By Rep. Mike Sanders
The governor this week gave her final State of the State address, officially starting the new legislative session. As expected, she touted the Step Up Oklahoma budget initiative promoted by business and industry leaders from across the state.
There are definitely some good ideas on reform in this plan such as the formation of a government accountability office to expose waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers’ dollars intended for core government services, as well as giving the next governor direct appointment power over the largest state agencies.
The plan also would pay for a $5,000 teacher pay raise, something I’m adamant about passing. I must ensure, however, that the plan gives all teachers in the state a raise, even those who work in school districts that don’t receive money through the state funding formula.
The plan still has some issues, and there is still room for negotiation. I’ll keep you posted as the bill progresses.
In the meantime, I’ve filed several pieces of legislation this year. I want to detail a few of those in this column, and will talk about others in the coming weeks.
House Bill 3330 would ensure sex offenders could not move to within 2,000 feet of a family childcare home serving five children or less. Previously, the law protected schools, licensed daycares, campsites and playgrounds but did not cover these smaller childcare facilities. This law closes that loophole and ensures our children will be better protected from predators.
House Bill 3329 is an addition to my House Bill 2005, which became law in 2015. The statute 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. Many of these volunteers already have their own businesses, or they work in the oil field or in other lucrative careers. They were happy to volunteer without needing to receive a state pension.
Since the law’s passage, we’ve added more than 200 volunteer firefighters who protect our rural areas and are helping stem the shortage in Oklahoma. This measure is a great model to be used nationwide. One fix needs to be made, however. We need to allow paid firefighters retiring from municipal fire departments the ability to become volunteer firefighters under the pension exemption. This bill will allow local fire chiefs to determine hiring regardless of a current pension plan. This bill will add to our rural firefighter base and is a good extension to an already positive law.
Over the next few weeks, bills will be moving through the committee process. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of key legislation and the budget.
Thank you to everyone who has sent me back my annual survey. If you have not yet done this, please do so soon. I use your responses to help guide my decisions as I represent you.