Whatzup Politics (1090)
State Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) hosted a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, with Gary Cox, Commissioner of Health for the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), and a team of health professionals. The purpose was to begin reviewing health complaints directly from residents of Heavener who have complained of illnesses ranging from body rashes from bathing or showering, hair falling out on the backs of heads, vomiting, diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and organs – such as colons – rupturing.
"OSDH officials requested meeting with a small sample group of residents who have complained in writing of their health issues to try and gauge the severity of complaints,” Kiger said. “OSDH officials asked those attending to tell them where people in this area go for treatment, if their doctors are taking cultures and what are the results of any cultures."
OSDH officials also met with a small number of Heavener business people to hear the hardships they are experiencing from the dirty water and the difficulty it's causing them financially to stay in business, Kiger said.
The group of approximately 12 people confirmed there have been at least 10 or more water line breaks or outages year-to-date affecting water color and ruining home and business appliances.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the OSDH officials announced they would meet internally and look at different options on how to approach more residents to gain the needed information for proper evaluation of all the possible effects the water has on the health of the people in Heavener.
Kiger asked Commissioner Cox if he could provide any details of the next steps that the OSDH will take. Commissioner Cox responded that all options are still on the table for gaining additional information from the larger population. This could include a private survey available to all Heavener residents to fill out confidentially and send back in, or even providing residents with a physical evaluation at the LeFlore County Health Department in Poteau.
Commissioner Cox said he would contact with Rep. Kiger after his team convenes and they make their final decision on how best to proceed and the next possible steps.
Kiger thanked the residents for taking time out of their day to attend this meeting and for telling their stories to the OSHD team and sharing how important this first step was in the process.
Kiger reiterated to OSDH, “The only thing we are trying to accomplish is to determine if the dirty water has or is causing health issues to anyone who lived in Heavener over the past 25 years.”
“If it has, the people deserve to know. If it hasn’t, the people also deserve to know to give them peace of mind,” Kiger added.
Kiger said he has received many emails from local residents, but he has also received over a dozen written complaints or calls from people who grew up in Heavener and are now on medications with stomach illnesses as experienced by many who live in Heavener today.
One of the residents also stated this week is the first time they have smelled chlorine in the water coming out of their tap. Some attending Wednesday’s meeting also said they are starting to see the water clearing up some, but it still has a sour or sewer odor. They have hopes the water treatment plant repairs, mandated by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) inspection, will be completed soon, clearing up the water, and the city can begin the work on repairing deficient or broken water lines. The DEQ report issued Sept. 23, 2019, stated the Heavener water distribution system loses more produced water per person than any other town in Oklahoma.
Kiger warned the people attending Wednesday they may start seeing the color of the water improve but not to get their hopes up too quickly, because there’s still a lot that needs to be done for the people of Heavener.
“Let’s wait until the water treatment plant has functioning water filters with the capabilities of properly back flushing, the second lagoon is cleaned of vegetation and is functional, the turbidity meters are set in the proper locations and getting the correct readings, the technicians are able to properly identify the alarms and make the needed corrections, the correct chemicals and amounts are being applied per regulations, the pH levels constantly reach over 7%, and the chlorine and proper water pressure are reaching all of the homes in town.
“When all of this occurs, I believe we can get excited. I believe this day will arrive soon for everyone”, Kiger Said.
Column by State Rep. Lundy Kiger
There is no doubt the poultry industry is one of the largest and most important industries in our county, producing thousands of hourly jobs, in addition to allowing many rural residents the ability to live and work on the farm while raising their families. But then again, rural Oklahoma is the only part of the state that any industry that grows chickens could really operate in without serious push back.
The poultry industry is also different from many other industries that may build a large facility or facilities in just one general location. One significant difference is the poultry industry also involves hundreds of other people who may live many miles from the processing plant, but close to neighbors with poultry houses needed to grow their birds that are scattered all over a county, region and multiple states. For the two to co-exist properly, it requires a balance of corporate and private individuals working together with everyone under contract, while also including neighbors who may be affected.
The poultry industry needs individuals who are located in different parts of a county or region and willing to participate as the corporation plans for the overall success of everyone while meeting their daily contract needs. This participation also involves people under contract who have acquired financing, have land, have access to land, easements for water, electric and natural gas, and finally the permitting and construction of large and expensive poultry houses that make up the farm.
