Senate Passes Bill to Increase Teacher Training on Dyslexia

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate today passed a bill authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher,that will add professional development training for teachers to help them better recognize students with dyslexia and get them needed educational supports. The bill now moves to the governor’s desk to await being signed into law. 

House Bill 1228 requires school districts to offer teachers a professional development program about dyslexia once per year, beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. The measure lists minimum requirements for the program and requires the program to include training in identifying dyslexia, training in meeting the needs of students with dyslexia, and training on resources about dyslexia for teachers, students and parents.

The bill passed with a vote of 46-0.

“Identifying students with dyslexia early and getting them the proper classroom help can change the trajectory of their learning,” Sanders said. “I want to thank the lawmakers who supported this important bill and the students it represents.”

Sanders said he particularly thanks Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, for carrying the bill in the Senate.

Sanders said students with dyslexia often present as having a learning disability, but they actually just learn in a different way than other students. If teachers are trained to recognize dyslexia for what it is, they can get these students the help they need in a timelier manner. This proves a great benefit to students and their parents and allows teachers a greater role in their students’ success.

The bill was a request from the Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma working group. Sanders said the training would be at no cost to the local school district. The working group is developing training materials and a handbook with the State Department of Education that can be shared with districts, teachers, parents and students. The task force will make additional recommendations in July. Members of the group also will travel to districts to help train teachers. The training could also be accessed online. It will be up to the local districts to decide the best timing.

Sanders worked with fellow Reps. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore, and Kelly Albright, D-Midwest City, on the language of the bill and thanked them both for their leadership on this bipartisan issue.

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Bill to Restore County Roads and Bridge Funding Clears Senate Committee

By Rep. Mike Sanders

A bill that will restore $30 million to the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges fund recently passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill previously passed the House. The title is on this bill, which means once it passes the full Senate it can proceed straight to the governor to be signed into law.

This is good news for our county roads and bridges. Restoring this funding will help get our county projects back on track. The money was diverted in a previous year to help solve budget shortfalls in other areas, but I’ve watched like a hawk to make sure it was restored to this needed area.

When Republicans gained the majority in state government in 2004, we made transportation a priority. We’ve drastically reduced the number of structurally deficient bridges in our state and completed thousands of miles of road projects. At one time, there was more than 1,800 structurally deficient bridge in Oklahoma; now there are less than 200.

In other news, my House 1228, which will help teachers recognize and assist students with dyslexia, passed unanimously in the Senate Education Committee and now is eligible to be considered by the full body.

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 dyslexia, training in meeting the needs of students with dyslexia, and training on resources about dyslexia for teachers, students and parents.

Research clearly shows that 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. Students with dyslexia often present as those with a learning disability, but they actually just learn in a different way than other students. If teachers are trained to recognize dyslexia characteristics, they can get these students the help they need in a timelier manner. This will be a great benefit to these students and their parents, and will allow the teachers to play a greater role in their students’ success.

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.

My House Bill 1003, which will provide a tax exemption to the Oklahoma American Legion, passed the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. The American Legion has been in Oklahoma for 100 years serving our state veterans and their families as well as our youth through a variety of patriotic education programs and outreach ministries. The Legion also promotes a mission of strong national security. It deserves the same tax-exempt status that other organizations with similar missions already have. The title is off the bill because it is a revenue measure. This means it will have to go through the full Senate and come back to the House to have title restored before it can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

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

 

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Governor’s Desk Next Step for Accountability Measures

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The governor this week signed into law five measures that will help the Legislature keep much better track of how taxpayer money is spent and better monitor programs and services. The bills represent historic government reform.

State agencies have at times worked against the Legislature trying to pass common sense reform. Not all agencies have been responsive to the Legislature in showing transparency in expenditures. This will ensure the agencies answer directly to the state’s chief executive and his cabinet.

The governor will have hiring and firing authority over five of the largest appropriated state agencies: the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Transportation Department and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The governor also will have appointment power of five members on each board, pending advice and consent of the Senate. The Legislature will be able to appoint four members – two by the speaker of the House and two by the Senate president pro tempore. The Legislature also will have the ability to remove these agency heads with two-thirds of the vote.

The House this week also passed a bill to create the Office of Government Accountability. This office would hire 15 financial examiners who would routinely audit agency budgets and spending and evaluate the effectiveness of agency programs and services. One of the problems we’ve had with term limits in the Legislature is we have so many new members it is incredibly hard for them to come up to speed on the more than 60 agencies that receive state dollars and each of their budgets and programs. This office would help by providing detailed information to help inform our decisions as we budget the state’s money each year.

The House passed several other bills this week of note.

House Bill 2502 will give classroom teachers a $1,000 tax credit when they buy their own classroom supplies and or for renewal of their teacher certificates.

