House Approves Major Reforms

By Rep. Mike Sanders

This week, House lawmakers completed the work of passing major reform proposals to the Senate. Our next task is to review Senate proposals in committee in the coming weeks.

I want to start by announcing a supplemental funding agreement for schools and prisons. Legislators and Governor Mary Fallin have agreed on a plan to provide $57 million to K-12 schools and $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections to finish out this fiscal year. In order to make this happen, we took money from the state “rainy day” fund, which was created for emergencies such as this year’s automatic cuts that came after the revenue failure.

The major reform I proposed this year was to push drunk driving prosecutions out of municipal courts. With only two municipal courts of record in Oklahoma, we have multiple drunk drivers who are flying under the radar. Basically, when they are prosecuted in municipal courts, a record of their arrest and prosecution does not pass on to the district attorney or municipality that prosecutes them for a subsequent offense. Without a record of their offenses, they cannot be tried as a repeat offender.

House Bill 3146 creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record. The measure also directs the Commissioner of Public Safety to create a statewide impaired driver database with the assistance of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths and dead last in making progress on the issue in a 10-year period.

This was a bipartisan bill and I had help from many of my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle. Ultimately, I received wide, bipartisan support. Safe roads is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is an Oklahoma issue.

My drunk driving legislation was not the only major reform we passed this week. We also approved legislation to allow voters to remove a portion of the state constitution that was cited in a ruling that caused the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from state Capitol grounds.

House Joint Resolution 1062 removes a portion of the Oklahoma State Constitution known as the Blaine Amendment. These amendments were added to state constitutions around the country at a time of anti-Catholic sentiment. It prohibits the use of state property or state monies for religious purposes. Many of us did not feel this would include the Ten Commandments monument, because it is a historical basis for American law.

However, with the recent Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, the Blaine Amendment could now be interpreted to prohibit a broad variety of artifacts. Concerns include that Native American artifacts and municipal Christmas displays could be challenged.

The Blaine Amendment does not mirror anything in the U.S. Constitution. If anything, our U.S. Constitution upholds freedom of religion, including religious expression.

A third bill that will create more health care opportunities in rural Oklahoma was approved unanimously. House Bill 2549 allows hospitals in Oklahoma to own nursing homes. This will create the opportunity for rural hospitals to increase their service, both helping their bottom line and increasing access to health care in rural Oklahoma.

In my next column, I will go through the latest budget discussion and some of the other major reform proposals moving through the process. As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407

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