While each of these houses are designed to grow thousands of chickens, it also requires much thought and engineering to also try and hide the poultry houses from nearby property owners. To do this, natural vegetation or trees are sometimes used as barriers.
Another important factor is designing and controlling the directions of exhaust from internal fans that will push air through and out of each house. The importance of such planning to be included is the fact these new poultry houses will now share the same area and environment with other people, families and their homes, as well as the properties of other people not consulted who will now become neighbors.
We appreciate poultry and all industries that locate and call SE Oklahoma home. But as the corporate poultry industry or any industry resides in rural Oklahoma to conduct business, all industry has an obligation of cooperation and integrity while planning, building and operating around people who have made their homes in LeFlore County for generations, well before the corporate poultry industry ever signed a contract with a farmer.
But for many on the outside looking in who are involuntarily and directly affected by this growth, it's easy to think that the hard decisions for growth for many corporations are losing the battle in finding the right balance with the public when profits are the bottom line. At the same time, the bottom line seems to be a large hurdle for corporations in making the right decisions. It's easy for a corporation to take the position that following all of the rules gives their new growers the right to make decisions related to their personal property. In the world that we live in, I have to say both are probably right. But when growth impedes too much or too large on others, something has to give or it turns into a big fight that should try and be avoided at all costs.
With the specific situation in the Cameron area, there has to be a fair balance related to not just locating a farm on land that meets state and federal regulations, but a balance of considerations must also be applied when it comes to planning, developing grower contracts, construction, trucking, feed, water, electric, natural gas, composting, litter, odor, litter management, air management, water runoff, and how all of this affects everyone who calls themselves neighbors!
The distances of these four farms near Cameron – with 12 houses constructed and 44 more houses planned for construction – will all meet the state's required set back rules. But when a company approves a total of 56 large poultry houses for four farms with each individual house being approximately 55 feet wide by 550 feet long, with some of the farms just a mile or so from each other and located close to a community or housing additions, it's just too many houses, creating a large "congestion" of poultry houses that will have many negative effects on a lot of people and their personal property. And when this happens, the industry will see serious push back that is now taking place in Cameron and from me.
Another legitimate concern for many who are already growing chickens is the fear that these new larger farms (eight built at a time) will eventually drive many of them over time out of business. The majority of our small farm families have been the backbone of the poultry industry for years, and these people have everything they own tied up in personal loans. If this does occur, it would put many local small farm families into bankruptcy and possibly losing not only their poultry houses but their homes, vehicles, farm equipment land and everything that was put up for collateral and required to qualify for the poultry farm loan.
So, LeFlore County and the poultry industry is at an important crossroads of where we're going in this region in the future. Small family farms used to be two to four smaller houses, and each of us understands that business and industry changes, but in this case change would proceed much better if we can all work together in what our area will look like in the future and how our small farm families are treated.
I'm calling on all LeFlore County people and the poultry corporation to join me in calling for cooperation as we co-exist and thrive together in growing this important industry and great jobs. We need better planning by the corporation when they locate these new larger farms, and we also need cooperation when the small family farmers are pushed to make large financial improvements to meet new standards or face the reality of having their contract terminated and facing bankruptcy.
The pressure on publicly traded companies to make larger profits makes it more difficult, but not impossible, in achieving a unique balance that I'm calling for. I support both the industry, plant workers, growers and the neighbors. And as long as there is cooperation among all parties, Leflore County can become an example for the industry in how each of us can exist and grow together!
I ask anyone in the industry or affected to join us in person or online this Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Cameron Civic Center located on the campus of Cameron Schools.
By Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy CEO Joe Dorman
Last week I was pleased to join hundreds of other nonprofit leaders at the Sarkeys Foundation Southwest Regional Leadership Forum. This enlightening conference, held in Norman under the direction of former Oklahoma First Lady Kim Henry and her team, provided two days of encouraging discussion and thoughtful workshops on best practices.
