Protecting Our Birthright

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

To be born an American is one of the greatest birthrights in this world, one that has been bought at a high price with the lives of countless soldiers. Our vote is a central part of this birthright, and ensuring elections record each vote properly is one of our duties at the Capitol.

This year I was proud to support a new law that increases the penalties voter and election fraud. To me, few things are worse than using fraud to deprive an honest citizen of the power of his or her vote.

Senate Bill 1921 increases the maximum punishment for those convicted of felony and misdemeanor violations of the election code. It increases the fine from a maximum of $5,000 to $50,000 and the prison sentence from a maximum of two years to five years for felony convictions. It also increased misdemeanor punishments from a fine of $1,000 to $10,000 and expands the type of actions that are considered felony acts.

Another central part of our birthright is the privilege of benefiting from the security and services created by our tax dollars. Due to the federal government’s failure to address illegal immigration, our security has been compromised and services that should benefit Oklahomans sometimes benefit others. Many Oklahomans would like to see the state address this problem.

Before his arrest, Alberto Gomez-Gomez moved to Oklahoma City from Arizona following that state’s tough new immigration legislation. According to The Oklahoman, he is believed to be a high-ranking member of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel and a major supplier of methamphetamine. Oklahoma is traditionally a territory of the Juarez Cartel and if the Sinaloa Cartel is relocating some of its operations here, we could see an escalation of violence and methamphetamine problems in our state. We must match or surpass Arizona’s zeal in order to protect Oklahoma from these criminals.

Though there are illegal immigrants who do not have a negative impact on the state, there is ample evidence that many are a drain on our state’s resources. The Oklahoman story indicates that cartel members and criminals are among them. We have already began to address illegal immigration problems,. This year, we enacted a fee on wire transfers, to make it more difficult for illegal aliens including cartel members to send back money to their countries of origin. Under 2009 legislation, our state prisons would be able to send non-violent illegal immigrants to federal agents for deportation.

I am prepared to support even tougher immigration and election fraud laws in the upcoming session. It is my pleasure to help protect the birthright so many have sacrificed their lives for.

I will be traveling through the district during the interim and will keep you regularly updated on ideas and problems presented to me by constituents. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
Add your reaction Share

Reflections on our Independence

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

For me, Independence Day is a reminder of the determination and sacrifices it took to create and preserve the country we enjoy today. The colonists who dared to declare their independence from Great Britain envisioned a nation that would be ruled by the people rather than an elite faction of society. They wanted a nation of empowered citizens working together to improve their lives as one.

The United States of America inspired millions of immigrants to make long voyages from Europe and other countries to taste the way of life and freedom made possible by our founding fathers and the sacrifices of Revolutionary War soldiers. Americans took advantage of their new freedoms and helped grow a nation that surpassed all others, including their former colonial rulers. By the time Europe was seized by two World Wars, we had become powerful enough to be the deciding factor in stopping the growth of fascist empires.

Since that time, the United States has continued to involve itself in world affairs, resolving conflicts abroad and, when necessary, eliminating threats to our national security. Today’s troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are striving to stabilize a region from which some of the greatest threats to our national security have come in recent times.

On this Independence Day, I would like to thank our veterans and our current military servicemen and women for their service. Our nation has existed for 234 years because of the courage of those who put themselves in harm’s way. Freedom is not free.

Our nation was founded on Christian principles of equality. God loves all of his children equally. We should always strive to protect our rights and serve as watchdogs against government intrusions. Especially in hard times such as these, it is important that we continue the American traditions of thriftiness and grit. If we do so, I believe we will continue to be the greatest nation in the world.

I will be traveling through the district during the interim and will keep you regularly updated on the ideas and problems presented to me by constituents. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
Add your reaction Share

Sanders Praises Supreme Court’s Decision to Lift Gun Ban

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Sanders praised the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down state and local bans on firearm ownership.

The Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago that the Chicago gun ban was unconstitutional. A lower court will decide what parts of the Chicago law will have to change.

Sanders, a card-carrying NRA member, said he was one of a number of state lawmakers who signed an amicuscuriae (or “friend of the court”) brief in support of the gun ban challenge.

