Pruitt’s Challenge of Obamacare

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

On Jan. 21, Oklahoma’s new attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal health care overhaul signed into law by President Barack Obama. I could not be more pleased that the new attorney general is fully committed to fighting Congress’s unconstitutional and impractical legislation. Despite the dramatic change this last election brought to the U.S. Congress, it is unlikely that a repeal will be passed. It is up to state attorney generals to defeat the new federal law.

As I have said in the past, I believe a federal mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. I have noted that it will trigger the largest tax increase in the history of the United States, while at the same time cutting Medicare by $520 billion.

We can address local health care problems ourselves. The Oklahoma Legislature enacted lawsuit reform to drive down health care costs and exempted certain insurance plans from state mandates to reduce premiums. I believe that the next step is to open up more private competition by allowing out-of-state health insurers to offer their services to Oklahomans and finding a way to allow individuals to carry their insurance from one job to the next. Changing the tax code to end discrimination against self-employed individuals would also help, particularly in the agricultural field in rural Oklahoma.

Pruitt’s lawsuit also defends the Oklahoma Health Care Freedom constitutional amendment approved by Oklahoma voters this past election. I was a proud supporter of this amendment which declares that Oklahomans cannot be required to purchase individual health care coverage.

On Jan. 25, I joined the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety in hearing performance reviews from the state fire marshal, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, ABLE Commission, the Department of Public Safety, the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation, and the state medical examiner’s office. With an estimated revenue shortfall of $500-600 million, this is going to be a year full of tough decisions. However, I am confident we can streamline government. Government is meant to work for us; we are not meant to work for our government.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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The 2011 Legislative Session

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

The 2011 session is set to begin Feb. 7. This session, I plan to focus primarily on the budget and ensure that public safety funding remains intact. I will also support education reform, health care reforms, and maintaining our roads and bridges.

The state faces an estimated $500-600 million revenue shortfall in 2011. In the past two years, the Rainy Day fund and stimulus monies had helped fill holes in the budget. This year, those funds will not be available.

I expect that we will be looking at the consolidation of certain state agencies. Most states that are comparable to Oklahoma use fewer agencies to provide the same services provided by numerous central agencies in Oklahoma. For example, Montana has one agency representing the same services as provided by our Department of Central Services, Office of State Finance, Office of Personnel Management, Employees Benefits Council, Merit Protection Commission, State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board, Archives and Records Commission, Department of Libraries, and a series of retirement system organizations. A mandate to achieve 20 percent savings through the consolidation of some of these agencies would yield an annual savings of $10.6 million.

Education reforms that could be discussed this session include: proposals to reward teachers based on performance, professional development for math and elementary school teachers, and remediation for teachers that perform below standards. Past reform efforts have included professional development for reading teachers and a statewide teacher evaluation system that allows districts to reward teachers based on year-to-year improvements in the education of their students.

I recently learned that local school districts have outperformed districts statewide on the Academic Performance Index put together by the State Department of Education. The state average API score is 1092. Just a few examples of local schools that scored higher are: Kingfisher High School scored 1388 out of 1500, Gilmore Elementary School scored 1397, Okarche Elementary School scored 1397, Okarche High School scored 1318, Vici Elementary School scored 1299, Lomega Elementary School scored 1289, and Taloga Elementary School scored 1215. API scores are put together based on ACT scores and participation, attendance, dropout and graduation rates, state mandated tests, and Advanced Placement scores.

I would like to encourage folks to take advantage of the annual Oklahoma Mission of Mercy, a two-day event at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Feb. 4-5. More than 2,000 volunteer professionals will offer free dental care including cleanings, fillings, extractions, and root canals. There is no eligibility or income requirement to attend.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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History in the Making

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

On Jan. 5, 1925, my wife Nellie’s great-grandmother and namesake was sworn in as the first female governor in the United States. Wyoming Governor William Bradford Ross had passed away while in office just a few months earlier. A mourning widow, his wife Nellie Tayloe Ross refused to campaign for office, but won handedly. As governor, she continued her late husband’s policies of tax cuts, banking reform, protecting children, and strengthening prohibition laws. To this day, Nellie Tayloe Ross is the only woman to have served as Governor of Wyoming.