The three keynote presenters at the conference each worked to build up the spirit of all the attendees. Alison Levine, who organized an all-women’s expedition to climb Mt. Everest, spoke about her experiences and lessons learned. The well-known author and “life strategist” Valorie Burton provided an insightful message called “Purpose: how will others be impacted because they crossed your path?” Motivational Speaker Bob Goff also shared a heartening account of lessons he has learned in life and how to stay positive through some of the most troubling times. Each was tremendous and the timing was perfect for providing inspiration!
In addition to the three speakers, we had workshops reviewing issues faced by nonprofits. I was fascinated by one of the fundraising sessions and want to share some of the lessons learned. Like many non-profits, OICA is dependent on generous donors who contribute through our website (OICA.org) or by attending and sponsoring our various fundraising events. Nationally, the state of charitable giving is decidedly mixed. Here is the overview we were presented with at the Leadership Forum:
• From Giving USA 2019 research, Americans gave $427.71 billion to charity in 2018. Total charitable giving rose 0.7% measured in current dollars over the revised total of $424.74 billion contributed in 2017. Adjusted for inflation, total giving declined 1.7%
• Giving by individuals is the strongest contributor to the success of nonprofits. This past year, individual giving decreased as a percentage of total giving in 2018 to 68% (down from 70% in 2017) of total nonprofit budgets, despite achieving its third-highest total dollar amount on record, adjusted for inflation. This totaled an estimated $292.09 billion.
• Giving by foundations had a record-breaking year, reaching the highest-ever dollar amount even when adjusted for inflation, and growing to its largest share (18%) of total giving to date in 2018. This was an estimated increase of 7.3% to $75.8 billion, with an increase of 4.7%, adjusted for inflation.
• Giving by corporations experienced solid growth in 2018. This type of giving is highly responsive to changes in corporate pre-tax dollars and GDP, and its year-over-year trend lines tend to be more turbulent as a result. This equaled out to be an increase of 5.4%, totaling $20.05 billion, an increase of 2.9% in 2018, adjusted for inflation.
• Giving by bequest totaled an estimated $39.71 billion in 2018, remaining flat with a 0% increase from 2017 (a 2.3% decline, adjusted for inflation). A bequest is a financial term describing the act of giving assets such as stocks, bonds, jewelry, and cash, to individuals or organizations, through the provisions of a will or an estate plan.
As we approach the end of 2019, remember that year-end giving is also the greatest opportunity for nonprofits to meet their fundraising goals. Approximately 31% of all annual giving occurs in December and approximately 12% of all annual giving occurs in the last three days of December.
As you plan ahead for your own giving, remember that your donation can make the world of difference for an organization. Please consider providing some support for the nonprofit of your choice as we approach 2020! We need your support to continue the good work done in our communities across the state.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens, to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk.
Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.“
Voters will go to the polls Tuesday for the November 12 Special Election for the Town of Shady Point and Bokoshe School District, Leflore County Election Board Secretary Sharon Steele said today.
Please keep the following information and tips in mind as the election approaches.
- Early voting will be available on Thursday, November 7 and Friday, November 8 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Lines are possible at peak voting times. Wait times will likely be shortest at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Anyone in line to vote at 7 p.m. will be allowed to cast a ballot.
- Anyone who needs to look up their polling place, verify their registration information, or view a sample ballot can do so online. The Online Voter Tool can be accessed on the Oklahoma State Election Board's website: www.elections.ok.gov
Those who vote by mail can also check the status of their ballot using the Online Voter Tool.
Sample ballots are also available at the County Election Board office.
- Oklahoma law requires every voter who votes in person at the precinct polling place or during early voting at the County Election Board to show proof of identity before receiving a ballot. There are three ways for voters to prove their identity under the law (only one proof of identity is required): Show a valid photo ID issued by federal, state, or tribal government; or show the free voter identification card issued to every voter by the County Election Board; or sign an affidavit and vote a provisional ballot. (If the information on the affidavit matches official voter registration records, the ballot will be counted after Election Day.)
- Physically disabled voters who cannot enter the polling place, need help marking their ballots, blind or visually disabled voters and illiterate voters may be assisted by a person the voter chooses. In all cases, a person providing such assistancemay not be the voter's employer or an agent of the employer or an officer or agent of the voter's union. A person providing assistance also must swear or affirm that the voter's ballots will be marked in accordance with the voter's wishes. Alternatively, all blind, visually impaired, and physically disabled voters in LeFlore County may use the audio tactile interface (ATl), a feature offered on all Oklahoma voting devices, to vote privately and independently, either at Leflore County Election Board during early voting or at their assigned polling place on election day.
