Budget Agreement Reached

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Gosh it feels good to report this: a budget agreement between the House, Senate and the governor has been reached, and it’s one that increases education funding, state savings, rural health care services, agriculture and public safety and fully funds state infrastructure projects while promoting jobs and healthy economic growth – all without raising additional taxes.

This budget devotes about $203 million to education – from preK to college and CareerTech. We are giving teachers a raise of about $1,220. For years we’ve heard about the need to increase teacher pay, so we’ve done that both last year and this, bringing our teacher pay rate to the top in the region. This will keep our teachers from leaving for other states and will help us retain and recruit more traditionally certified teachers for our public school classrooms. This pay raise is going to go to teachers in schools that are on the funding formula, which is 97 percent of Oklahoma teachers. Those schools that are off the funding formula will still be encouraged to give their teachers this raise as well. I believe all teachers in Oklahoma should receive this raise.

We also are putting about $74.3 million into the state funding formula with the expectation that school boards and superintendents will allot this money to our classrooms, so we can reduce classroom sizes and give our teachers and students the materials and support they need. For the first time, we also are fully funding the Reading Sufficiency Program so we can better help students learn to read on grade level. Plus, we are fully funding concurrent enrollment programs for high school juniors and seniors so they can earn college credits before they graduate.

This budget gives $30 million to our County Improvements for Roads and Bridges fund. I have stood with our county commissioners, and I’m extremely happy we are able to put some of their money back. I’m also happy to report that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s eight-year plan is fully funded. Infrastructure has been a top priority for me, and I fought for this funding for years.

We also increased provider rates for our rural nursing homes and are paying for more physicians’ training for rural hospitals.

In addition, we’re increasing pay for state employees and for our correctional workers who work to keep our citizens safe. We also are appropriating money for two new Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper academies to increase the number of troopers who serve Oklahomans. By funding these two academies, we will be able to put 80 new Highway Patrolmen on our highways by 2020.

This budget also allots more funding for rural fire management and gives additional resources for our rural firefighters. This will help our Rural Fire Defense Fund and will help with our 80/20 Grants. These monies are very important to Northwest Oklahoma and very important to our rural, volunteer firefighters who are the backbone to our Oklahoma fire service.

We’re also saving money in this budget - $200 million into a state savings account, which is something I have fought for tirelessly this year. We’ll be building up to $1 billion in the state’s Rainy Day fund by the end of this year. This will keep us from cutting core services the next time the state experiences an economic downturn.

Another plus of this budget is the focus on job growth and economic development through specific programs under the governor’s purview and the Department of Commerce.

I’ll give more details of the state budget in the weeks to come, but for now I’m grateful to report this deal has been reached. It’s a positive for our area and for the state.

If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Governor Signs American Legion Tax Exemption

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Gov. Stitt this week signed a bill that will give the American Legion of Oklahoma sales tax-exempt status. The American Legion has served our Oklahoma veterans and their families for over 100 years, making sure they have clothing, food, health care and other services. They also help educate our youth about the value of patriotism and preserving liberty, and they keep a continual focus on national security. As the primary author of House Bill 1003, it was an honor to let the American Legion know this week that they can now look forward to this benefit.

Securing this tax exemption is something I’ve wanted to do since I got into office. Other organizations with similar missions already enjoy this exemption. But, as we all know, the state’s economy has been volatile for a number of years with the up and down price of oil and gas. We’ve finally hit better times, and for the first time in many years have a revenue surplus. This allowed unanimous passage of HB 1003 in both the House and Senate and gave the governor the confidence to sign this bill. I’m grateful for the support of this legislation.

In other news, the House Rules Committee voted recently to request an actuarial study to see how a 4 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) would affect six state pension funds. The House this year ran legislation to implement a 4 percent COLA for retired teachers, firefighters, law enforcement and police, justices and judges and other public employees.

The state Senate, however, amended that to 2 percent and then sent the measure to the legislative actuary for further study. The House is asking the actuary to study the 4 percent COLA, which better matches retirees’ needs and requests. 

Some have suggested the solvency of the state’s pension funds would be negatively affected with a 4 percent COLA, so the actuary’s report should help determine that. The report is due before the beginning of the next legislative session, so we will know how to proceed with legislation next year.

Retirees welcomed the news that a 4 percent COLA was back within the realm of possibility as it has been about 12 years since they’ve seen an increase. Meanwhile, insurance costs and other living expenses continue to increase.

