated state agencies before the session begins so that we can hear from them their budget requests for the next fiscal year and can begin finding efficiencies.

I’ll have more to tell you as session gets underway.

Merry Christmas and Happy new year to you.

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Christmas Traditions

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I tried a little experiment this week, typing in Christmas Heritage on Google. The first thing to come up was an ad for a line of dinner plates. Disappointed, I switched my search to Christmas history, which brought up the History Channel’s definition of Christmas as both a sacred religious holiday and a cultural and commercial phenomenon.

I guess this is true. For Christians, Christmas celebrates the birthday of Christ, the Son of God, Lord and savior. For the rest of the world, Christmas might mean a variety of things. To millions of children, this involves a visit to and later from Santa, a jolly old elf who somehow magically flies around the world, visiting every home in one night, squeezing down the chimney, his belly shaking like a bowlful of jelly. To others, the tradition of hanging lights and ornaments on the Christmas tree is a time-honored tradition. Still others love the food and the treats of the holiday, the gathering with family, the exchanging of gifts, the singing of carols.

I’m as torn as the next person between the customs that have evolved around me in America and keeping Christmas sacred and holy. It’s tough when you have small children to teach them the value of the divine when surrounded by the commercialism, the lights, the sounds and the colors of the season. But this is the pull of life in general. We all have to decide what is worth fighting for to hold apart as sacred and when it is OK to just relax and have some fun.

I’m hoping that whatever traditions you observe this season, you get to experience joy and peace and light. For me and my house, we’ll be observing a Merry Christmas, which involves reading “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” laying out some reindeer food, and spending time with family and friends. But, most of all, we’ll share a few silent moments with heads bowed, thanking the Lord above that He chose to come to this earth as a humble baby, born in a manger in Bethlehem to a young woman deemed pure enough to carry the Son of God. This baby, this king, this Lord, this savior deserves that devotion.

Merry Christmas to all and a happy New Year.

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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Speaker-designate McCall Announces Leadership Appointments

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House of Representatives Speaker-designate Charles A. McCall today announced the first round of leadership appointments to serve during the 56th Legislature, naming the majority floor leader, majority whip, budget chair and majority leader.

“I am very excited about the choices we have made to lead the House in the coming years,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “Oklahoma voters gave Republicans the privilege of solving the state’s problems, and we take that very seriously. These members are talented, experienced and wise, and I am confident that we are ready to legislate in a deliberate, serious way.”

McCall named state Rep. Jon Echols to serve as majority floor leader. McCall said Echols has the temperament and organizational skill to steer the House agenda. Echols, an Oklahoma City attorney and small business owner, will be responsible for reviewing legislation, determining which bills will be heard on the House floor and running the day-to-day floor activity. Echols previously served as vice-chair of the House Judiciary Committee and as an assistant majority whip.

“I am excited for the opportunity to work with this leadership team to create a conservative, pro-economic growth vision for the state of Oklahoma,” said Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “The challenge is to run the House in an efficient, open and transparent way that promotes trust among the members and keeps the Republican caucus unified. Our goal is to promote bold policy ideas that create jobs and make Oklahomans more prosperous and to make government more efficient and accountable to taxpayers.”

McCall tapped State Rep. Leslie Osborn to serve as chair of the powerful House Appropriations & Budget (A & B) Committee. Osborn is the first Republican woman to lead the House budget committee, just as she was the first woman to lead the House Judiciary Committee in 2012. Osborn most recently served on the House A & B Committee and also served as chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services.

“I am very grateful for this incredible opportunity to help shape our state’s budget and funding priorities,” said Rep. Osborn, R-Mustang. “Developing a budget is our biggest challenge in the Legislature every year. Like last year, we will be working with reduced revenues, but I believe we have real opportunities to prioritize spending and make our state government more efficient. Voters put their trust in Republicans to offer conservative and responsible solutions to these problems. We have already begun working on ideas, and we intend to bring in our top five appropriated agencies for extra scrutiny before the session begins. Oklahomans expect us to act as good stewards of their tax dollars, and we are going to do that.”

In addition, McCall named state Rep. Terry O’Donnell to serve as majority whip, a role responsible for assisting the floor leader and ensuring votes are in place and members in attendance. The whip also serves as a sounding board for members who may have concerns about upcoming legislation and helps facilitate communication between membership during the legislative session. O’Donnell will also be mentoring the 25 new members of the House Republican Caucus and assisting them with their transition into the Legislature. O’Donnell, a Tulsa attorney, previously served as vice chair of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee and as vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

“One of the best aspects of serving in the Legislature is the relationships you make with lawmakers from all across this state and on both sides of the aisle,” said Rep. O’Donnell, R-Tulsa. “I enjoy solving problems, and I will enjoy the opportunity to interact with colleagues and promote a conservative agenda for Oklahoma that grows our economy and puts more money in the pockets of Oklahomans.”

Finally, McCall named state Rep. Mike Sanders to serve as majority leader, an all-inclusive role that helps guide policy, communicate caucus initiatives to the public and steer the House agenda. Sanders has served as chair of the House Subcommittee on Transportation for the past four years, and previously served as a deputy majority whip.

“I am honored that Speaker McCall would ask me to take on this role,” said Rep. Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I am so impressed by his leadership and vision for Oklahoma. I truly believe that we have a real opportunity this year to move Oklahoma forward, despite our challenges.”