- Voters who have moved since the last election, but who have not transferred their voter registration to their new address, may do so on Election Day by going to vote at the polling place where their registration has been in the past. While voting, they may fill out a form instructing the County Election Board to transfer their registration to the new address before the next election.
- Those who became physically incapacitated after 5 p.m. Tuesday November 5 still can request an emergency absentee ballot. Those who might qualify for an emergency absentee ballot should contact the County Election Board office at 918-647- 3701 as soon as possible for more information.
- Any violation of election law will be reported to the proper law enforcement authorities. Electioneering is not allowed within 300 feet of a ballot box. It is also unlawful to remove a ballot from the polling location, possess intoxicating liquors within half a mile of a polling place or to disclose how you voted while within the election enclosure.
For additional election-related information, visit: www.elections.ok.gov.
WASHINGTON— U.S. Reps. Markwayne Mullin (OK-02), Terri Sewell (AL-07), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Devin Nunes (CA-22) and Peter Welch (VT-AL) introduced H.R. 4938, the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act. It would strengthen ambulance service providers and help ensure they are able to continue delivering critical first responder and health care services in communities across the country.
“Ambulance services are critically important to rural Americans who may live close to an hour away from the nearest emergency room,” Mullin said. “Providing this care literally means the difference between life and death for many people. As we continue to battle the closures of critical access hospitals across Oklahoma, ambulance services are more important now than ever before. We must ensure that rural Americans receive the care they need. I’m proud to join my colleagues in support of this bill which would enhance and increase resources for first responders in Oklahoma.”
“Ambulance services are a vital component of our local and national health care and emergency response systems, especially in rural and underserved areas where they are often the sole provider of emergency medical services in their communities,” Sewell said. “The Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act of 2019 will implement critical reforms to help ensure Alabamians have access to lifesaving emergency care, no matter where they live.”
“Emergency first responders are critical to the health and safety of our communities,” Blumenauer said. “Rather than continue to put a band-aid on this problem, we must find permanent solutions to our inadequate Medicare payments for ambulance services, especially for vulnerable communities and those in rural areas.”
“Rural ambulance services save lives and provide needed care in underserved areas every day,” Welch said. “This bipartisan bill will ensure that patients and rural areas have access to critical ambulance services, and that these services receive fair, consistent reimbursement for their important work. It’s time for Congress to permanently fix this glitch and give ambulance services the certainty they need to continue serving all Americans.”
Although ambulance providers provide critical emergency services to communities across the country, the Government Accountability Office has found that they are reimbursed below cost by Medicare, which has hampered the ability of ambulance service providers to hire new staff, update equipment, and provide life-saving around¬ the-clock services in their communities, especially those in economically distressed areas. Without frequent add-on payments authorized by Congress, these providers must often operate at a loss.
Included in the legislation are provisions to permanently increase the rate at which ambulance providers are reimbursed by Medicaid, allow ambulance services that serve low population areas to continue to receive additional rural Medicare funding and eliminate burdensome, duplicative paperwork requirements.
"The Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act of 2019 would give organizations that provide vital emergency 9-1-1 and non-emergency ambulance services greater certainty as to the future of desperately-needed Medicare funding relief as identified by the Government Accountability Office. Most importantly, it would help ensure continued access by Medicare beneficiaries and all Americans in urban and, in particular, rural and extremely rural, areas to medical first response and mobile health care,” said American Ambulance Association President Aarron Reinert. “The American Ambulance Association greatly appreciates the leadership and hopeful outlook of Congresswoman Sewell and Congressman Nunes as well as Congressmen Welch, Blumenauer, and Mullin in addressing this critical issue."
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Jason Lowe (D-OKC) released the following statement in response to House Bill 2597, also known as ‘permitless carry’, becoming law.
“Today, Oklahomans without training or a license, will be allowed to carry firearms in public,” Lowe said. “I feel strongly that this law does not make our state safer but more dangerous. For months now, I have worked to fight back against this irresponsible legislation, and I will continue to fight. Until every resource is exhausted, I will continue to fight for a safer more welcoming Oklahoma.”