Watching as Governor Mary Fallin was sworn in as Oklahoma’s first female governor, I could see the pride my wife Nellie has in our great state and the history we have made with our new governor. I could not be more proud to serve alongside Governor Fallin. At a time when the state is facing some of its toughest challenges, it eases the burden of the Legislature in addressing the looming budget hole to have a governor who is on the same page. I was especially honored to have many constituents in attendance at the swearing in ceremony. Girl Scout Troop 500 from Kingfisher helped pass out programs. High school students from Lomega High School and a number of folks from Okeene, Watonga, Okarche, Hennessey and Kingfisher were all in attendance. Thank you to all who attended and were a part of history.

However, in this time of celebration, it is also appropriate to comment on the tragedy that took place in Arizona this past weekend. We cannot truly comprehend the full extent of the tragic losses of the loved ones who were killed on that day. While the blame game begins to play out in the media, we need to remember that it is a single, clearly deranged individual who was responsible for this heinous crime. Sadly, some of the media and a handful of politicians have already begun an attempt to silence our right to free speech. As individuals, we’re responsible for our own actions and shouldn’t have our rights as American's stripped because of individuals who choose to barbarically act out in society.

On an exciting note, I would like to congratulate the many basketball team victories we had in the district. Both the Seiling boys and girls won the Cherokee Invitational championship. The Watonga boys were the champions of the Three Rivers Conference in Hennessey and the Kingfisher boys were runners up in the Wheat Capital Tournament. A number of other district teams came in just shy of the championships, in which they took part. I would like to congratulate all of these athletes on their success.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Electing the House Speaker

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

I wish you all a healthy and blessed 2011. The Oklahoma House of Representatives kicked off the new year this week with the swearing in of the new House leadership. Speaker of the House Kris Steele and Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Hickman both spoke on the need to fix the state’s unfunded pension liability of $16 billion, to increase transparency and bipartisanship through new procedural rules, and to overhaul the state workers’ compensation system.

I cannot yet predict how the procedural rules will change, but I do know that both the state pension system and workers’ compensation system are in need of large-scale reforms. According to official actuarial reports, the Oklahoma Retirement System has a combined unfunded liability of over $16 billion. Pension reform is critical to ensure we meet our current obligations and that our future obligations are manageable. The current workers’ compensation system is stock full of problems that create hardships for both workers and private businesses.

The unfunded liability of the pension system threatens to take tax dollars away from core government services. With our current revenue shortfall, this is unacceptable. The current workers’ compensation system hurts our state economically while underserving the workers that are supposed to benefit from it. I believe that we will enact meaningful reform to fix both of these broken systems this session.

I would like to congratulate the Okeene State Guaranty Bank on serving the community for 111 years. The bank began as a frame building as the Bank of Okeene on January 1, 1900, with a first day’s business of $4,798. The bank remains locally-owned and managed by the Durham and Graalman families.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Speaker-elect Announces House Leadership Appointments

Contact: House Media
Capitol: (405) 557-7421

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele today announced key leadership appointments for the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.

“Given the significant challenges facing our state, it is critical the Legislature focus on conservative, pro-growth policies that will move Oklahoma forward,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “I believe that we have chosen a team of effective leaders who will ensure the upcoming legislative session is conducted professionally and efficiently to maximize our accomplishments.”