“I was not surprised to see the Supreme Court rule that the gun ban was unconstitutional,” Sanders, R-Kingfisher, said. “They had previously ruled that the District of Columbia’s gun ban was unconstitutional and that the Second Amendment guarantees our right to have guns in our homes for self-defense. The only reason that the ruling was not the final word on gun bans was that the District of Columbia isn’t a state. Now we have a ruling which makes it clear that states cannot ban an individual’s right to bear arms.”

Sanders said gun rights are near and dear to the heart of many rural Americans, and especially to Oklahomans.

“The case serves as a vindication of what many have long believed and argued, that the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear arms,” Sanders said. “The case ends an almost three-decade old handgun ban in Chicago and will limit the number of other restrictive gun laws that city has in place.”
Add your reaction Share

Looking Ahead

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Having drawn no opponent for re-election, I can’t thank you for your confidence in me. We have another crucial year ahead of us with our budget, so I’m going to dedicate the time that I would have used campaigning to preparing for next year’s legislative session.

Lawmakers have filed interim studies to examine a variety of problems ranging from paternity fraud to state funding. Speaker-designate Kris Steele has filed an interim study to examine transitioning the state from an income tax method of funding to using a flat rate state sales tax. Another study would examine the Department of Human Services child abuse and neglect review system in the hope of continuing to improve the agency’s care for children in Oklahoma.

In my last column, I noted that legislation I had authored awaited the governor’s signature. I am proud to announce he has now signed two more of my bills into law. House Bill 2971 creates a funding mechanism for transportation. House Bill 2973 puts in place mandates that will protect our land’s integrity and the rights of property owners who participate in the wind energy industry. It is the only legislation of its kind in the nation. All in all, I have authored five House bills and four Senate bills that have been signed into law.

The governor also signed a piece of legislation that will aid law enforcement agencies in the state. Under House Bill 2983, the state attorney general and district attorneys would be authorized to initiate forfeiture actions against those involved in organized crime such as human trafficking, the transportation and harboring of illegal immigrants, organized voter fraud, and terrorism-related offenses. Under the asset seizure and forfeiture proceedings, the illicit profits and property utilized in organized criminal conduct could be divided among law enforcement agencies that participate in the investigation and prosecution of organized crime.

Looking ahead, I anticipate that the next legislative session may be the beginning of a better system for funding state government in addition to a more rational system of spending. Conservative lawmakers will continue to cut non-essential spending and look for additional modernization to increase government efficiency.

I will be traveling through the district during the interim and will keep you regularly updated on the ideas and problems presented to me by constituents. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
Add your reaction Share

Session Overview

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

I am proud of what lawmakers were able to accomplish this session. We were able to address a $1.2 billion shortfall in the budget and at the same time dealt with a number of policy issues. Unlike Congress, we are constitutionally bound to balance the budget and had to make cuts. We managed to eliminate some wasteful spending, but some worthy programs also suffered. At the end of the day, we must try to run government like our households – spending only money that we have, and when there’s a surplus, saving it. That being said, I would like to take this opportunity to outline session accomplishments.

Health Care – Lawmakers approved a ballot proposal for the November 2010 election that gives Oklahomans an opportunity to vote to opt out of federal health care mandates. Most of us were opposed to this expensive, ineffective federal legislation, and I look forward to the proposal’s approval by voters. We also passed Senate Bill 2046. This bill increases competition among health insurers by authorizing the insurance commissioner to negotiate compacts with other states to allow out-of-state insurers to sell insurance in Oklahoma. The legislation also makes out-of-state insurers subject to premium taxes that will go to fund high risk pools.

Workers’ CompThe House passed legislation to improve the state’s workers’ compensation system for injured workers and reduce costs for Oklahoma employers. The reform was contained in four bipartisan bills that could save businesses in the state at least $60.5 million. The reforms ensure a shorter wait for injured workers to receive their claims and fewer costs for businesses. Changes include giving the Physicians Advisory Council a stronger position in the process, tightening up certain definitions to close inappropriate loopholes, requiring claims adjusters to take six hours of continuing education, better defining work-related activity, and setting up a task force to look at vocational rehabilitation for injured workers.

