Goals in Sight

By Rep. Mike Sanders

We’re nearing the end of the Legislative session and several of my bills have either been signed into law or are headed to the governor’s desk.

Already signed into law is Senate Bill 324, which creates the Oklahoma Awards Program. The Oklahoma Medal of Valor and the Oklahoma Purple Heart will be awarded to those in our Department of Public Safety and citizens who display heroic acts of valor or are injured or give their lives in the call of serving another or saving a life. I am very proud and honored to carry this piece of legislation.

Headed to conference committee is House Bill 1116, which allows for the first time statements by vulnerable or incapacitated adults who alleges abuse, neglect, financial exploitation or any violent act to be admissible as evidence in court if a judge finds the statement to be reliable. This will help protect the vulnerable. I’m hopeful this moves forward.

On its way to the governor is House Bill 1833, which transfers all duties and responsibilities of the state Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. COFT is an agency that assists and works with all state volunteer fire departments. It was critical its duties remained intact. This measure keeps COFT but returns the State Fire Marshal’s Office to non-appropriated status as it has been in the past, saving the state $1.4 million.

House Bill 1259, which strengthens the qualifications of candidates seeking the job of sheriff, also is headed to the governor’s desk. The intent of this measure is to make sure those who serve as sheriff in our state are highly qualified for this important position.

Changing gears, budget negotiations are still ongoing with several measures being discussed between the parties in the House before we send them to the Senate. There is much talk about raising revenue right now. Keep in mind that to raise revenue in our state requires a ¾ majority vote in both the House and the Senate and or a vote of the people. In 1992, Oklahomans voted for this high threshold to keep the Legislature from increasing their taxes without their permission. Before we consider raising revenue, however, we must always look at efficiencies in state government first.

The House meanwhile continues to lead on major issues such as working to secure funding for a teacher pay raise, ensuring greater efficiencies in state government, shepherding a number of victims’ rights bill through the legislative process – many of which have become law, and protecting transportation funding.

Speaking of transportation funding, there are some in the Capitol that would like to cut $125 million or more from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) budget. Let me remind you that $323 million was cut from the agency’s budget last year. The Legislature did approve a $200 million transportation bond, but the agency still absorbed a cut, plus they have to pay back the bond.

Some also would like to cut or cap the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges Program (CIRB). This is a non-starter in the House. County roads and bridges are a lifeline for rural residents. I will continue to stand with our county commissioners and with ODOT. Transportation is a core service of government and needs to be treated as such.

In the coming weeks – two to be exact – we will have a budget. I am hopeful and optimistic this will occur. I would ask for your thoughts and prayers during this time.

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

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Drafting the State Budget

By Rep. Mike Sanders

It’s the time of year when we hear a lot about the state budget. Here’s a brief review of the process.

House leadership starts looking at the state budget for the next fiscal year in about October when we start seeing state agency preliminary requests. This year, in January, we added public budget hearings with the five state agencies that receive almost 80 percent of the state appropriated budget.

Once session starts, the speaker forms the House appropriations & budget subcommittees, broken up into education, general government, health, human services, judiciary, national resources and regulatory service, public safety, transportation and other areas. This year, these subcommittees met with various state agencies to do a deeper dive into their budgets. Each member was asked to rotate through the various committees to get a better look at the state’s overall budget.

The House Appropriations & Budget Committee and the Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget, made up of House and Senate members, also have met multiple times, approving a number of bills that are now starting to move through the House and to the Senate.

The first of those measures passed the House last week.

House Bill 2343 removes red tape, making it easier to collect back sales taxes from businesses that are late on their tax payments. House Bill 2344 reduces the cap on film tax rebates from $5 million to $4 million annually. House Bill 2350 eliminates the sales tax exemption for certain sporting events, like tickets to the Oklahoma City Thunder games. Combined, these three measures are expected to generate about $20 million and are a step towards helping close the budget gap.

These are examples of bills that require 51 votes in the House to pass: bills that raise certain fees or end tax exemptions, deductions and credits. Bills that will raise taxes require two-thirds, or 76 votes in the House, to pass. Raising taxes is harder, as it should be.

