Editorials from around Oregon
Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 21, on righting an old wrong:
State Rep. Julie Fahey’s discovery that the deed to her family’s home includes racist exclusions was an ugly reminder of a shameful part of Oregon’s past. These whites-only covenants are not that unusual on older properties. Language barring people who are Jewish, black or of Asian descent from owning, or even occupying, a property are still on deeds from the East to the West Coasts.
These restrictive covenants have not been legally enforceable since 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court nullified them, according to The Associated Press.
But their mere presence on a property deed is a slap in the face to the groups targeted by these restrictions and a reminder that it hasn’t been that long since this type of discrimination was allowed.
Fahey, a Eugene Democrat, discovered that it’s not that simple, or cheap, to get these covenants removed. So she sponsored a bill that would make it easier. House Bill 4134 passed the House on a unanimous vote, with one absence. It is expected to easily pass the Senate, which held its first hearing on the bill Tuesday.
But it would be wrong to consider the matter finished, or to see the covenants as no more than a distasteful and embarrassing reminder of the institutionalized racism that is woven into Oregon’s history.
These covenants had more than an emotional impact, and were more than just an inconvenience. They restricted entire groups of people from one of the most basic ways to build wealth: investing in real estate in the neighborhood of their choice.
It also laid the foundation for a more subtle form of discrimination, Jenny Lee, a representative of the Coalition of Communities of Color, told legislators: “The impact of legalized housing discrimination continues today, as families of color face barriers to homeownership and are the hardest hit by rising rental housing costs and displacement.”
The Legislature needs to look at the repeal of these racist covenants as the beginning, not the end, of a discussion.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Feb. 20, on steps to sensible firearm laws:
President Donald Trump, visiting a hospital in Florida where victims of last week’s shooting at a high school were being treated, signaled on Monday that he was willing to consider improvements in federal background checks for prospective gun buyers.
Of course, Trump — being who he is — could easily signal something else tomorrow. And the fact of the matter is that the bipartisan legislation under consideration, which has been stalled in Congress for months, would have done nothing to prevent the suspect in the Florida school shooting from acquiring the weapon he allegedly used in the attack. The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, had no criminal record and bought at least seven guns legally.
But even minor progress in Congress on common-sense reforms regarding guns would be welcome, considering the pattern that Capitol Hill has fallen into: In the days and weeks after a mass shooting, there’s talk about moving forward with bipartisan proposals to plug this loophole or that. Then, those proposals fall off the radar screen until the next shooting.
For example, remember all the talk about banning so-called “bump stocks,” the device that allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire faster? The devices were used by the shooter in the Las Vegas massacre. That issue still languishes in Congress, despite support for the ban on both sides of the aisle.
It could well be that this bitterly divided Congress will be unable to move forward on major legislation regarding firearms in the United States. But that’s no excuse for doing nothing. Here are three steps Congress could take now that could make a difference:
. Ban bump stocks. The Justice Department has said it doesn’t think it has the authority to do that on its own. Fine. Then Congress should take care of the matter, and soon.
. Plug gaps in the nation’s background check system. The recent shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, highlighted a big lapse in the system: The gunman was able to buy his weapons despite a domestic violence conviction. A bipartisan proposal to fix some of the shortcomings of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System passed the House, but only after it was combined with another measure expanding the right of people with concealed weapons permits to carry those weapons virtually anywhere in the country. The combined bill died in the Senate. Congress should separate the measures and concentrate on the fixes to the background check system.
. Eliminate the Dickey Amendment, the 1996 measure that prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using money to “advocate or promote gun control.” To be fair, the amendment did not actually explicitly ban research into gun violence — but Congress lowered the CDC’s budget by the exact amount it spent on that research. The message was clear to CDC officials.
Not surprisingly, the amendment has had a chilling effect over the last two decades on legitimate research into gun violence. As a result, we simply don’t have the data that would allow us to assess what strategies might be most effective to reduce that violence.
The amendment is named for Jay Dickey, a congressman from Arkansas who thought at the time that CDC officials like Mark Rosenberg had crossed the line into advocacy. The National Rifle Association backed the amendment.
But the story has an unusual coda: According to a recent piece in The Atlantic, Dickey came to regret his role in the amendment; in fact, in 2012 he and Rosenberg co-wrote a piece in The Washington Post arguing for more research into gun violence.
Dickey died last April. The best thing Congress could do to honor his memory, ironically enough, would be to eliminate the amendment that carries his name — and by beginning to fund research that could illuminate the next steps we can take toward sensible, responsible gun control.