Transparency – Legislators voted to expand the state’s OpenBooks website to make state expenditures more transparent, passed legislation to require the Oklahoma Department of Education to display school districts’ financial information online, and approved a bill that will increase transparency of state stimulus fund expenditures.

Education Reform – Serious education reforms have been long overdue. I am proud to announce that we were able to pass significant tenure reform, extending the length of time and standards required to achieve career teacher status. Under the new law, districts can reward teachers who attain career status with enhanced pay based on performance rather than seniority. The legislation will bolster the state’s application in the federal Race to the Top education grant competition.

Public Safety – I am very proud of the Legislature’s work to restore public trust in the state medical examiner’s office this session. We found funding to help the agency hire new pathologists and obtain new equipment. We also passed a bill to create a new facility near the University of Central Oklahoma Forensic Science Institute. I was proud to see two bills I authored signed into law. Under House Bill 2968, registered sex offenders can no longer submit a P.O. Box or other address that cannot be mapped to the sex offender registry. They must instead submit a physical, map-able address. Under House Bill 2969, only Class AA wreckers may use red and blue light combinations at the scene of an emergency. Other towing and wrecker services may only use amber lights.

Protecting Unborn Children – The Legislature passed multiple pro-life bills this session. Several were vetoed by the governor, but became law after the Legislature overrode the vetoes. We expect there will be a legal challenge, but believe that we have carefully crafted the legislation to address the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s past decisions against similar legislation.

In addition to my two public safety bills, I authored seven other pieces of legislation, most of which are now law or awaiting the governor’s signature. Among them is legislation that will allow the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to make needed purchases and repairs up to $400,000 without going out for a bid. Last year, the Turnpike Authority made this change in their statutes and my legislation simply brings all agencies into parity.

Thank you to the Corrections Corporation of America for their years of service in Watonga. It is our greatest hope to see your doors reopen soon.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
Add your reaction Share

Budget Agreement Highlights

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Despite a $1.2 billion shortfall, legislators managed to balance the budget without raising state income or sales tax rates. The $6.675 billion budget cut agencies by less than we had originally believed would be required. I am particularly proud of avoiding trooper furloughs by holding the Department of Public Safety to a 1 percent cut. We were also able to ensure the survival of the Rural Economic Action Plan, the senior nutrition program, and scheduled road and bridge projects.

Though there will no doubt be some bellyaching from agency heads, I believe lawmakers have spared them from what could have been much deeper cuts. Tough times call for tough decisions. Personally, I believe the larger agencies could have absorbed greater cuts through better management of their resources. My hope is the agencies will learn to be thrifty from this experience and, after the economy recovers, will display sound judgment in their spending. I would even go so far as to press for a zero-based budget. Every agency should have to defend and justify every appropriation request.

A spending-related piece of legislation was signed into law recently. The governor signed the Task Force Accountability Act, a bill that will give task forces and other advisory boards a deadline to show their relevancy or else be eliminated. Oklahoma has more agencies, boards, and commissions than any other state of our size. The bill requires the advisory boards and task forces to conduct at least one meeting or issue a final report within three years of the date that they were created. Once certain task forces are eliminated, the state will save money on member travel and professional services associated with those task forces.

Legislation to modernize the Commissioners of Land Office was also signed into law. House Bill 3026, by House Speaker Chris Benge, puts in place a modern management infrastructure for the land trust, improves accounting practices, and updates or repeals obsolete statutes and rules. The Commissioners of Land Office, also known as the School Land Trust, administers the school land trust funds that provide funding for the support and maintenance of schools. The legislation will go a long way toward ensuring that the money generated through this agency goes where it is intended – to the Oklahoma school children.

During tough times, citizens have to tighten their belt. State government must also make adjustments.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
Add your reaction Share

Statesmanship a Must in Tough Times

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

In the face of a $1.2 billion shortfall, lawmakers must show statesmanship to create a budget that will help the state weather the downturn. The majority of state lawmakers, be they Democrat of Republican, know how to work together to pass important legislation. Unfortunately, the budget has become a regular point of partisan contention.