Here’s a look at the budget breakdown. About 60 percent of the money in the overall state budget comes off the top, mainly for transportation and education; about 40 percent gets appropriated at the Legislature’s discretion. We’re working to move more money from the off-the-top category to the appropriated category to give the Legislature greater flexibility to better meet changing needs each year. But, there’s a reason that money was set aside in the first place, to protect things like transportation.

We hear a lot about education funding, but common and higher education and CareerTech gets about 52 percent of the appropriated budget. We have to fund the rest of government – more than 60 state agencies – with the remainder. Transportation as a whole only gets about 9 percent of the budget.

We’re working to craft a state budget this year that will adequately fund core government services but that will continue to force state agencies to spend conservatively and eliminate all waste. The taxpayer should get the greatest discretion of how their money is spent.

We are on track to have a balanced budget before session ends in May. I will keep you posted on our progress.

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

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Saying Goodbye to a Friend

By Rep. Mike Sanders

My friend and fellow Representative, David Brumbaugh, passed away late Saturday night at his home in Broken Arrow. It was a shock to those of us who saw him in the House chamber and in committee meetings just a few days prior. 

David was the kind of man you liked to have on your side. If a lawmaker was struggling to explain a bill, David would stand and exactly sum up the legislation’s intent with the requisite question, “Would you agree?” I can’t tell you how many times this happened and what a relief it was.

David had a gentle approach. He was a gentleman and a statesman. He had a true love for representing his people and for the rule of law. He was a master at balancing individual freedom against serving all people. He was never afraid to disagree, but he was always respectful. A lot of politicians could learn a thing or two from such a man.

His life ended tragically short. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters. My thoughts are prayers are with them now and with the league of friends and colleagues he leaves behind at the Capitol.

David’s passing reminded me of the commitment this job takes – the time spent away from our families, our businesses and our homes. It is taxing. Legislators must answer to many masters – the people who elect us and who we represent, taxpayers at large, the state agencies that depend on us for funding to keep operating and offering services to Oklahoma residents, and other government officials. Then we must answer to fake news reports and try to help people distinguish between those and legitimate concerns. It can be frustrating mulling over the massive amount of false and true information. With that said, it is such an honor to have your trust to represent the constituency of District 59. 

This also makes me take stock of my job at the Capitol. Sometimes the legislative process is characterized as only so much nonsense. But without lawmakers, we have no public roads, no way to transport our goods and services to grow our economy, no public schools to educate our children, no assistance for health care, no mechanisms to keep the public safe.

So while my heart is heavy in grief for my friend’s family, I turn back to the business of legislating. The budget process is well underway, with the Joint Committee on Appropriations & Budget and the House A&B Committee meeting this week to consider a number of measures that will save the state money or result in some revenue for our state. I’ll talk more about that in a future column. I want you to know we are working to close our budget gap,  but for now, I’d rather take the time to honor the memory of a friend.

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

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Rep. Mike Sanders Honored for Supporting Agriculture, Rural Oklahoma

House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, this week was presented with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau 100 Percent Club award for his support of farmers, ranchers and rural Oklahoma during the 2016 legislative session.

“This honor is presented to those legislators who stand with Farm Bureau in its core mission of improving the lives of rural Oklahoma,” said Tom Buchanan, OKFB president. “We’re grateful to these state lawmakers for their leadership and service at the state Capitol.”

Sanders received the award for a 100 percent voting record on Farm Bureau-supported legislation during the 2016 legislative session.

Legislators were scored on four pieces of legislation which included aiding the extermination of feral swine, increasing penalties for cattle theft, easing restrictions on prescribed agricultural burns, and granting driver’s licenses to temporary H-2A agricultural workers.

In honor of the award, Rep. Sanders received a OKFB 100 Percent Club coin to display in his office at the state Capitol.

“I am incredibly honored to have received this award again this year. I take great pride in advocating for our family farmers and ranchers and protecting private property rights, “Sanders stated.

Founded in 1942, Oklahoma Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization of farm and ranch families united for the purpose of analyzing issues and formulating action to achieve educational improvement, economic opportunity and social advancement in each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. As the state's largest general farm organization, OFB is committed to improving the lives of rural Oklahomans through advocacy, education and member benefits. To learn more, visit http://www.okfarmbureau.org/

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Rewarding Heroes

By Rep. Mike Sanders

A bill creating public safety awards to honor our state’s first responders as well as citizens who perform acts of heroism has been sent to the governor for her signature.

