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 firstname.lastname@example.org.