A bill by a Tulsa legislator designed to assist in the growth of healthy corner grocery stores passed another hurdle in the state Legislature last week.
House Bill 3015 by Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, sailed through the Senate Finance Committee without opposition and now awaits action by the full Senate. The bill, designated as the Oklahoma Agricultural Linked Deposit Act, essentially would make healthy corner markets -- those designated by the state Department of Agriculture as ones that market primarily fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other nutritious foods -- eligible for loans of up to $350,000. The bill is intended to promote the growth of such stores in underserved areas of the state known as "food deserts," or places lacking easy access to healthy, nutritious food.
"This is another big step," Scott said of his bill, which was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives last month. The bill has yet to generate a single nay vote through two committee hearings and a full floor vote.
"No, there wasn't any opposition," Scott said of the committee vote last week. "Generally, I think that's because there's more information out there about the need for more capital to see corner stores in key areas. Also, I think everyone is keen on helping out the small producer. Times are pretty tough overall."
The issue of food deserts is one that affects urban and rural areas alike. The state Health Department has classified more than half the state as a food desert, a problem that has contributed greatly to the state's poor standing nationally in regard to many health indicators.
Even with the bill's success thus far, Scott isn't taking its passage for granted.
"There's no bill that's a slam dunk all around," he said, referring to a recent bill that called for the creation of a disaster plan for all mobile home parks. The bill would have provided a tax credit on investments in storm shelters for residents and passed the House unanimously but recently was killed in the Senate.
Scott said he didn't know when HB 3015 might be presented to the full Senate for a vote. If it passes that body, the measure would go to Gov. Brad Henry for his signature.
Although a new long-range plan for the Tulsa Park Department has been completed, volunteers still are being sought to serve on committees charged with reviewing the plan's recommendations, prioritizing those recommendations and creating action plans to turn them into reality.
Committees needing members include finance, marketing, facilities, trails and programs.
Anyone interested in serving on a committee can apply via the department's Web site at tulsaparks.org.
"We'll be selecting the committees from all applicants after April 15," Parks and Recreation Director Lucy Dolman said. "Applicants must be 21 or older, a resident of the Tulsa region and willing to be actively involved and attend regular monthly meetings."
Parks officials unveiled the long-range plan at a meeting on March 30, though the document has been available on-line for the past several weeks on the department's Web site.
The document includes background research on the park system, Tulsa region demographics, data summaries from surveys completed in 2009 by Tulsans and national parks and recreation trends.
The plan was created by GreenPlay LLC, a Colorado-based firm, and was funded by private donations.
Policing the Police
A new survey regarding citizen attitudes and opinions toward the Tulsa Police Department indicates Tulsans have a largely favorable view of the department, but they want to see police place a greater focus on gang violence and violent crime in the future.
The survey revealed that, by a wide margin, residents were pleased about the interaction they had with police and the response of officers to the problems they reported.
But Tulsans also expressed some concerns. When respondents were asked to pick two crime types from a list of 15 they wanted to see the department work harder at preventing in the future, nearly one-third -- 30 percent -- identified gang violence, while another 23 percent named violent crime. Drug crime was third at 14 percent, and burglary was fourth at 10 percent. Responses for no other category reached the double digits.
Tulsans also have some major reservations about their safety in many areas of the city, according to the survey. While 78 percent of respondents said they feel safe while outside in Tulsa as a whole during the day and 45 percent indicated they feel safe outside at night, those figures dropped dramatically when applied to certain areas.
Only 12 percent of respondents said they feel safe in north Tulsa, 27 percent said they feel safe in west Tulsa and 28 percent said they feel safe in east Tulsa. The numbers were better for the Riverparks area (38 percent) and the downtown/BOK Center area (45 percent), but even those figures did not compare to the degree of safety Tulsans feel in the south part of the city (64 percent).
And very few residents -- only 13 percent -- said they feel safer now than they did five years ago. A total of 65 percent said they did not, while 22 percent were unsure.
Only a handful of residents -- 14 percent -- indicated they know a police officer who patrols their area. The department's new chief, Chuck Jordan, said in an interview with Urban Tulsa last month he intends to implement a return to community policing, an approach in which officers patrol a beat, getting to know a neighborhood and its citizens.
In a section of the survey dealing with general impressions of the police, 69 percent of respondents indicated they believe officers are well trained, while 70 percent said they believe officers are well educated. And 60 percent of respondents said they believe the department is doing the best with the resources it has.
The results, which were released April 5, reflected the responses from 1,713 completed surveys that were filled out online, by mail and in person. Surveyors sought responses from citizens across the demographic spectrum, including various age and ethnic groups. The department is required to complete such a survey every three years to maintain compliance with the standards of the Council on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies.
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