McCall said he will be announcing additional leadership posts during the coming weeks.

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High Price for Freedom

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Just a week ago, 40 million people stayed up late into the night watching a baseball game, which shouldn’t matter as much as it did. The flip of a wrist sent a small white ball into the glove of a waiting first baseman, ending a 108-year-old curse and making a team into national champions. I imagined the eruption of cheering happening as fans celebrated their long, long, long-awaited victory.

The next day, I watched Oklahomans from all walks of life line up for early voting – waiting their turn to fill out ballots, selecting our next national and state leaders. The I Voted sticker serves as a tiny reminder of the freedom to help choose who represents us.

Interesting that all of this leads up to Veterans Day – a day set aside nationally to honor veterans of all wars.

Watching men swing bats and field balls seems utterly trivial when put beside the image of our armed forces fighting bloody wars to keep us safe at home.

Yet our troops go to war so we can enjoy such freedoms. Without our strong military, we might have a very different way of life here in America. The lines we stand in might be to get a weekly ration of bread or some much-needed but hard-to-come-by medicine. We might never know the pure joy of watching a baseball game.

But because American men and women agree to serve our country and to protect our freedoms, we get to enjoy these small pleasures and many others.

On Friday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day, please take a moment to say thank you. Not just thank you to our veterans – who deserve our eternal gratitude for sacrificing so much on our behalf – but thank you to their families as well. The moms and dads who stay behind with children have to serve on the home-front as single parents. They give up contact, sometimes for years at a time while their loved one serves. Many times they have to watch helplessly as their spouse or relative suffers post-traumatic stress disorder while trying to recover from the horrors witnessed in combat.

As I watch the flags fly on Friday, I know I’ll be saying my own prayers of thanksgiving for those who have served and for protection of those still serving.

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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Sanders sworn in to serve in 56th Legislature

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Mike Sanders on Wednesday morning was sworn into office to serve in the 56th Legislature of the Oklahoma House Representatives.

“I am pleased to continue representing Northwest Oklahoma,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I very much look forward to working with Speaker-elect Charles McCall in moving Oklahoma forward and tackling the problems our state faces. I am incredibly honored and humbled to have the trust and support of the folks of House District 59. Thank you so much for your confidence in me.”

Sanders served in House leadership each of the 8 years he has been a representative. 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 includes serving as vice-chair of the Human Services Committee, focusing on reforming the Department of Human Services. In the most recent session, Sanders 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 was joined Wednesday by his wife, Nellie, and his two sons, Davis, 7, and Walker, 5.

He was among the 101 members of the House of Representatives to be sworn into office.

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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REAL ID, Feral Hogs and TLE Among Issues Studied for Next Session

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Much has been written in recent weeks about Oklahoma’s non-compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Beginning in January 2017, Oklahoma driver’s licenses will no longer be valid to get onto a military base or gain access to a federal building, including federal courthouses. In January 2018, they won’t be accepted by commercial airlines.

Oklahoma is not alone in this fight. It is one of more than 20 states that have yet to fully comply with the law. The problem is one of protection. The REAL ID Act calls for biometric information and storage of personal information that can be accessed by any agency requesting the federally compliant ID. When we hear so often of cyber data breaches, the concerns are real. Another concern is that of overreach. Some believe the federal government is trying to force a national ID system. The act came, however, after the 9-11 attacks in which the attackers used driver’s licenses that met security requirements at the time.

Several of my colleagues have said they will bring legislation early in the next session to address this issue, with the goal of coming into compliance with the federal law while at the same time protecting the personal information of Oklahoma residents. I look forward to considering this measure. I certainly don’t want Oklahomans to be inconvenienced as they go about their daily business, but I also want to ensure their privacy.

Also this week, interim studies continued at the Capitol.

Two combined studies examined the feral hog problem in Oklahoma. Lawmakers heard and voiced concerns about the transmission of disease from wild hogs to those owned by farmers and those shown by FFA students as well as the destruction of farm land.

The Samuel Roberts Noble Research Foundation estimates the feral hog population in Oklahoma to be as high as 1.6 million, with hogs verified in all 77 counties. The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has reported that feral hogs can carry up to 30 different diseases.  At least one study estimates the damage to agriculture was $1.5 billion several years ago, a figure no doubt higher today.

Most presenters agreed total eradication of feral hogs is not realistic. The issue then is the best way to control these animals that cause so much damage. Methods discussed included the continued allowance of sport hunting with an expansion of times allowed, poisoning the animals, and trapping and slaughtering them.

An expert from the state Wildlife Department said shooting the hogs from helicopters and trapping are the most effective means of control. Another expert pointed out, though, that as long as there are incentives for shooting or trapping, there will be incentives to maintain the animals.

The governor last year vetoed a bill that would have allowed day and night hunting with a landowner’s permission, expressing safety concerns. I know this issue will rise again, and I’ll be looking for a solution that best protects our state crops and commercial and domestic animal populations while ensuring our freedoms and safety.

Another study held this month focused on changes made to the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluation (TLE). The new law makes voluntary the quantitative or student test score portion of the evaluation. The move is anticipated to save school districts millions of dollars in implementation costs and restore local control. The study’s author said when the legislation was passed he knew other slight changes might be warranted. The interim study looked particularly at the professional development component of the evaluation in an effort to determine the best ways to support teacher growth in their classrooms. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this and other education topics in the coming year.

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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