I was the House author of Senate Bill 324, which creates the Oklahoma State Award program. A nine-member committee will design the Oklahoma Medal of Valor and the Oklahoma Purple Heart Award. These awards will be given to those in our Department of Public Safety and citizens who display heroic acts of valor or are injured or give their lives in the call of serving another or saving a life. They will in no way resemble our military’s highest honor. 

The bill passed the House last week with a vote of 84 to 6, and now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.

The governor last week signed 11 bills into law, a good sign for early April.

This week in committee, I led the charge against Senate Bill 602, which would have allowed the state Department of Agriculture to siphon off up to 10 percent of the Rural Fire Protection Fund, wresting it from local control. This fund, which is intended for maintenance and operations needs, has already been cut 30 percent over the last five years. Both Republicans and Democrats stood together to shoot down this poorly worded bill in a 13-4 vote. I am always going to protect our rural way of life and those who serve our rural communities.

Also this week, the House and Senate convened a joint session on Tuesday to observe the 45thInfantry Appreciation Day, a time to honor our state’s National Guard for helping in times of emergency and tragedy. I appreciate all who are willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our country and our nation’s liberty. I also want to thank the families of these service members for their sacrifice.

Committee work, except for the full Appropriations & Budget Committees, wraps up this week. In the House, we continue to consider Senate bills and the same is happening with our House bills in the opposite chamber.

We are moving closer on budget negotiations. We have nearly seven weeks left in the legislative session. A budget has not been written yet despite some fake news accounts from two large newspapers. The House and Senate continue to work together on this issue. We’ve been meeting since last October. We held full budget hearings with five state agencies that receive almost 80 percent of the state’s appropriated budget before session began. We’ve moved on legislation that will restore money to the state’s General Revenue Fund and we continue to look at tax credits and incentives as well as other cost-savings and revenue measures. We will have a balanced budget before the end of session and protect things important in rural Oklahoma.

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

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Budget a Priority

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This is a busy time in the House of Representatives as we continue to consider legislation and work on balancing the state budget.

Last week, the House voted to give the Department of Human Services $34 million in supplemental funding for this fiscal year. This allows developmentally disabled adults and seniors on Medicaid to continue to receive medicine and services in their homes instead of having to move into an institutional setting.

House appropriations and budget subcommittees are meeting with state agencies to get an in-depth look at their fiscal year 2018 budgets. All representatives have been asked to rotate through each committee so they have a better appreciation of the state’s overall budget. We have to consider not just our current budget but long-term restructuring.

The House Appropriations & Budget Committee met this week to consider almost 20 Senate Bills. Other House committees also are meeting in advance of approaching deadlines. April 13 is the deadline for all Senate bills to pass in House committees, except for those considered by the full A&B Committee. That deadline is April 20. The floor deadline for third reading of bills and resolutions from the opposite chamber is April 27. If a bill passes as is, it goes to the governor. If it is amended, it goes back to the chamber of origin. If the amendment is not accepted, the bill could go to conference committee, where representatives and senators discuss final language.

The speaker of the House and the Senate president pro-tempore as well as full A&B committee chairs can bring bills at any time.

Also this week, the House observed National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. I am a primary author of House Resolution 1009, which honors the men, women and children who have been victimized in the state of Oklahoma and the strength they exhibit as they work to overcome adversity.

According to recently released statistics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Oklahoma experienced 16,506 violent crimes in 2015, including 234 murders and non-negligent manslaughters, 1,849 reports of rape, 3,005 robberies and 11,418 aggravated assaults.

These victims deserve equal rights in our justice system. Earlier this session, we passed a number of bills that will help victims receive rights and protections co-equal to those provided to those accused and convicted of crimes. This week creates awareness for victims and lets them know we hear and remember their cause; we stand with them; we will treat them with fairness and respect.

On a final note, I along with many others in my district am thanking the good Lord for the recent rain! I know many people in Western Oklahoma are struggling to recover from the recent wildfires that took several lives and many animals as well as caused major property damage. If there is anything at all I can do to assist you, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

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

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Protecting Life

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This week, I voted in support of House Bill 1549, which creates the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2017 that would prohibit abortion solely based on the unborn child being diagnosed with either Down syndrome or a genetic abnormality or who has the potential for a genetic abnormality. The bill passed the House with a vote of 67-16 and now heads to the state Senate.

