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Editorials from around Oregon

June 6, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


East Oregonian, June 6, on respecting the road:

We know about Cabbage Hill in the winter.

We know about the long, weary stretches of Interstate 84 at night.

We know about the highways that climb and descend the Blue Mountains, the dusty back roads that connect the corners of Eastern Oregon and the busy intersections in Hermiston and Pendleton.

As drivers, we feel aware of the dangers that exist out on the road in the form of bad weather, difficult terrain and other vehicles.

But despite our knowledge, fatal motor vehicle wrecks remain a presence, month in and month out.

From Friday through Sunday, 11 people were killed in crashes around Oregon, according to the state police. If it had happened in one place at one time, it would have made national news. But the deaths are no less tragic because there was distance between them.

Pendleton lost Joanne Marie Norris, a generous quilter and artist, who will be missed dearly. Families across the state, country and world lost loved ones, too.

The pictures Oregon State Police sends out after a wreck can be difficult to look at, filled with twisted metal, shattered glass and spilled belongings. But crashes have serious consequences, and it’s important for us to understand their full toll.

In hopes of safer roads, the state police identified the “Fatal 5” — five behaviors that play a part in almost all crashes.

. Speed: Limits can seem constraining on the lonely stretches, or when there are few other cars on the road. But excessive speed not only makes a wreck more likely, it makes it more deadly.

. Occupant safety: From children in the back seat to the buddy riding shotgun, everyone should be wearing a seatbelt and sitting facing forward.

. Lane safety: The interstates are wide and give a false sense of security. Be aware of which lane you’re in, vehicles approaching from behind and that you’re coming up on, and if there are vehicles, cyclists or debris on the shoulder.

. Impaired driving: The East Oregonian lists all DUIIs reported by police in our daily police log, and it’s scary to see how many people take the roads above the legal limit of alcohol or another drug. You can’t do anything about them except be aware and set a good example in your own behaviors.

. Distracted driving: The dangers of looking away from the road while behind the wheel are well documented, and laws have been put in place to make it hurt if you’re caught. The smart move is to download an app that disables your phone while driving so you won’t be tempted.

Don’t get complacent. The roads are a dangerous place, but we make things much better for ourselves and others if we take them seriously.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, June 5, on federal memo on marijuana striking the right balance:

Billy Williams, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, recently announced his office’s guidelines for cannabis enforcement in the state, and you have to give the prosecutor credit for consistency.

In a memo, Williams said his office would target the illicit marijuana market (with an eye toward pot overproduction and interstate trafficking), work to protect minors, and “prioritize enforcement of federal marijuana violations that involve or pose a substantial risk of violence.” (A copy of Williams’ memo is attached to the online version of this editorial.)

Williams issued the memo after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to jettison an Obama-era policy (laid out in the so-called Cole memorandum) that largely tolerated marijuana in states, like Oregon, where the drug is legal.

Nothing in Williams’ memo should have come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following his reaction to Oregon’s continuing experiment with legal pot. And the memo strikes us as a canny attempt to find a response that balances the concerns of Sessions with Williams’ legitimate worries, all the while trying to leave adequate space for the state’s nascent marijuana industry.

The essential conflict is this: Despite the decisions by Oregon voters to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use, it remains illegal at the federal level. The feds even continue to (ludicrously) classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the category reserved for substances with the highest potential for abuse and with no proven medical benefit.

As Williams, his predecessors in Oregon and his colleagues across the United States dealt with efforts to legalize pot, the Cole memo gave them some guidance.

The election of Donald Trump added uncertainty, since it wasn’t clear what Trump thought about the issue — but the appointment of Sessions, a longtime foe of legalization, tipped the president’s hand. Sure enough, earlier this year, Sessions revoked the Cole memorandum. Williams’ memo came as a response to Sessions’ decision.

The Williams memo carried two overall messages: First, he said, his office has serious concerns over how marijuana legalization is playing out in Oregon.

But it also had this message: In general, legitimate marijuana businesses do not need to live in constant fear that federal agents will be knocking at the doors, although he declined to give the pot industry the assurance that Gov. Kate Brown sought, that he never would go after a legitimate marijuana business: “I will not make broad proclamations of blanket immunity from prosecution to those who violate federal law,” he wrote.

Still, it was enough to calm some of the fears of the state’s marijuana businesses: “I am not going to advise clients to shutter their businesses and I frankly don’t think this will change anyone’s view on investment,” Dave Kopilak, a Portland lawyer who advises cannabis businesses, told The Oregonian. “I don’t think this will have a chilling effect on the investment side of things. ... It could have been worse. It could have been better, but this is definitely down the middle of the road and a continuation of what we have done for years.”

With that said, though, it’s clear that marijuana overproduction continues to be a sore spot with Williams: “This will be a top priority until overproduction that feeds exportation of marijuana across Oregon’s borders stops,” he wrote. “Notably, since broader legalization took effect in 2015, large quantities of marijuana from Oregon have been seized in 30 states, most of which continue to prohibit marijuana.”

He also hit on a relatively newer point, one that was highlighted during a February marijuana summit he convened: enforcement of federal marijuana violations that have “serious adverse effects on federal land or natural resources, including water, air, and listed species.” Examples he gave include cultivating marijuana on federally managed lands, using unlawful pesticides or using large amounts of water for grow operations without authorization.

