New on the Table
Even as the battle over a proposed health care reform bill continues to unfold in Congress, a state lawmaker from Tulsa is proposing a bill designed to reward Oklahoma employers who offer health insurance to their workers.
House Bill 1686 by Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, states that if two or more contractors bid on a state job and submit equally low bids, if one bidder demonstrates that it provides worker health care coverage as a part of its business scope, the state Department of Central Services will give the contract to that bidder.
Scott said last week the bill has been passed by the House and is awaiting an assignment to a committee in the Senate, where Sen. Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow, serves as its author.
"This provides an incentive for contract employers to offer health care coverage to their employers," Scott said. "It's a win-win situation for both business owners and their workers -- they get the job and their employees have health insurance. I am pleased to see the majority of my fellow House members see the outstanding impact this bill could have on Oklahomans."
Scott said he accepted a friendly amendment to the bill in the House that states that no bidder has to offer health care coverage to its employees in order to bid on state contracts.
He said no major opposition to the bill has developed yet, and he was pleased to note that the State Chamber of Oklahoma, which advocates for business interests at both the state and federal level, came out in support of the measure.
Money, Money, Money
With millions of dollars in federal aid available to Tulsa each year through Community Development Block Grants, city officials are seeking public input on how the money should be spent during a hearing this week at a City Council meeting.
Citizens are being encouraged to comment on program priorities at 6pm on Thursday, March 11 in the City Council chambers at City Hall in One Technology Center, 175 E. Second St. The hearing is not for the purpose of soliciting grant applications but for gathering priorities for the program.
"It's important because we need to hear from citizens about what their priority needs are," said Dr. Lana Turner-Addison, director of the city's Human Rights Department, which oversees the Grants Administration Department that oversees handling of CDBG funds. "Many people have spoken through the PLANiTULSA process, but with the CDBG process, we're also required to have citizen input."
Turner-Addison said meetings soliciting citizen input are held every year before a CDBG committee, but this will mark the first time citizens are being given the opportunity to make their views on the matter known directly to council members, who later will vote on which projects should receive funding.
"This will ensure that City Council members hear what the citizens have to say," she said.
At stake is a considerable amount of money. CDBG funds are used to pay for a variety of programs designed to promote economic growth in low- to moderate-income areas. Two of the more prominent projects in Tulsa that have benefited from CDBG money recently are the newly opened Gateway Market, a full-service grocery store that opened in January at the corner of Pine Street and Peoria Avenue, and the planned Shoppes on Peoria at 1731 N. Peoria, a 23,000-square-foot retail development that will house 12 tenants. The two projects are expected to generate up to 120 new jobs in the area.
Turner-Addison said Thursday's meeting will help this year's CDBG award process proceed in a more transparent matter, acknowledging there have been questions about some of the decisions that have been made in the past.
"We want to make sure we are doing what the citizens are asking us to do," she said.
Turner-Addison said this meeting is the first of three or four that will be held during the next several weeks to establish priorities for this year's CDBG funds. She's hoping for a crowd of around 20 speakers for Thursday's meeting, though she acknowledged such meetings have not been well attended in the past.
The CDBG program is administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It provides annual grants on a formula basis to cities, urban counties and states to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, as well as by expanding economic opportunities.
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