It is clear as daylight that no one is going to be 100 percent happy with the state budget when it is finalized. Though there are some inefficiencies in government, many state agencies will be cut beyond what a little belt tightening can solve. Most groups are afraid of the cuts, even if they don’t know the exact amount they will face.

Some individuals have chosen to criticize legislative leaders in the media and threaten to block the budget. These individuals are critical of a budget crafted by a small group in negotiation with the governor and would prefer each and every member of the legislature have a seat at the table.

I contend that the budget process is both fair and efficient. Created when Democrats were in the majority, it essentially cuts the amount of back-and-forth between the governor and two houses of the Legislature by allowing the legislative leaders and the governor to negotiate the sticking points before putting it up for a vote. I would add that any legislator who is straightforward in approaching the leadership can affect the final outcome of that negotiation. If legislative leaders ignored other members of the legislature, the budget would get voted down every year. Instead, a budget is always passed by a majority of lawmakers, many of whom have contributed ideas to it.

Every citizen has a right to campaign for public office. However, when elected and in session, lawmakers should focus on negotiating legislation on behalf of their constituents.

Rural doctors

A recent example of bipartisan legislation is a plan to help increase the state’s physician-to-patient ratio. Oklahoma has a shortage of rural doctors with a stunning 59 of the state’s 77 counties having too few doctors. The Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians has recently called on state lawmakers to support legislation to help mitigate at least one of the factors contributing to this shortage, the high cost of a doctor’s education.

The legislation would create an Oklahoma Medical Repayment Program. House Bill 1048 would empower the Physician Manpower Training Commission to provide student loan repayment assistance for up to six licensed physicians who have recently graduated from medical school and would be willing to move to one of these underserved areas and accept Medicaid patients. With new doctors averaging about $160,000 in debt and the state’s poor ratio, I supported the House passage of this legislation.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
Add your reaction Share

Sanders: Budget Plan Protects Rural Priorities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Contact: State Rep. Mike Sanders

Capitol: (405) 557-7407

OKLAHOMA CITY – The newly unveiled state budget agreement protects rural priorities, particularly the Rural Economic Action Plan, state Rep. Mike Sanders said today.

“From day one of this session, other rural legislators and I have vowed to oppose any effort to eliminate programs that benefit rural Oklahomans,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I am pleased our efforts have been successful. Like many areas of government, the REAP program is taking a budget cut this year, but the program remains intact.”

The Rural Economic Action Plan pays for infrastructure needs in rural communities. Gov. Brad Henry’s original budget proposal called for eliminating the program during the downturn.

“REAP grants help protect our rural way of life,” Sanders said. “The program helps pay for fire stations, puts police cars and ambulances on the streets, and even funds tornado sirens, which have proven invaluable this week. I believe the REAP program provides an important public service, which is why I and other rural legislators fought so hard to preserve it.”

Sanders noted the budget agreement also preserves tax credits that help pay for rural volunteer firefighters to obtain training. Early in the session, the governor had also suggested eliminating those tax credits.

“Obviously, in this down budget environment we have to make some tough choices, but I felt it was shortsighted to financially penalize rural firefighters who volunteer their time and risk their lives to protect their neighbors,” Sanders said. “Preserving the firefighter tax credit was another important victory for rural Oklahoma.”
Add your reaction Share

Tax Credits and the Budget

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Legislative leaders are hard at work trying to sway the governor on fiscal matters and hammer out a budget agreement for fiscal year 2011. The state faces a $1.2 billion shortfall and there are differences in how the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Brad Henry want to resolve the problem.

Various groups have visited the capital lately, trying to find ways to spare cuts to the state programs they represent. Some of them are calling for a broad elimination of tax breaks, saying the state “gives away” close to $5.6 billion annually through tax incentives, credits and reductions. However, the truth is that the “give away” figure includes your personal exemptions and standard or itemized deductions. The figure also includes exemptions on Social Security and most retirement benefits. In reality, only $256 million worth of tax credits have been targeted and most of those credits are designed to bring jobs to Oklahoma.