Albany Democrat-Herald, Feb. 19, on methamphetamine remaining a scourge in Oregon:
The New York Times ran a story last week with a Portland dateline: “Meth, the Forgotten Killer, is Back,” the somewhat breathless headline read. “And It’s Everywhere.”
If police officers or criminal attorneys or judges saw that headline, they might have smiled wryly and shaken their heads. And here’s the reason for that moment of dark amusement: They know, better than anyone else, that methamphetamine isn’t back.
It never really went away.
There’s been a lot of attention given, justifiably, to the opioid crisis in the United States. One result of that, arguably, is that we’ve not focused as much on methamphetamine, Oregon’s top drug scourge for decades now.
But that doesn’t mean meth has gone away. Not by a long shot. And, if anything, it’s more pervasive now than it has been.
New numbers released last week tell at least some of the story in Oregon: The Oregon Health Authority, using information gathered from death certificates, reported 141 meth-related deaths in the state during 2016. (Statistics for 2017 are not yet available.) That 2016 number represents a considerable boost from 2012, a year that saw 51 overdose deaths from meth, the Health Authority said.
In terms of fatalities, the 2016 toll from meth was just slightly less than the toll from opioids: The Health Authority reported 149 deaths from pharmaceutical and synthetic opioid overdoses in 2016.
The Statesman-Journal newspaper in Salem, which collected that data from the Health Authority, also tracked a similar trend in convictions for meth possession: From 2008 to 2015, the number of meth possession cases rose from about 2,000 to 3,665, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. The number dropped slightly in 2016, to 3,612. It’s too early to tell how the 2017 Legislature’s action to make personal-use possession of meth a misdemeanor will affect that number, but that’s something we need to track closely.
As any prosecutor will tell you, though, those conviction numbers only tell part of the story about how meth use in connected to other crimes: Property crimes, for example, often have their origins in meth addiction.
Oregon has taken effective steps against meth in the past: In 2006, the state began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make the drug. As a result, the number of domestic meth labs dropped dramatically.
But now, much of the meth in the U.S. market is being provided by Mexican drug cartels, which have flooded the market with pure, low-cost meth. The Times reported that dealers have so much of the product that they don’t know what to with it all. Prices have fallen, and the purity of the product has increased.
The problem isn’t isolated to the West Coast. The Times reported that meth violations more than tripled between 2010 and 2015 in Montana. Meth is easily the No. 1 cause for drug-related deaths in Oklahoma. In South Dakota, the attorney general has proclaimed an epidemic. And drug cartels looking to expand the market for meth have targeted the East Coast.
The bill in last year’s Legislature to make personal-use possession a misdemeanor was supported by the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, which said felony convictions include unintended consequences, including barriers to housing and employment. But the groups also warned that the law would work only if “additional drug treatment resources accompany this change in policy.” In addition, the state needs to be sure that it allocates sufficient resources to efforts such as drug courts.
It may be true, as a Salem police officer said, that we can’t arrest our way out of this latest wave of meth. But that means we have to do everything we can to reduce demand — and that will require savvy and creative educational and prevention efforts.
East Oregonian, Feb. 16, on Oregon Legislature no longer being a safe space for harassers:
State Sen. Jeff Kruse had to go.
His flouting of Oregon Senate rules against sexual harassment was egregious. His repentance, if any, was short-lived. His resignation is a relief.
When it came to changing his behavior, including his routinely breaking state law by smoking in his Oregon Capitol office, Kruse was known for promising one thing and doing another. That is why Senate leaders initially were careful to say little about his resignation, not wanting to irritate him into rescinding it.
But last week’s deadline passed and Kruse’s Feb. 8 resignation now is irrevocable.
It is unfortunate that the Roseburg Republican set March 15 for his departure, which enables him to still draw his legislative pay until then while leaving his constituents unrepresented for the rest of the 2018 Legislature.
An immediate departure might have enabled his successor, who will be a Republican, to be selected and sworn into office before the legislative session ends. March 11 is the constitutional deadline for the Legislature’s adjournment.
At least Kruse is out the Capitol door. His victims won’t be forced to recount his shameful behavior and their painful experiences before a special Senate Committee on Conduct, which would have included Sen. Bill Hansell of Athena among its four members. And the Senate won’t face a potentially divisive vote on expelling him.
This ordeal demonstrates that Kruse is not the only person with much to learn.
An outside investigator found a repeated pattern of sexual harassment by Kruse toward female legislators and female staff, including members of the Senate Republican caucus staff. Yet the caucus’ statement about that detailed investigation report said, “The behavior alleged in the report, if true, is obviously not acceptable to the Senate Republican caucus.”
. If true ...
