Lawmakers Hit Halfway Point

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Thursday, March 12, 2015, marked an important deadline of the 2015 legislative session. The Oklahoma House of Representatives concluded work on House-sponsored legislation and will now work to review measures approved by the Oklahoma Senate.

I was pleased to see two important bills I authored and a third that I co-authored approved and sent to the Senate.

My House Bill 1318 proposes to increase the penalty for assaulting an off-duty law enforcement officer. Current law does not distinguish an off-duty officer from an average citizen. Yet these individuals are vulnerable to assault from the criminals they pursue in their jobs. My legislation would make it a felony to assault them. It was approved by the House on a vote of 83-2.

My House Bill 2005 proposes to allow Oklahomans who cannot currently volunteer with their local fire department to do so. Current law restricts volunteer fire departments from allowing volunteers above the age of 45. This is done because the firefighter pension system cannot sustain individuals who begin their service at 45. My legislation removes that bar by allowing volunteers above that age limit to opt out of the pension system.

House Bill 1747, of which I am the primary co-author, proposes to create Rural Opportunity Zones in our state that would entice individuals to live in areas of population loss. The legislation would give individuals who move from other states into these zones to get five-year tax exemptions.

I also want to tell you about other important bills that have been approved by the House.

Educators in Western Oklahoma should know that a change is being made to the A-F grading system. House Bill 1690 would exempt the performance of students who are receiving rehabilitation or medical care from use in determining the school’s grade. Since the A-F system was established, lawmakers have received regular feedback on how to improve it. This legislation was the result of that input.

Texting while driving continues to be a modern menace. I have heard repeatedly that it can be more dangerous than drinking and driving. House Bill 1965 proposes to strengthen our texting while driving law, increasing the penalty for the first offense to $250 and for subsequent offenses to $500.

The state is currently facing a lawsuit from death penalty inmates questioning the use of lethal injection as a method of execution. This came about because of a botched execution. That execution was botched partially because the inmate made it difficult to inject with the drug in use. House Bill 1879 moves to replace the current procedure with a new system that uses nitrogen hypoxia. An East Central University study found nitrogen hypoxia is humane and requires less medical expertise. It is also not dependent on the cooperation of inmates and nitrogen gas is readily available for purchase. I think this legislation should improve Oklahoma’s death penalty process and take the teeth out of the current claims by death penalty inmates.

Child welfare continues to be an important concern in Oklahoma. House Bill 1078 expands a program that transitions children in the system into their adult lives and requires that foster parents and group homes ensure children are involved in typical and age-appropriate extracurricular activities.

House Bill 1006 allows wiretapping in human trafficking cases, which are very often child trafficking cases.

Oklahomans also feel very strongly about unborn children as I do. We sent a ban on a particularly barbaric abortion process to the Senate. House Bill 1727 bans a “dismemberment” or dilation and evacuation procedure that is commonly used in the second trimester.

Finally, I want to mention a bill that would help our small businesses. House Bill 1430 would amend the definition of “consumer” in the Telemarketer Restriction Act to include business associations, partnerships, firms and other types of business entities.

In the coming weeks, we will be reviewing and voting on Senate legislation. Budget negotiations continue and my top priority remains with transportation funding for both state and county roads and bridges, followed by other core services. I look forward to telling you about the budget that is finally agreed upon and the progress of major legislation. 

My door is open to you at all times. You can reach my legislative office at (405) 557-7407, e-mail or stop by Room 205 at 2300 North Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City.

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