What you need to know before applying
By Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready
Open enrollment for 2020 individual health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) starts November 1 and ends December 15. If you want your coverage to start on January 1, you must sign up by December 15. With a new insurer available for the Oklahoma City area, there are some important things you need to know about the 2020 open enrollment before you apply. I urge all Oklahomans who plan to enroll for 2020 plans to do not automatically renew. Look closely for changes.
In 2020, Bright Health will join the Oklahoma exchange along with Blue Cross Shield of Oklahoma (BCBSOK) and Medica and will offer plans in Oklahoma, Canadian and Cleveland counties.
• If you are currently uninsured: you can visit healthcare.gov to compare plans and enroll in a plan that meets your health care needs.
• If you already have health insurance: you will be automatically re-enrolled in your existing plan if it is still available. Even if you are satisfied with your current plan, review your coverage and compare plans to ensure the best option for you.
Keep in mind that cost-sharing subsidies are available only on silver plans and subsidies available on silver plans have changed. Shop around to look for coverage that truly meets your needs. I encourage you to check with your agent to help you sort out your options.
You can visit https://www.healthcare.gov/see-plans/ to view plan options, estimate monthly premiums and total annual out-of-pocket costs for each plan, and learn how to buy a plan. You can also determine if you qualify for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at https://www.healthcare.gov/medicaid-chip/
To help make the application process quicker and easier, make sure you have everything you need to apply by reviewing this checklist (PDF).
Also, check out these tips about the Health Insurance Marketplace at heathcare.gov
In addition to those resources, directly visit or call these insurers available for Oklahoma’s exchange for 2020:
• BCBSOK: https://www.bcbsok.com/ 1-800-942-5837
• Bright Health: https://brighthealthplan.com/ 1-877-544-0764
• Medica: https://www.medica.com/ 1-866-745-9919
If you have questions about other insurance issues, contact the Oklahoma Insurance Department at 1-800-522-0071 or visit our website at www.oid.ok.gov
State Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) today commented on the inaction of the Heavener City Council against water provider Veolia in the city of Heavener.
In a special meeting of the Heavener Utility Authority on Tuesday night, the Heavener City Council voted to take no action related to the contract with Veolia, and probably won't terminate if they get their way, Kiger said.
“In side bar conversations with city leaders, they admit they don't think they have a legal standing to terminate the contract as written and are afraid of what Veolia will do if the city did terminate the contract, or if Veolia decided to pull out on their own,” he said.
“While Veolia has been making unacceptable water for over two decades and sending this dirty water down the lines to the public, many including myself don't see a down side with Veolia packing their bags and leaving town. But still, city leaders don't think they have a right under the contract to terminate, or, some on the City Council doesn't want to see Veolia go away.
Even though most of us aren't attorneys, let's review key parts of language in the agreement and make our own decision if the city has a right to terminate or not.
Veolia just received a written report from an August 28 Department of Environmental Quality water treatment plant inspection that resulted in seven Notice of Violations and 27 deficiencies with detailed language of what Veolia hasn't done that included a penalty for their inaction and Veolia receiving a $3 million fine.
This alone tells you as a water producing company that you've done just about everything wrong and very little right or in compliance. To date, Veolia has been found to be in violation of so many state regulations but still city leaders are hesitant or scared to make a decision.
So let's go to the wording of the contract and look at only three sections to see what it says.
VWNA-Veolia Water North America: OWNER-City of Heavener:
10.2 A Party may only terminate this Agreement for a material breach of the Agreement by the other Party, only after giving written notice of breach; and except in case of a breach by OWNER for non-payment of VWNA invoices, in which case termination may be immediate by VWNA, only after allowing the other Party thirty (30) days to cure or commence taking reasonable steps to cure the breach.
City Option: Write Veolia a letter that many serious breaches have been found from the written report from DEQ that included a $3 million fine to Veolia and the city has a right to terminate.
1.9 If any litigation is necessary to enforce the terms of this Agreement, the prevailing Party shall be entitled to reasonable attorney's fees which are directly attributed to such litigation in addition to any other relief to which it may be entitled.