I have always been a staunch supporter of life and have a 100 percent voting record of supporting pro-life legislation. Our unborn are the most defenseless of our citizens. I will always do all I can to protect them. I understand that women sometimes face surprise or even unwanted pregnancies. I will do all I can to support them, but we must end the murder of our unborn.

In the meantime, budget negotiations are ongoing. House budget leaders, including myself, are meeting with state agencies to determine funding needs and to encourage greater efficiencies. We also are continuing to evaluate underperforming and non-performing state assets as well as tax credits and incentives as we work toward crafting next year’s budget.

Several measures in the House this week moved gross production tax apportionments from off-the-top earmarks into specified funds within the General Revenue Fund. This measure gives the Legislature a greater role in appropriating this funding. When House Speaker Charles McCall met earlier this year with national bonding agencies, they indicated the state’s credit rating would be downgraded in part because of the portion of the state’s revenue that is unavailable for appropriating. These measures help the state start to correct that problem but still allow us to meet priorities such as transportation and education funding.

Recently, I sent my annual You Speak I Listen survey to constituents throughout my district asking you to give me your thoughts on pending measures before the House. I’ve received a number of responses; I would love to see more. I don’t represent me at the state Capitol; I represent you. I use these responses to help guide me in voting on or drafting new legislation. Remember to sign your name and include contact information if you would like to hear back from me.

Unfortunately, I must deal with some unsavory news released over the past week of a state senator accused of engaging in despicable behavior. This embarrasses the state and all lawmakers who are working hard on your behalf. I’m thankful the senate took quick action to strip this person of his office, his vice chair position and all of his committees. He resigned Wednesday. Legislative efforts should now be taken to disqualify him from any state pension.

On one final note, this week is the deadline for all bills originating in the House to be considered in the House and the same for Senate bills. Next week, committees will resume considering bills from the opposite legislative chamber.

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

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Boosting Education Funding; Preserving State Parks

By Rep. Mike Sanders

I hear every week about how our schools are struggling – struggling to pay teachers and struggling to buy new textbooks and other classroom materials to improve student learning.

Last week, the House approved several bills that would help K-12 schools. First was a measure to raise teacher pay by $6,000 over the next three years. This would make Oklahoma’s average teacher pay among the highest in the region and move us from 48th to 13th nationally when cost-of-living is factored. We still have to find funding for this raise; I believe we will.

A measure that could help is a bill to increase the Oklahoma Lottery’s contribution to education by $110 million over the next five years. Many public schools and education associations statewide supported the bill.

House Bill 1837 will allow bigger lottery prizes, which is hoped to increase lottery sales, which would send more money to public schools. We’ve long heard the lottery has not benefitted education as much as first promised. While the lottery has sent more than $750 million to education since it began in 2005, funding has declined in recent years and is expected be about 30 percent lower than 10 years ago. Part of the reason is thought to be low prize payouts. Other states have used this mechanism to successfully increase education funding.

Without this bill, education is projected to lose $25 million in lottery funding over the next five years. This would end the mandate that 35 percent of profits go to education. Instead, the bill guarantees common education would receive at least $50 million in lottery revenue each year as well as profits above $50 million for specific K-12 public school programs. Initiatives in reading, science, technology, engineering and math would receive $85 million over the next five years.

This funding comes without having to raise taxes. With our current budget conditions – a recent revenue failure and a gap in the amount appropriated last year vs. the amount available for fiscal year 2018 – such revenue raising measures are welcome.

There are other measures like this one that will help us close our budget gap and fund core government services in addition to education.

Lastly, I have received many phone calls regarding our state parks. Let me state this: I support our state parks and our tourism department. A memo was sent by our appropriations chairwoman to all state agencies, including the Department of Tourism, asking for opinions on potential cuts to agency budgets. As everyone is fully aware, we have our budget issues. We are trying to scrub and find ways to meet our state constitutionally mandated law to balance the books by the end of the fiscal year. The Department of Tourism responded that cuts might force it to close parks. I don’t believe any state parks will close. But, as I’m sure all of you would understand, we have to look at everything, even as families have to look at everything in their household budgets during tight times. I will point out that the Legislature does not line item spending for parks; that is a decision left to tourism. They must decide whether to keep parks open or cut services in Oklahoma City.

