Session Midpoint Reflections

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Now that I’m halfway through the 2010 legislative session, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how the other branches of our state government will come into play alongside our legislative efforts.

I noted last week that Oklahoma lawmakers are pressing Attorney General Drew Edmondson to file a lawsuit against the recent Congressional passage of a federal health care mandate. Unfortunately, he has yet to do so. Edmondson has failed to state his position on the federal health care mandate while Governor Brad Henry has implied that the mandate is a step in the right direction.

Nico Gomez, an official with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, has outlined the mandate’s effects on Oklahoma. He estimates that the mandate will expand Medicaid to cover one-third of the state’s population or 1 million Oklahomans and that half of the population will be on either Medicaid or Medicare. Meanwhile, physicians taking SoonerCare patients will have their payment rates cut by 3.25 percent. The mandate will force Oklahomans who cannot afford private insurance to use Medicaid, while at the same time it becomes harder for physicians to accept it.

Lawmakers are going to force the Oklahoma Supreme Court to take a position in the abortion debate. Though two Oklahoma laws passed by the Legislature in recent years contained multiple provisions on the single subject of abortion, the court struck them down for violating the single-subject rule. This year, lawmakers have made those provisions into individual bills so the court must rule on the constitutionality of pro-life legislation. The Freedom of Conscience Act would protect health care professionals’ freedom of conscience by upholding their right to refuse to participate in the taking of a human life. A second bill would regulate the use of RU-4866, the chemical abortion pill. Another measure would ban sex-selection abortions in Oklahoma. The Center for Reproductive Rights has said they are likely to file suit against pro-life legislation passing this year. I am hoping the court will take the side of most Oklahomans who believe in the sanctity of life.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services continues to face a class-action lawsuit from a national organization representing children in the state’s foster care system. Lawmakers have enacted reforms in the system that have begun to show some success, but the agency may still face internal problems with how it handles children. U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell has indicated that June 2011 could be when the trial begins.

A House committee has passed legislation to allow Department of Public Safety officers, including highway patrolmen, to take part-time jobs during any future furlough. Current law prohibits officers from taking a part-time position elsewhere. Under the legislation, they would be allowed to take on part-time jobs during furlough periods.

I would like to congratulate Valeri Evans on her new position as the family and consumer sciences 4-H youth development extension educator in Kingfisher. I believe she is the ideal person for the job. I would also like to congratulate Travis Bernhardt of Kingfisher. Travis is one of 20 students from Oklahoma colleges chosen as one of the best and brightest undergraduate researchers in Oklahoma. He is competing for more than $9,000 in scholarships and cash prizes. He also participated in Research Day at the Capitol.I want to thank the Canton Chamber of Commerce for putting on a great banquet recently. I enjoyed seeing everyone out there and commend Chamber President Troy Everett and the entire board for a job well done. I would also like to thank the fifth grade students from Sharon Mutual Elementary School for visiting me at the Capitol.

I will keep you regularly updated on the activities of the Legislature through this column. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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