On a final note, House leadership is still in daily discussions with the Senate and the governor’s office to finalize the state budget. Education is the sticking point at this juncture. The House and the governor want to give Oklahoma teachers another $1,200 raise to get us to the top pay rate in the region. We then intend to put another $70 million increase into the state funding formula to better support our classrooms. The Senate would have us put all of the money into the formula or only offer the pay raise to the longest serving teachers. We’re close to a resolution. As always, I will keep you updated.

If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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Governor Signs Bill to Grant American Legion Tax-Exempt Status

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday signed a bill that will exempt the American Legion Department of Oklahoma from sales tax.

House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, are authors of House Bill 1003. The measure previously passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

“The American Legion is our state’s largest veterans’ organization, serving in Oklahoma for 100 years,” Sanders said. “I want to thank them for all that they do on behalf of our veterans and their families as well as our youth. I’ve been working for many years to ensure the American Legion has the same tax-exempt status as other organizations with similar missions. I want to thank Senator Thompson for working to help secure passage of this bill and Governor Stitt for signing this legislation.”

Sanders made note of the American Legion’s many patriotic education programs and outreach ministries as well as their dedication to a mission of strong national security. He said he’s been working to secure passage of this tax exemption for many years, but the state’s down economy precluded such action until this year.

“I want to thank Governor Stitt and my fellow members for making this stand for Oklahoma veterans,” Thompson said. “When we say we honor and appreciate our veterans, it’s important to make sure that we’re backing up those words with actions. This modest tax benefit will help the American Legion throughout Oklahoma – an organization that continues to provide vital support and services to our veterans.”

The new law becomes effective July 1, 2019.

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Governor Gets American Legion Bill, signs CIRB Repayment

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Governor Signs Bill to Increase Number of Volunteer Firefighters

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Stitt on Thursday signed into law a bill that will allow retired paid firefighters to return to service as volunteers without effecting their state pensions.

House Bill 2051, authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. The new law will allow retired paid 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.

“Our rural residents and communities are dependent upon the services of volunteer firefighters to keep them safe from harm in the event of deadly wildfires,” Sanders said. “It helps so much to have individuals who are already trained and well-seasoned to perform these duties. This is why I worked so hard to ensure that we can build the ranks of volunteer firefighters without adding the state’s pension costs.”

Murdock said, “With the amount of wildfires we have in Northwest Oklahoma we need all the men and women we can get. The rural fire departments are stretched to the limits. The passage of this bill will allow experienced retired firefighters to join volunteer departments bringing their wealth of knowledge to that team.”

HB 2051 bill amends language to legislation previously passed by Sanders and signed into law that eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement that they be added to the 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 3 ½ years.

Sanders explained that state law previously prohibited willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state’s pension and retirement plan could not afford them. Many people from his district, however, said they would be willing to serve without needing the retirement benefit. This amendment now will allow retired paid firefighters to participate in protecting the states rural fire districts as volunteers without affecting funding that can now be appropriated to other core government services.

Sanders said about 85 percent of the firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers. Of the state’s more than 900 fire departments, about 95 percent are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program.

 

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Bills Head to Governor

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Bill to Protect Unborn Life Headed to Governor

By Rep. Mike Sanders

A bill that would give mothers an opportunity to reconsider a chemical abortion after a first abortion pill is taken passed the House this week and will head to the governor for consideration to be signed into law.

I co-authored Senate Bill 614 that would require a physician who administers an abortion-inducing medication to provide information to the mother explaining the procedure can be reversed should she change her mind after the first pill is administered. The physician also would have to post information about this option in their office. If a physician does not provide or post the information, they could face felony charges resulting in jail time or fines.

This does not preclude women from choosing abortions but gives them information about how they could reverse the process that would result in the death of their unborn child should they change their mind before the procedure is complete. This reversal procedure has resulted in at least 500 babies being born healthy after their mothers elected this choice. While some argue the science behind this procedure, I am always on the side of preserving life.

 

Meanwhile, the governor has been signing bills into law each week. So far, he’s signed 53 bills, 33 from the House and 20 from the Senate. Bills signed this week include House Bill 2640, Francine’s Law, which requires law enforcement to put into the NamUs national database information of unidentified bodies so that families of missing persons can search for their loved ones. The bill was named after Francine Frost, a mother of two who was abducted in Tulsa in 1981. Her case was cold for more than three decades until a grandson found information in the NamUs system that later turned out to be that of his grandmother. This law will help other families identify their missing relatives quicker.

 

The governor also recently signed my House Bill 1228, which will give teachers more training and resources to help them recognize students with dyslexia so they can better help these students. This can change the trajectory of student learning for students with dyslexia. There will be no cost to local school districts. The bill was a request by the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma working group, which will work with the State Department of Education to develop training materials for teachers and additional resources for students and parents.