House Bill 2632 is known as the Patients Right to Pharmacy Choice Act. This bill evens the playing field for our local pharmacies and their customers. It establishes an advisory council of professionals with expertise in pharmacy to oversee pharmacy benefit managers. PBMs currently enjoy benefits such as access to lower-priced drugs, reimbursements after sale and they have been accused of using anti-competition and deceptive marketing tactics that disadvantage our smaller, local pharmacies.

House Bill 2304 will provide a 4 percent cost-of-living increase to retired teachers, firefighters, police and other law enforcement officers, justices and judges and public employees. The increase would take place January 1, 2020. It has been more than a decade since our retirees have had a COLA. With rising health care and other living costs, this is needed.

This is third-reading deadline week, meaning all bills have to be passed out of their chamber of origin in order to stay alive this session. House members have heard hundreds of bills this week and last, staying many late nights to consider each piece of legislation. I’ll provide the number of bills we passed in next week’s column. Next, we will consider Senate bills while that chamber considers House bills.

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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More Government Accountability Measures Pass Committee

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Five government accountability measures passed committee this week that would allow the governor and the state Legislature more direct appointment authority over agency directors and boards.

House Bills 2479, 2480, 2481, 2482 and 2483, by House Speaker Charles McCall, would give the governor direct appointment power over the executive directors of the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuses Services. These five agencies receive a large portion of state appropriated dollars, yet their boards do not have to directly answer either to the current executive or to lawmakers elected by the people.

The governor’s appointments would be subject to advice and consent of the state Senate. The measures also would give the governor and the Legislature the ability to rebalance the boards, giving the governor four appointments and the Legislature four appointments to each board – two from the House and two from the Senate. The measures also would allow for an impeachment and conviction process, much like the federal government has.

Under our current system, board members are appointed to a term and not by the state’s top executive. Nor do the boards have legislative oversight. In other words, people elect an executive, but then that person is forced to work with boards that are appointed by a previous administration. It would be five years before Gov. Stitt would have enough appointment power over the Board of Corrections, for instance, to make any real changes in the direction of that board. Citizens have no authority to fire agency board members. They do, however, have the ability to elect lawmakers and the governor. With that election power they should also get more accountability over how their money is spent.

On the health care front there are several bills I want to highlight.

One is Speaker McCall’s bill that would give doctors serving in rural areas a $25,000 income tax exemption. House Bill 2511 recently passed in the Appropriations & Budget Committee. This bill would help recruit doctors to serve in our rural areas where they are most needed by allowing them to claim the first $25,000 of their income as tax free.

Another is House Bill 1902, that would increase the Medicaid nursing home reimbursement rate to improve the quality of care for our nursing home residents. It also would improve staffing ratios, increase staff training, and incentivize nursing homes to improve care using a pay-for-performance model.

Several more of my own bills have passed committee and will be heard on the House floor soon. One is a bill that will allow retired firefighters to come back as volunteers without it stopping them from receiving their current pensions. Another is a bill that will grant a sales tax exemption to the Oklahoma American Legion. This organization helps our veterans in so many ways, and it should enjoy the same tax-exempt status as other groups of similar mission.

In future columns, I’ll give greater detail on each of my bills.

This week was the deadline for bills to be heard in committees in their chamber of origin. We now have two weeks to hear all House bills on the floor. Then we will begin hearing Senate bills.

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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Legislative Budget Office Bill Passes House Committee

By Rep. Mike Sanders

A bill that would create a legislative office to evaluate agency budgets and programs passed this week in the House Government Efficiency Committee. The measure now can be considered by the entire House.

House Bill 2484 would create the Office of Government Accountability (OGA) within the existing Legislative Service Bureau (LSB), which serves both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The OGA would be similar to the federal Government Accountability Office.

The OGA would have approximately 15 financial examiners who would routinely audit agency budgets and spending and evaluate the effectiveness of agency programs and services and report findings to the Legislature. The OGA would also have subpoena and investigation authority.

House leadership and Gov. Stitt have said since the beginning of this year that more accountability of spending taxpayer dollars would be a priority. This is a positive step towards that goal.

In other news, Teachers will get a $1,200 additional pay raise this year if House Bill 1780 passes the state Senate. The bill already passed in the House. As a part of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Education Initiative, he has promised to sign the measure when it reaches his desk.

This is on top of $6,100 average pay raises given state public school educators last year. In addition, we are working to secure additional money to go to our public school classrooms.

We have many needs in state government, but education is of great importance. Education leads to better outcomes for our citizens such as better opportunities for employment, better health and less chance of incarceration.

