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Editorials from around Oregon

April 11, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Oregonian/OregonLive, April 11, on long overdue wildfire fix:

For five years, Sen. Ron Wyden has pushed Congress to address how U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management leaders often must divert money from other programs, including fire prevention and forest management budgets, to cover the increasingly high cost of fighting massive wildfires.

Season after season, fire spending consumed an ever-increasing percentage of the federal agencies’ relatively flat budgets.

Finally, Congress listened and Oregon is likely to benefit. Eventually.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act was a part of the $1.3 trillion federal spending package passed by federal lawmakers and signed by the president late last month. The act creates an emergency fund of as much as $2.2 billion, which Forest Service and Land Management officials can access once they’ve tapped out firefighting budgets. That fund will increase to a maximum of $2.9 billion by 2027. It’s a common system used to pay for hurricane and floods and — as Wyden and others have long called for — finally treats wildfires as the natural disasters they are.

The Oregonian/OregonLive highlighted the necessity for such a change in its 2016 investigation “Burned” that delved into the devastating Canyon Creek fire in John Day. That wildfire destroyed 43 homes and burned through 171.9 million square miles (445.17 million square kilometers) of private and federal forest land — some that had been scheduled for fire-prevention work that was never completed.

Wyden, who has worked doggedly on the issue along with Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, said it finally became impossible for lawmakers to ignore as the devastating 2017 season that left 43 dead and 2,187.5 square miles (5,665.6 million square kilometers) destroyed in California alone.

“The summer,” he told the editorial board Tuesday, “was a wake-up call of what’s to come.”

Firefighting agencies spent a record $2.9 billion nationwide fighting wildfires last year alone, as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Kale Williams reported recently. The destruction hit close to home again last summer, when the Eagle Creek fire burned nearly 78.1 square miles (202.3 square kilometers) in the Columbia River Gorge and the Chetco Bar fire burned another 298.4 square miles (773 square kilometers) on the coast in southern Oregon. Both cost millions to fight.

Unfortunately, a few more fire seasons will pass before the change takes effect in 2020.

And, while the new law should stop the budget drain, no additional money has been set aside to recoup the dollars lost from needed fire prevention and habitat recovery programs. Years of so-called “fire borrowing” from those programs and nearly flat funding to those federal agencies have left many of our federal forests at risk — along with those communities that have grown up along them.

Hopefully we’ll begin to see improvements from the financial stability this new law should help provide. Even better, lawmakers could continue pushing for transparency and regular audits of these federal agencies to be sure that all that firefighting money is well spent. Wyden promises he’ll keep a close eye on that, too.

It shouldn’t have taken five years for this logical fix to move forward. Yet this positive, bipartisan work should be lauded by Oregonians who stand to benefit from the improved health and safety of the federal forest that blanket so much of our state.


The Bend Bulletin, April 10, on police having access to medical grow locations:

Enforcing the law shouldn’t be unnecessarily complicated. But when it comes to marijuana, the state may need to change the law to avoid needless hassle for law enforcement.

Locations of recreational grows are public. Medical grows are not.

The Oregon Health Authority says it can’t tell local law enforcement where medical marijuana grows are located. If the OHA gets a specific question about a specific property, it will confirm a grow exists. But it won’t just send out general location lists to law enforcement.

The OHA isn’t doing that just to be difficult. Medical grow sites can be tied to personally identifiable medical information. And state and federal law try to protect such information.

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson and Deschutes District Attorney John Hummel have requested the location list for Deschutes County and been turned down. They argue it makes it difficult to confirm which grows are legal, because they have to repeatedly make requests to the OHA. Hummel also says the law does not prohibit the list from being released.

If he’s right, OHA should release the list. If he is not, the Oregon Legislature should change the law to allow such lists to be released to law enforcement.


The Eugene Register-Guard, April 10, on fighting opioid epidemic requiring focus on prevention:

The Oregon attorney general’s announcement last week of a $600,000 investment in fighting Oregon’s opioid epidemic was good news. But much more work is needed, focusing on prevention as well as treatment.

The new funding comes from the settlement of a lawsuit Oregon brought against Medtronic, one of the largest medical device companies in the world, over a bone graft device.