The Williams memo won’t be the last word on this topic, of course: Legalization efforts may finally bear fruit in Congress. Or the next U.S. attorney for Oregon could take a harder line. But taken on its own, the memo is nice work: It doesn’t send a deep chill across the state’s growing marijuana industry, but neither does it shy away from the serious issues that have emerged in the wake of legalization.


The Oregonian/OregonLive, June 5, on Portland City Council’s transparent anti-transparency:

Last week, the Portland City Council was considering whether to challenge the Clark County Sheriff’s Office plan to release a 1992 Portland Police report on child sex abuse, in response to a public records request. At one point in debating the unusual request, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman asked City Attorney Tracy Reeve who was seeking the information.

Tellingly, she hedged. “We believe based on the information available to us” that it’s the perpetrator of the sex abuse, Reeve said. Not surprisingly, the response provoked a visceral reaction. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz grimaced, noting, “that’s even worse,” before the council unanimously voted to challenge the record’s release unless Clark County makes redactions allowed by Oregon law in addition to those under Washington state law.

That hedging? Turns out that the person seeking the report is a Multnomah County public defender, representing the perpetrator on a current charge of failing to register as a sex offender.

The distinction is important. Telling commissioners — and the public — that the requester is the perpetrator is an easy way to turn sentiment against disclosure. But hearing that it’s a record sought as part of an attorney’s efforts to prepare a legal defense would have reminded everyone in the room that police reports are official government documents used in legal forums. Withholding such records should be allowed only for reasons that outweigh the public’s interest. As unsympathetic as a convicted sex offender is, the city shouldn’t be seeking to block a defendant from accessing a public record that may possibly be relevant to his defense.

Reeve, in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board, defended the omission. “I do not believe that is a material difference,” she wrote, adding that “the attorney is requesting the records on behalf of the perpetrator.” It’s material if you value transparency. The city attorney, transparently, does not.


The Register-Guard, June 5, on University of Oregon needing public support:

Sports columnist Austin Meek’s interview with Nike co-founder Phil Knight, published in last Sunday’s Register-Guard, touched upon a dilemma that lies at the heart of the dispute over the replacement of the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field: The UO is a public institution, with all the expectations of public involvement and accountability that status entails, while at the same time it is increasingly dependent on the generosity of private donors such as Knight, whose choices and preferences shape the university in ways the public cannot control.

Knight’s ability to grant or withhold financial support has a critical influence on how or whether the Hayward Field proceeds. For the UO, it’s not quite a take-it-or-leave-it situation, but it’s close. And when a track and field facility said to have a price tag in the $200 million range is at stake, the UO’s interest lies strongly in the direction of taking it, with a letter of sincere thanks to follow.

That leaves supporters of a Hayward Field design that includes preservation of the East Grandstand on the outside looking in. The only way it could be otherwise is if public funds were to support a meaningful portion of the project’s budget. But the days are long gone when the UO could finance a sizeable share of its operations, much less its athletic enterprise, with public funds.

Hayward Field is but one example of donor influence, and it affects not just the UO but higher education generally. Philanthropy has played an important part in the development of American colleges and universities. The effects are usually benign, but the choices have consequences: By endowing professorships and funding construction projects, donors determine which fields of study will be a university’s strongest. The only way to remedy any imbalances that arise is to provide adequate public funding. Donor support is welcome, and allows universities to do things that would otherwise be impossible — but correspondingly strong public support is required to ensure that universities remain well-rounded.


Baker City Herald, June 1, on vaccine progress reversal:

Oregon’s progress on vaccinating younger children against preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough was short-lived.

Disappointingly so.

In 2015, the first year the state required parents to at least pretend to be interested in learning about vaccines before they claimed a nonmedical exemption for their children by watching a 10-minute video, the rate of such exemptions among kids of kindergarten age dropped by 7 percent to 5.8 percent.

That was still well above the 1 percent figure in 2000, but at least the trend was positive.

Unlike vaccines themselves, however, the beneficial effect of the new law didn’t persist.

In 2016 the rate of nonmedical exemptions for kindergartners rose to 6.2 percent, and it went up again, to 6.5 percent, in 2017. This year, the state announced recently, the rate has surpassed the rate before the law took effect, rising to 7.5 percent.

To be clear, we’re dealing here with children who have no medical reason, such as a compromised immune system, to avoid vaccines. Their parents are choosing to ignore the advice of doctors, who, almost without exception, recommend children who have no medical issues receive the full slate of vaccinations. The logic is impeccable — the evidence proving vaccines are safe and effective, with exceedingly rare exceptions, is overwhelming.

The situation is somewhat better, generally speaking, in Baker schools. The percentage of students who have had all recommended vaccines ranges from 97 percent at Baker High School to 77 percent at Keating. South Baker’s rate is 96 percent, Haines is at 94 percent, and Brooklyn and Baker Middle School both 93 percent.

Still, the kindergarten trend is worrisome. As we’ve written before, we urge the Oregon Legislature to do what it failed to do a few years ago, and pass a law ending the vaccine exemption for students based on reasons other than medical necessity.

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