Also on the education front, my House Bill 1228 passed unanimously with a vote of 96-0 in the House and now goes to the Senate. This is a big victory for students with dyslexia. This measure would provide additional dyslexia professional development for state teachers. This professional development will include information to help teachers distinguish between students with dyslexia and those with other learning disabilities. Once a student with dyslexia receives proper help, they often learn to read and do other school work on level with their peers. This is important for those students and will give teachers the tools they need to recognize these students early and help them. I was pleased this bill passed on Dyslexia Awareness Day. Many students, parents, educators and others interested in this important topic were in the House gallery to hear the bill presented.

In addition to education, transportation is a priority for state dollars. Several bills passed in the House or in committee over the past few weeks that seek to restore County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Fund.

House Bill 2676 attempts to restore $30 million of the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) fund that was taken when Gov. Fallin vetoed the Legislature’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget. The governor’s action swept additional money from the fund, and this would replace a portion of that. As you all know, I’m an avid supporter of the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges program. This is badly needed. I was happy to co-author this bill.

House Bill 1406 would create an encumbered revolving fund for CIRB projects once they are approved. These funds would then be protected when lawmakers go looking for extra money in future economic downturns.

To help achieve these funding priorities, the state Board of Equalization this week certified we will have a $574.5 million revenue surplus for state appropriations for Fiscal Year 2020. Much of this surplus will be spent on education, transportation and health care, but we will be evaluating other uses as well – including adding to the state’s savings account.

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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Legislation Passes Committees

By Rep. Mike Sanders

The first four weeks of the legislative session is primarily devoted to the committee process. Once bills pass committee, they are eligible to be heard on the House floor and voted on by the entire chamber.

I have several bills making their way through committees currently. One is my bill that would grant the Oklahoma American Legion tax-exempt status.

With our revenue up this year, I am hopeful I can accomplish this. There are 180 American Legion posts in Oklahoma. It is the largest and oldest military organization in the state that does not have tax-exempt status. Other organizations, such as the VFW and Daughters of the American Revolution, have this status. It is time to give it to the American Legion. This organization helps our veterans who have obviously helped us. They hold coat drives and pancake suppers and so many other events that help raise money and support for veterans in need. The bill passed out of the House Appropriations & Budget Finance Subcommittee with a vote of 7 to 0. It will now move to the full Appropriations & Budget Committee.

Another bill of mine, House Bill 2052, passed in the Agriculture & Rural Development Committee. The bill would prohibit the misrepresentation of products created in a laboratory from being labeled as meat. We want the public to know when they are buying something labeled as beef, for instance, that the product is directly harvested from a four-footed, living animal that ate grass in a rancher’s field and not something grown in a lab dish. The bill passed with a vote of 19 to 0.

Another very important piece of legislation, House Bill 2591, has passed the House and moved to the Senate. This is a pro-life bill that prohibits government funding of medical providers that are found guilty of failing to report statutory rape of a minor child. 

I have always stood on the side of life. This includes for babies in the womb to the elderly. I am for the protection of life from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death.

I eagerly await the day the atrocious abortion and assisted suicide laws other states – like Virginia and New York – are passing are overturned and that the law of our great nation once again protects all life. Until that day, I will always vote for pro-life bills.

There are a number of pro-life bills I will support this year. These include bills that facilitates the provision of federal or state funds for pro-life pregnancy resource centers that help vulnerable women during their pregnancies and after their babies are born; that provide women to be given information about the possibility of reversing the intended side effects of a chemical abortion as part of their informed-consent process prior to undergoing such a procedure; and that guard against assisted suicide by requiring accurate reporting of the cause of death on death certificates.

Another bill that has passed in the House that caught some people’s attention is House Bill 2597, also known as Constitutional Carry. This bill would allow anyone who is legally allowed to carry a firearm to do so without having to obtain a separate license through the state. It evens the playing field for Oklahomans as the state already allows law-abiding citizens from other states to carry in Oklahoma without a state permit. This measure precludes felons, people with an adjudicated mental illness or a domestic violence conviction or illegal aliens from possessing or carrying firearms. It also continues the restrictions of firearms where carry is already prohibited. It allows private businesses and higher education facilities to decide for themselves if carry will be allowed.

On a final note, thank you for the great responses to my survey. I’ve received many. If you haven’t already, send yours back to me. This will help me make decisions about legislation going forward.

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

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State of the State

By Rep. Mike Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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General Revenue Collections Up So Far

By Rep. Mike Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Inauguration Promises Spark Hope

By Rep. Mike Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Proposed Legislation

By Rep. Mike Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A third focus this year will be to further amend House Bill 2005, which eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement that they be added to the state’s pension plan. The legislation, which took effect in November 2015, has resulted in 300 new volunteer firefighters joining rural fire departments over the past three years.

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

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

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

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

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