The leadership appointments for the Oklahoma House of Representatives are as follows:

Assistant Majority Floor Leaders:
Mike Jackson, R-Enid
Gary Banz, R-Midwest city
Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan
Lisa Billy, R-Purcell
George Faught, R-Muskogee
Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle

Assistant Majority Whips:
Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher
Steve Martin, R-Bartlesville
Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond
Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond
Fred Jordan, R-Jenks
Dennis Casey, R-Morrison
Corey Holland, R-Marlow
Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore
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Sanders Receives Committee Assignments

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma House Speaker-elect Kris Steele has appointed state Rep. Mike Sanders as a member of two committees and one appropriations subcommittee for the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions. Sanders was named vice chair of the House Human Services Committee and Assistant Majority Whip in late November.

Sanders said he was especially pleased to serve on the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety.

“Public safety is near and dear to my heart,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “I think that there are lawmakers that would prioritize other areas of the budget over public safety and it will be my job to ensure our rural firefighters and members of law enforcement get the support they need to keep our communities safe.”

Sanders said he will continue to keep the farmers’ and ranchers’ best interest in mind while serving on the House Agriculture, Wildlife and Environment Committee.

“This committee will examine legislation that affects rural communities,” Sanders said. “I am honored to serve on it.”

Sanders said the House Energy and Utility Regulation Committee will be important to boost the natural gas and domestic oil industry in the state.

“I plan to look for ways to promote natural gas and domestic oil,” Sanders said. “These resources are a cornerstone of the state’s economy.”
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Merry Christmas, Western Oklahoma

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags! And he puzzled three hours, ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more.”

Christmas has a rich and diverse history, but at its heart is the sharing of bread, communion. That’s why there is a Christmas meal and a Christmas service. It is a day on which we celebrate Jesus Christ, who has shown us the way to live as families and as communities.

The Christmas tree, gift-giving, mistletoe, and all sorts of symbols and traditions are associated with the holiday. These are all parts of Christmas as well, but we should never lose sight of the real meaning. How The Grinch Stole Christmas does a great job of pointing it out.

So, this Christmas, I will focus on my family. My son, Davis, is almost 2 and is starting to figure out what the Christmas tree is and who Santa Claus is (although he was pretty scared the first time he met the big guy). Davis, my wife, Nellie, and I will spend time with our families.

I would be remiss if I forgot to thank our military men and women who fight for us in distant lands and who may miss out on coming home for the holidays. I would also like to thank our farmers and ranchers for the food they provide, members of law enforcement and firefighters for the protection they provide, and our teachers for the job they do in the classroom.

So, if you’re feeling like a Grinch this holiday, with all the presents to buy and a possibly overwhelming number of relatives to see, remember, without those relatives, you’re life would be far less rich. I wish everyone a joyous Christmas and a wonderful New Year. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Inappropriate Raises

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

With everyone tightening their belts this holiday season and so many public employees concerned about agency budget cuts, I was disheartened to see how some outgoing statewide officials chose to spend taxpayer dollars. It seems that the attorney general, state auditor, and superintendent of public instruction decided to give high-level members of their staff raises this fiscal year on top of raises in fiscal year 2010. Both the attorney general and superintendent of public instruction decided not to run for re-election and will not have to answer to voters for their actions.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson gave four staff members’ raises in fiscal year 2011 after they received significant raises (ranging from 10 to 43 percent) in fiscal year 2010. State Auditor Sean Burrage handed out eight raises this fiscal year, including one to an individual who had received a 23 percent raise in fiscal year 2010. Most disappointing of all were raises in the Oklahoma Department of Education. Though too numerous to list here, I would give as an example the individual who received a 56.8 percent raise in fiscal year 2010 followed by a second raise this fiscal year.

In contrast, a few statewide officials showed some restraint. Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields passed out only three raises this fiscal year and the highest raise given in fiscal year 2010 was 6.67 percent. Treasurer Scott Meacham did not give raises this fiscal year.