The Oregon Health Authority will receive $260,000 of the settlement money to expand its Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention and Clinical Prescribing Guidelines Implementation Project. This will double the number of participating public health systems in Oregon, from five to 10.

The Oregon Health Sciences University also will receive part of the settlement money, $260,000, to expand a project in the Portland area that deals with pregnant women with substance use disorders.

This isn’t the first attempt by the state to deal with what is now routinely referred to as the opioid crisis.

In 2016, a task force issued guidelines for prescribing opioids. But these guidelines were far from forceful, suggesting only that physicians “should” prescribe the lowest effective dosage of opioids, “should” carefully reassess benefits and risks when increasing the dosage, and “should consider” testing a patient’s urine at least once a year for prescribed medications, other controlled prescription drugs and illegal drugs.

The state did, however, adopt stricter measures last year for patients on the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon’s version of Medicaid.

Among other things, OHP now requires documented verification that fee-for-service patients — who represent about 10 percent of Medicaid recipients — are not at high risk for opioid abuse or misuse. The OHP also limits the dosage and, in some cases, length of prescription for opioids. And it no longer covers any opioid prescriptions for chronic back or spine conditions.

The coordinated care organizations that cover the other 90 percent of Medicaid patients also have begun to limit opioid prescriptions.

But these changes apply only to the one in four Oregonians who are covered under the Oregon Health Plan.

Stricter limits, not just suggestions, on opioid prescriptions for the state’s entire population are still needed, as are better methods of tracking prescriptions to insure that patients aren’t receiving prescriptions for opioids from multiple sources.

Even more importantly, more attention needs to be paid to reducing, or avoiding, prescription of opioids in the first place.

Several recent studies have added weight to the argument that opioids are not even effective in treating many types of pain and that other, non-addictive options are equally or more effective.

Earlier this month, for example, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a 12-month study of 240 veterans in Minnesota who suffered from moderate to severe chronic back pain or hip or knee osteoarthritis pain.

The study found that the opioids performed no better than acetaminophen, an analgesic used in over-the counter medications such as Tylenol, or than a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Eugene next month will host the Oregon Conference on Opioids, Pain and Addiction. Hopefully, reducing the number of opioid prescriptions that are written in Oregon, and implementing strict statewide, uniform guidelines for the use of them, will be a key focus of the meeting.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 10, on Gov. Brown trying to thread tax needle:

Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to sign a controversial tax bill while asking the Legislature to extend a tax break to the state’s smallest businesses is a bit of a political gamble.

It also highlights a couple of facts about the governor that you may or may not be tracking:

First, she’s running for re-election.

Second, regardless of what you might think about her tenure as governor thus far, she’s got some pretty sharp political skills.

Brown said last week she was planning to sign the tax measure, Senate Bill 1528, which triggered substantial partisan debate during the closing days of this year’s legislative session.

Here’s what you need to know about that bill:

Oregon’s tax code is connected to its federal counterpart, so any tax reform enacted at the federal level, such as the measure passed last year by Congress, generally is duplicated in the state tax system. Last year’s federal tax reform included a provision allowing owners of certain types of businesses (generally sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability corporations and S corporations) to deduct as much as 20 percent of their business income on federal tax returns.

Since the federal tax system is connected to Oregon’s tax code, owners of those businesses would have been able to take the same deduction on their state returns. But the Legislature, without one vote from a Republican, approved Senate Bill 1528, which breaks the connection between the federal tax reform and the state tax code on this provision.

The results? The state pockets an additional $244 million in tax revenue, money Brown said the state desperately needs. But owners of those businesses miss out on a state tax break that would have come their way had the Legislature done nothing.

That’s part of the reason why business leaders and Republicans were urging Brown to veto the bill — and, to all appearances, it did seem as the governor agonized over the measure, asking for both proponents and opponents to lobby her.

On Friday, though, she announced her intention to sign the bill. But she also said she planned to call the Legislature into a June special session to consider extending a state tax break to sole proprietors, typically the state’s smallest businesses. The move struck some political observers as an attempt to thread a particularly narrow tax needle.