Those two words underscore why victims of harassment are reluctant to speak up. Even when supported by compelling evidence — like the Kruse investigation report — they fear not being believed.
A power imbalance exists in our nation’s capitols and many other institutions. Staff members, and sometimes lawmakers, owe their jobs and their political careers to the people in power - people to whom they are expected to be deferential.
When allegations arise, these powerful people often close ranks. They say the unwanted behavior was simply misunderstood. They question how “supposed victims” can remember incidents from long ago, not comprehending that traumatic memories can last a lifetime. They cast the complainants as attention-seeking whiners.
Some of that occurred among Kruse’s defenders. They did not grasp the gravity of his misconduct and its searing impact on his victims.
But other senators did. On the morning after the investigation report was released, Senate President Peter Courtney asked Kruse to keep out of the Capitol. That afternoon, Sen. Tim Knopp broke with his fellow Republicans, said he believed the women and called for Kruse to resign.
“For too long, there has been a culture in the Oregon Capitol and some places of public and private employment that women need to put up with harassing behavior to keep their jobs,” Knopp said. “That culture must end now.”
That is a moral imperative. For the Oregon Legislature. For our state and nation. For the world.
Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Harassment, even if unintentional, is morally and ethically wrong.
Baker City Herald, Feb. 16, asking the question: What kind of nation do we want to be?:
This isn’t the country we want it to be.
Surely we can all agree on that much.
We don’t want America to be the country where places are known not for their people or their scenery but for their mass shootings.
We don’t want Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed last week at a high school, to join Las Vegas and Sandy Hook and Umpqua Community College on the grim roster.
What we don’t want to be, unfortunately, is the easy question to answer, the easy platitude to repeat.
The infinitely harder part is deciding what we’re willing to do, as a society, to make our country what we want it to be. Because we will have to make changes — and almost certainly significant changes — if we are to make meaningful progress in reducing the frequency of these massacres.
To make it more difficult (which, to be clear, is not the same thing as preventing) for people such as Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspect in the Florida shooting, from acquiring a semi-automatic rifle, or indeed any gun, we need to change laws.
But which laws?
Congress could reinstate the federal ban on the sale of “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines. But that would have no effect on the millions of existing semi-automatic guns, both rifles and handguns. The sheer number of these guns makes it illogical to believe that anything but government confiscation would greatly limit their availability, legal or not. This option has obvious constitutional connotations.
As for Cruz, media reports describe him as a “troubled teen who posted disturbing material on social media.” He had been expelled, for disciplinary reasons, from the high school where he reportedly admitted opening fire, police said. If we believe any of these actions should prevent a person from legally buying or owning a gun, then we will need to change federal, and probably state, laws. This raises constitutional issues as well.
But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that those difficult issues needn’t be raised if we are serious about making a significant difference. Despite implications to the contrary from politicians, pundits and others, we see no compelling evidence that easy legislative solutions exist — which is to say, solutions that don’t require that we dramatically alter how we deal with people and with the availability of guns.
It’s not enough to say, as many people say after every mass shooting, that we need to improve mental health services. Of course we should do so. But officials said Cruz had been treated at a mental health clinic and that he stopped attending more than a year ago. The question is whether we’re willing as a society to mandate therapy for people who are “troubled” and who post “disturbing material” on social media, but who haven’t been convicted of a crime. And if we want the maximum protection from the possibility that such people will commit murder, then merely requiring them to meet with a therapist will never be sufficient. We would need to incarcerate them.
The deadly combination common to each of these tragedies is a person who procures guns and ammunition. Our challenge is to try to prevent that lethal link.
Stricter enforcement of existing gun purchasing and possession laws, and passing more stringent laws such as those requiring background checks, could occasionally keep a dangerous person from legally acquiring a gun (there are, of course, illegal means). These laws don’t infringe on the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners — which is almost all gun owners, after all. Last February President Donald Trump signed a bill that canceled a federal regulation, which had yet to take effect, that was designed to make it more difficult for people to buy guns who receive Social Security checks for mental illnesses, or who have been deemed unfit to handle their financial affairs. The law would have added about 75,000 people to the database used for background checks. This is a sensible precaution and it should be reinstated and used.
Cruz, we learned not long before our deadline, allegedly made comments about becoming a “professional school shooter,” threatened classmates and possibly was identified by teachers as a danger. All of this might not have qualified Cruz for the federal database. But it should have constituted ample reason for police to have paid him a visit before he showed up at school with a rifle. That’s the aggressive approach local police took in late January when they learned that a man who had recently been in Baker City said he “might go shoot up a school.” Fortunately, his was an empty threat.