It is an abuse of the system when politicians who are leaving office irresponsibility give out large raises just before terming out in January. This is a waste of your tax dollars. I'm a big believer in rewarding people for hard work, but large raises on top of raises in tight budget years are clearly inappropriate.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate two area high schools for representing our district with pride and honor at the state championship for their respective classes. Congratulations to Hennessey High School Coach Shannon Watford, his staff, and his players, as they captured their first-ever state championship in Class 2A. Fantastic job, Eagles! Congratulations are also in order to Coach Jeff Myers, his staff, and the Kingfisher Yellowjackets, for being state runner-up in Class 3A. It was an incredible game that came down to the wire. I’m very proud of both teams.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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New Hats for the 2011 Session

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Legislation is a team sport and my role on the team is changing this year. House Speaker Kris Steele has appointed me Vice-Chairman of the House Human Services Committee. I also won the acclamation of the members of caucus, who selected me to be Assistant Majority Whip. I am honored and humbled by both appointments and look forward to the challenges of my expanded role.

The House Human Services Committee addresses bills that affect children, families, vulnerable adults, and seniors. The committee has focused on Department of Human Services’ reforms in recent years. Over the years, DHS has dropped the ball when it comes to the most vulnerable members of our communities – foster children, the senior nutrition program, daycare facilities, and vulnerable adults. The agency is too bureaucratic and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing much of the time. State Rep. Pam Peterson is the committee’s chairwoman. I look forward to working closely with her to implement new reforms. Governor-elect Mary Fallin will be selecting a new director and I look forward to helping that individual get a fresh start at correctly and efficiently managing the agency.

As Assistant Majority Whip, I will be responsible for the flow of information between House leaders and the membership. It will be my duty to get an accurate head count of support on major bills and talk to individual members about their concerns. It is also important though that I make sure that information flows upstream to the House Speaker and leadership. Its critical now more than ever since we now have 70 Republicans in the House. I have already served in a leadership position and am proud to once again bring a rural voice to the table.

I intend to use my expanded role to continue to push an economic development agenda and protect oil, gas, and wind energy industries. One of the most important pieces of that agenda is workers’ compensation reforms. I also plan to ensure that rural firefighters continue to get the support they need from the Legislature and that education dollars are spent in the classroom. Lastly, I want to continue to make state government more accountable.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
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Emergency Management Conference Held at Capitol

Contact: State Rep. Joe Dorman
Capitol: (405) 557-7305

OKLAHOMA CITY – Four lawmakers and local, state and federal emergency management responders and officials took part in an emergency management conference in the House Chamber today.

State Rep. Joe Dorman said the point of the conference was to ensure a coordinated response to natural disasters.

“Here in Oklahoma we always have a natural disaster just around the corner,” Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said. “The conference brings the federal , state, and local components of emergency response together in the same room to ensure that they get to know one another and can coordinator their efforts when the next ice storm or tornado or wildfire hits.”
State Rep. Mike Sanders said that efficiency is achieved with the coordination of federal, state, and local responders.

“Government is at its best when the right hand knows what the left hand is doing,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “Firefighters are already a band of brothers, so it only makes sense that their efforts across the state would be coordinated.”

State Reps. Gus Blackwell and Eric Proctor also attended the meeting.

“I think this conference was an opportunity to narrow response times and improve recovery efforts,” Blackwell, R-Goodwell, said. “Ultimately, that means greater safety and less hardship for those Oklahomans affected by natural disasters.”

“This was a great way to build on the state and local responses to natural disasters,” Proctor, D-Tulsa, said. “I look forward to taking part in this event annually.”

Presentations included an update on the new Incident Management Teams, county Incident Support Teams and local incident management; an overview on local incident command and leadership training; FEMA funding tips and background; and a rundown of several incidents that have occurred in Oklahoma.

Speakers included Mustang Fire Chief Carl Hickman and City of Moore Finance Director Jim Corbett; David Barnes, the Oklahoma County emergency management director and president of the Oklahoma Emergency Management Association; Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management; Kerry Pettingill, director of the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security; and Jon Hansen, the executive director of the Oklahoma Council on Firefighter Training.
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