Politically, though, the gambit could be a stroke of brilliance: By signing the bill, Brown can say she’s taken steps to try to plug the budget gap the state will again face in 2019. And if the special session pushes through a tax break for small businesses (an outcome which is not guaranteed), she can hit the campaign trail and paint herself as a champion of small business.

There’s a potential downside for Brown, but it must seem to her like a risk worth taking: If the special session somehow implodes (always a possibility), she might still be able to argue to voters that Republicans short-circuited her effort to give tax relief to small businesses. Her argument would depend, to some extent, on voters forgetting that Brown could have vetoed the bill in the first place, a veto that would have given sole proprietors (and some other businesses) that tax relief, but in the heat and dust of an election campaign, that’s a detail that easily could be obscured.

No wonder that Republicans in Oregon seemed caught flat-footed by Brown’s decision last week.

Now, the action shifts to the special session, which of course will take place in the shadow of the November elections. The results of that session will shape how Brown and her Republican opponent frame this issue going into the campaign season.

But there’s a not-so-hidden message to Brown’s political rivals in her announcement last week: Underestimate her at your own risk.


Albany Democrat-Herald, April 10, on gun-storage measure moving toward ballot:

Oregon voters may get the chance to weigh in on a pair of gun-related ballot measures in the November election, if proponents are able to gather enough valid signatures.

One of the measures, Initiative Petition 44, took a step toward the ballot this week, as proponents submitted 1,790 qualifying signatures. That allows the secretary of state’s office to begin verifying the signatures and then to submit the measure to the state attorney general to begin the process of crafting a ballot title. (The other measure, Initiative Petition 43, would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in Oregon.)

Initiative Petition 44, sponsored by a group called Oregonians for Safe Gun Storage, would establish a variety of requirements for gun owners, ranging from how firearms should be stored to what should happen when a gun is stolen.

“Voters were consistently enthusiastic about supporting safe gun storage and reducing gun violence,” said Paul Kemp, a chief petitioner for Oregonians for Safe Gun Storage, in a press release. “The fact that we were able to quickly gather almost twice the required number of sponsoring signatures gives us optimism about qualifying the measure and passing it in November.”

Well, sure: Nobody is against safe gun storage, and the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of gun owners do everything they can to keep their weapons safe. It’s part of the responsibility that gun owners assume when they acquire firearms.

It’s true, of course, that not every gun owner takes the necessary precautions to store and transport guns safely.

But here’s the rub: This initiative petition, if eventually enacted by the voters, wouldn’t do anything to change the habits of those irresponsible gun owners.

And unless law enforcement agencies suddenly figure out a way to inspect the households of law-abiding gun owners (a notion that creates considerable constitutional questions), the measure likely is unenforceable.

A copy of Initiative Petition 44 is included in the online version of this editorial, so you can read it for yourself. As written, the measure would require gun owners to:

. Store and transfer their weapons with trigger or cable locks engaged or in tamper-proof locked boxes.

. “Directly supervise” any minor who uses their gun.

. Be strictly liable for an injury caused by their gun, unless the injury results from self-defense or defense of another person.

. Report a stolen or lost firearm to law enforcement agencies within 24 hours of the time when the owner knew or “should have known” of the loss or theft.

If the measure is enacted by voters, violations of the law could be punished by fines of up to $2,000. It seems likely that the law would come into play only in the wake of incidents involving guns that were not properly stored, had been stolen or were being used by minors who weren’t being directly supervised. (The measure, by the way, does not define “directly supervise.”) In other words, it seems likely that the measure would be used only to slap additional charges against people who already would be facing serious criminal or civil allegations.

Proponents of the measure argue that improperly stored weapons have been used in shooting incidents, and that’s true. But, again, if you’re not storing your gun safely right now (and, obviously, you should be), the measure wouldn’t change your mind. The bottom line is that the measure, if passed, wouldn’t do anything to make anybody in Oregon even one bit safer.

The petitioners still have a long road ahead of them before the measure makes it to the ballot: They must gather more than 88,000 signatures from voters throughout the state.

We don’t doubt that the measure is well-meaning. But it’s the latest in a long line of attempts in Oregon to legislate common sense. Those don’t work, and neither will Initiative Petition 44.

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