By Rep. Mike Sanders
The House this week passed legislation that would grant a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to state retirees in six of the state’s pension plans.
House Bill 3350 passed 99-0. The measure would grant a 4% COLA to any state pensioner that has been retired for five years or more as of July 1 this year and a 2% COLA to those retired at least two years but not five.
The House ran similar legislation last year, but it was not picked up by the state Senate. This year, a number of senators have signed on as co-authors of this bill. That gives me hope it will make it through that chamber and to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
It has been 12 years since state retirees received a COLA. Meanwhile, health care and other living expenses have risen in cost. It is time to give those who’ve dedicated years of their life to the state – our firefighters, police officers, teachers and other state employees – this much needed raise.
Another piece of legislation that passed the House this week would put to a vote of the people a question of whether to amend how state questions are placed on statewide ballots. House Joint Resolution 1027 would ask the people to vote on whether we should require signatures from voters in each of the state’s five congressional districts to place an initiative petition, a legislative referenda or a constitutional amendment on the state ballot. Currently, state law just requires a number of signatures from legal voters in the state to place such state questions on a state ballot. The number is based on how many voters voted in the last governor’s election. But the way the law is written, the signatures can be gained from the state’s two largest cities, and this leaves rural voters out of the process. This would even the playing field so our rural voters would have to have a voice before the state’s constitution or state law is changed.
A measure that classifies domestic abuse by strangulation, domestic assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and domestic assault and battery with a deadly weapon as violent crimes also passed the House this week with a 92-0 vote. House Bill 3251 only makes sense. These are violent crimes, and they deserve full punishment under the law, including that anyone convicted of these crimes will have to serve 85% of their prison sentence before being released. This is a further protection for our domestic violence victims.
We also passed two bills that promise to do away with the practice of surprise medical billing for health care patients. This occurs when someone goes in for care or a medical procedure they think is covered by insurance only to be surprised by a bill from an unauthorized provider. This sometimes happens during surgery or other procedures when many different health care professionals provide care to a patient. I’ve been told the authors of these bills will join forces to ensure one bill makes it through the Senate to be signed into law. This should resolve payment issues between insurance companies and health care providers and get patients out of the middle.
One measure I voted against this week would have allowed local governments to create county hazard mitigation districts, but the districts could then assess an additional property tax of up to two mills for applicable projects. There have been a number of bills lately assaulting private property rights and property taxes for purposes other than for what they are intended. I did not want to allow this to happen to our rural property owners, including our farmers and ranchers.
This was deadline week. All House bills, other than those filed by the speaker or the budget chair, had to be passed out of the House to stay alive. We heard more than 230 bills and resolutions this week on the House floor. Combined with what passed previously, we are sending 410 measures in total to the Senate. Next week will be a light week before we ramp up to start considering Senate bills.
On a final note, I want to mention the Coronavirus, not to cause fear, but just to give you some common-sense advice passed along by the CDC. Older people or those with a compromised immune system should stay out of public gatherings for a bit. Wash your hands frequently and avoid being around anyone who is coughing or sneezing or has a fever. If you feel sick, stay home. The world will survive without your public appearance for a few days. I promise! Prayer is always a good idea as well!
As always, if you have questions or concerns, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@okhouse.gov or (405) 557-7407.