 

We started this session with 2,631 House and Senate bills and joint resolutions. After a recent committee deadline by which bills had to be considered in their opposite legislative chamber, we are down to 557. So far, the House and Senate have come together to pass legislation on government accountability. We continue to work onbills that add more funding for public schools and another teacher pay raise. We also await final passage of a measure that will return funding to our County Improvement to Roads and Bridges Fund and several measures will address rural health care. At the same time, we are working on our state appropriation’s bill.

 

As always, I will keep you posted. If I can help you in any way, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricia Pemberton

Press Secretary

House Republican Caucus

Oklahoma House of Representatives

Office: (405) 962-7623

Cell:    (405) 431.0460

tricia.pemberton@okhouse.gov

 

www.okhouse.gov/media

 

    

 

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Crime Victims’ Rights Advanced

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Sanders Honored as Healthcare Advocate by Nurse Anesthetists

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Majority Leader Mike Sanders recently received a Champion Award by the Oklahoma Association of Nurse Anesthetists (OANA) for going above and beyond to advocate for healthcare in Oklahoma.

Sanders was recognized for being an extraordinary advocate for improved healthcare in the state. He received the award at OANA’s annual spring conference, March 30.

OANA is a non-profit and non-partisan organization representing Nurse Anesthetists across Oklahoma. The association advocates for improving healthcare access and health outcomes and represents over 600 advanced practice registered nurses statewide. Every spring the OANA recognizes legislators who embody the mission of the OANA to promote healthcare for the citizens of Oklahoma.

“Ensuring adequate healthcare for Oklahomans, particularly those in rural areas, is of utmost importance to me,” Sanders said. “We need to make sure our citizens have access to services and programs that will help them stay healthy and well. I’m thrilled to be recognized as someone who advocates for improved healthcare. Even if I received no award, however, I still would fight this fight.”

OANA said it appreciates the willingness of legislators, such as Sanders, to find solutions to help Oklahomans achieve better health outcomes and wellness. The groups said the state’s future is very bright with the current slate of elected lawmakers at the state Capitol.

 

 

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Bill to Provide Dyslexia Training Headed to Governor

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This week, my House Bill 1228, which will help teachers recognize and assist students with dyslexia, passed unanimously in the Senate and is now headed to the governor to be signed into law.

This bill requires school districts to offer teachers a professional development program about dyslexia once per year, beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. The measure requires the program to include training in identifying students with dyslexia, training in meeting the needs of those students, and will provide resources about dyslexia for teachers, students and parents.

Research clearly shows identifying students with dyslexia early and getting them the proper classroom supports will help them learn to read and perform arithmetic and other subjects on grade level at a quicker pace. The bill was a request from the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma working group, which will provide training and materials to local school districts at no cost.

Tuesday was Oklahoma Agriculture Day at the state Capitol. This is a day to celebrate farming and ranching in our state and to reward students in multiple contests under the Ag in the Classroom banner as well as to honor the newest member of the Oklahoma Ag Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Harrel a rancher, farmer and banker from our area was inducted into the Hall of Fame and received Gov. Stitt’s Outstanding Achievement in Agriculture Award. Harrel is the CEO and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Western Oklahoma in Elk City and Vici. He previously served as high school principal, vocational agriculture instructor and basketball coach at Taloga Public Schools. Congratulations to him for this honor.

Also this week, I received word that the Oklahoma Transportation Commission’s April 1 meeting included an announcement by Gov. Stitt that Oklahoma’s bridges on the state highway system are finally nearing the top of the list for the best in the nation. In its recent annual bridge inspection report, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation identified 132, or less than 2 percent, of the 6,800 total bridges on the highway system as rated structurally deficient or poor. The highway system includes non-tolled state, U.S. and interstate highways maintained by ODOT. Bridges on city streets and county roads are maintained separately by local governments.

In 2004, an all-time high of 1,168, or a full 17 percent, of bridges were rated structurally deficient and Oklahoma had been ranked at the bottom nationwide in bridge conditions. When Republicans won the majority in the Legislature, we made transportation a top priority. Thanks to our appropriations to ODOT’s eight-year Construction Work Plan, the department has replaced or rehabilitated more than 1,400 bridges. Nearly all remaining structurally deficient bridges are either currently under construction or scheduled in the Eight-year Plan to begin construction in the next year.

Transportation has long been a priority for me. Ensuring our citizens can travel safely and we can move products to improve our local economies is an important function of government. This news is sweet to report!

As always, I would love to hear from you about these or any other issues. I can be reached at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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