City Option: It's pretty clear that the city doesn't make potable water and hired Veolia to make the water for the public, and Veolia is required under state law to follow all regulations. It's clear that Veolia broke dozens of state rules and regulations, and the city has a strong case against Veolia if Veolia fought the city for terminating the current contract.
2.1 VWNA shall provide a sufficient number of certified and qualified personnel, including management, administrative, operational, technical, laboratory and clerical, who meet relevant State of Oklahoma requirements and certifications regarding water and wastewater treatment operations, maintenance and management and are capable and demonstrate experience necessary to operate the facilities covered by this Agreement.
City Option: This is strong language for the city as Veolia failed multiple times related to 2.1. During the August 28 water plant inspection, DEQ states in their September findings and report that there were no flow meters to analyze how much water from each of the two different raw water sources was being delivered to the water treatment plant.
There was no testing for iron, manganese and Ph for either source prior to entering the water treatment plant. Chemical dosing is dependent on knowing the properties of the incoming raw water in order to meet primary and secondary MCL's, and the report said this is a significant oversite by Veolia.
Veolia staff could not provide any information to DEQ as to source or basis for the dosing formulas used. DEQ found sample taps were not equipped properly for specific water testing. Filters were packed and unable to remove turbidity. Both lagoons were inoperable and one with excess vegetation growth. Ineffective turbidimeters.
No records of any calibration on turbidimeters. No historical data on turbidity data. The DEQ stated Veolia cannot reasonably confirm that it has been meeting the primary drinking water standard for turbidity since October, 2018. Veolia staff were unable to confirm what the individual alarms signified or meant.
Veolia hadn't reported violations related to adequate residual chlorination in the distributions system, but DEQ testing showed little to no chlorine in the system to many homes.
Under 2.1 alone the city could and should terminate this contract immediately!
WASHINGTON— Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) released the following statement after voting against H.Res. 660, a resolution to continue Speaker Pelosi’s Soviet-style impeachment inquiry.
“This is nothing more than a vote to continue the sham process the Democrats have run for the past 37 days,” Mullin said. “This resolution does not authorize an impeachment inquiry, does not make all hearings, transcripts and depositions open to the public, and does not give due process to our duly elected president. From the start, the impeachment inquiry has been an attempt to undo the last election and this resolution doesn’t change that.”
Background on H.Res. 660
• Does NOT include a vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry.
• Does NOT make all impeachment hearings open to the public – only the hearings Chairman Schiff chooses.
• Does NOT make all transcripts of depositions available to the public – only the transcripts Chairman Schiff chooses.
• Does NOT allow the President’s counsel to attend, question, or request evidence be admitted by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
By State Rep. Mike Sanders
OKLAHOMA CITY – House Majority Leader Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher) said close to 500 new volunteer firefighters have joined rural fire departments four years after he successfully ran legislation that eliminated the age limit for new volunteers. He expects to see an even greater increase with the passage of another law that takes effect today.
House Bill 2005, authored by Sanders, took effect Nov. 1, 2015. The law 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.
This year, Sanders saw his House Bill 2051 passed and signed into law. The measure, which became effective today, allows retired firefighters who are already part of the state’s pension program to return to service in volunteer fire departments without it affecting their current retirement benefit and without it counting as an accrued retirement benefit against the state’s pension plan.
“Saving lives and property is behind my commitment to continue to increase the number of firefighters who serve our state, especially our volunteers who help run our rural fire service programs,” Sanders said. “By allowing those who are willing to serve to do so without harming the state’s pension program gives us more resources to protect our citizens and our communities.”
Sanders said about 85 percent of the firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers, and 95 percent of the state’s fire departments are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program, meaning they serve rural populations.
State law, however, 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.
Sanders said he asked constituents above the age of 45 if they would be interested in volunteering and about whether or not they needed a pension. Most said they already had pensions but would be more than willing to serve.
Sanders worked with former Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) Executive Director the late Jon Hansen on HB 2005 and with the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association on HB 2051. Lawmakers and rural fire coordinators from across the state helped in the drafting of both bills.
In addition to saving lives and property, Sanders said the laws also can help lower insurance rates.
House Bills 2005 and 2051 both were approved unanimously in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Oklahoma Senate before being signed into law by the governor.