I want to thank everyone for their concern and their phone calls. I hear you, and I fully believe at the end of the day all state parks will remain open.

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

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Blue Lives Matter Bill Passes House

OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill that would increase the likelihood of the death penalty for people convicted of killing a law enforcement officer in the line of duty passed the House with a vote of 73-21 today.

House Bill 1306, by State Rep. Casey Murdock, creates the Blue Lives Matter in Oklahoma Act of 2017, which provides that any person convicted of, or who pleads guilty or nolo contendere to murder in the first degree of a law enforcement officer, correctional officer or corrections employee while in the performance of their duties shall be punished by death or life in prison without parole.

“Every time our law enforcement officers put on their uniform they are putting on a target,” said Murdock, R-Felt. “The least we can do as a legislative body is send a message to law enforcement that we value their lives, that if something happens to them while they are performing their duties we will punish their killers to the fullest extent of the law.”

Murdock said he was inspired to write this legislation after the tragic events that occurred in Dallas and around the country, where snipers were shooting at law enforcement. He also told a personal story of a friend whose son-in-law was shot and attacked in the line of duty.

Murdock worked with several other representatives to make sure the bill was constitutional yet still firm when it comes to dealing with criminals. The bill makes it harder to just get a life in prison sentence. Punishment would be either death or life without parole. The bill also requires that an overwhelming amount of mitigating evidence be shown for those convicted to just be given a life sentence.

“I applaud my colleagues that stood up today for the men and women that risk their lives protecting Oklahoma families,” said state Rep. Scott Biggs, R- Chickasha. “In an era where respect for law enforcement is at an all-time low, this body has sent a message to the law enforcement community that we will use the full extent of the law to protect them.”

Majority Leader state Rep. Mike Sanders said he was happy as well with the bill’s passage.

“If this law deters one crime against a law enforcement agent, then this bill is worth it,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “I’m proud to support those who are willing to lay down their lives for the safety of me, my family and all Oklahoma residents.”

The bill now moves to the state Senate.

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Expanding Rural Health Care

By Rep. Mike Sanders 

A bill to allow nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurses to provide health care services in line with their education and training passed the House floor this week by an overwhelming majority. This will increase access to quality health care, particularly in our rural communities. This bill would free these nurses from the collaborative agreement they now sign with a physician. Many of the doctors do not see the patients or even their charts, resulting in little actual collaboration. Plus, doctors can only contract with only two nurse practitioners at a time, severely limiting the number that can practice in the state, adding to our health care shortage. These nurses are not replacing the role of the doctor. They would still have to refer patients to a doctor if necessary. Nurse practitioners, however, have many areas where they are trained. Plus, they must be nationally board certified in their area of training and are licensed and regulated by the Oklahoma Board of Nursing. They complete graduate-level education that leads to a master’s or doctoral degree.

On another subject, I want to touch on the governor’s proposal to tax 164 currently untaxed services. Some fear the Legislature is mulling these tax increases. This idea came only from the governor. Frankly, there is little to no support for these ideas among the conservative majority in the House. Before we would ever consider these kinds of tax increases, we must make sure we have looked at and realized all efficiencies in state government. There are things being requested in agency budgets for fiscal year 2018 that can certainly wait for more prosperous times. There are still areas of state waste. Recently we learned from the Government Modernization Committee that the state has saved $3.1 million, for instance, by selling underutilized state government properties. This is just one example of finding revenue in a lean economy.

The state Senate this week passed House Bill 1845, which will give Oklahomans options of getting a REAL ID compliant with federal law or keeping their current driver’s license. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk. She’s indicated she will sign it. A REAL ID will allow access to federal buildings, military bases and commercial flight. For those concerned about the security of the information on the card, however, they will have a choice of retaining their current state ID.

I had the opportunity last week to assist the Speaker of the House as he gave his weekly update to the media. This is part of my new role as House majority leader. I was able to talk about the serious issues that are important to the people in House District 59. These include having a balanced budget, giving teachers a pay raise, passing REAL ID legislation and other issues.

This was the last week for committee work and now all remaining bills hit the House floor. We have two weeks to consider these measures before passing them to the Senate. Our primary focus is still on the budget and will be as these negotiations are ongoing.

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

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