Lawmakers are reviewing these tax credits and do plan to dispose of any that have failed to produce jobs. I assure you that a broad elimination of tax breaks would be counterproductive and hurt families in Oklahoma. It is also clear that eliminating some tax credits will not be enough (in and of itself) to patch the budget hole. We need to apply common sense in government and make targeted cuts rather than look for a scapegoat to take the brunt of the hardships the shortfall has created.

Gov. Henry has signed Senate Bill 1940. The legislation is my sixth bill to become law. It will reduce the number of county bridge projects that require engineering plans and specifications from the county engineer, raising the threshold from $300,000 to $400,000. This will make it easier for county government to maintain local infrastructure by reducing the cost of smaller projects.

I was happy to greet a number of constituents at the Capitol recently. I was visited by Patrick Griffin of the Hennessey School Board, Hennessey optometrist Dr. John Smith, and Dr. David Jones of Woodward, who came up for a special screening put on by the Oklahoma Optometrists. Jeanne Martin, the director of the Fairview Chamber of Commerce, and Ken and Vicki Woods were here for Small Business Day at the Capitol.

I would like to congratulate Dr. Michael Talley, a physician at the Okeene Municipal Hospital who was appointed to the Physician Manpower Training Commission. Okeene can also take pride in its boys’ track team who under the excellent supervision of Coach Mike Jinkens won its first track title. Our district has had a powerhouse of competitors this year. I want to congratulate the Watonga track teams; the boys’ and girls’ teams have both captured state titles. The Lady Eagles earned their third crown in four years and the Eagles won their first state championship win since 2006. The Kingfisher girls’ golf team took their third straight 3A title, winning the state tournament by 61 strokes. Bethany Darrough won her second straight individual title, just barely overtaking her teammate, Whitney Weems. I offer my congratulations on their hard work and to their coach, Craig Patterson. I also want to congratulate the Okarche boys’ baseball team, who were runner-ups in the state tournament and the Hennessey girls’ and boys’ track teams for their third place finish. Not only do these student athletes excel on the field, track and golf course, but these fine young people excel in the classroom.

Jared Crain from Woodward was recently named a 2010 OSU Outstanding Senior. He is also a Fullbright Scholar and will be conducting research with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.
Add your reaction Share

Babies Represented at State Capitol

For Immediate Release

Contact:  Belinda Rogers 943-1025

March of Dimes holds Lobby Day

Oklahoma City, OK—April 29, 2010,---March of Dimes held Lobby Day on April 26, 2010. The goal of the event was to help educate legislators about the growing issue of premature births and what the March of Dimes is doing through advocacy to address this serious and costly issue. The March of Dimes Public Affairs agenda focuses on public policies and programs that relate to the Foundation's mission -- improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality -- and on issues that pertain to non-profit organizations. 

Many activities took place during Lobby Day.  A proclamation signed by Governor Henry, designating April 26, 2010 as “March of Dimes Lobby Day at the State Capitol” was read in the House by Representative Mike Sanders. March of Dimes volunteers and staff, dressed in purple, were recognized in House Gallery, followed by a meet and greet reception in the House Lounge. Representatives were invited to meet those volunteers from their districts and learn about the vital efforts March of Dimes to fund research and programs to find the causes of prematurity.

“Premature birth is the number one killer of newborns and a major cause of serious health problems and disability among so many of the survivors,” said Belinda Rogers, State Director of Programs, March of Dimes Oklahoma Chapter.  “One out of every eight babies born in Oklahoma are born too soon, we are working to increase awareness of premature birth and to help improve health outcomes.” Premature birth is a common, serious and costly problem for Oklahoma families. An early birth means more than a baby simply being small. It means the baby’s organs and other systems have not finished developing, and that the baby may not be ready to survive on its own. Prematurity takes an enormous emotional toll on families and costs society billions.

For more information on prematurity or how you can become involved in local March of Dimes advocacy efforts, contact the Oklahoma State Chapter office at 405-943-1025 or marchofdimes.com/oklahoma.

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.com or nacersano.org.
Add your reaction Share