Editorials from around Oregon

July 10, 2019 GMT

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


Corvallis Gazette-Times, July 9, on nonunanimous jury verdicts:

Even busy legislative sessions like the one that wrapped up last week leave a long list of unfinished business.

One of the surprises in the closing days of the 2019 session was its failure to refer to voters a measure that would have eliminated a quirk in Oregon law allowing for nonunanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases.

It’s particularly surprising, because the measure (House Joint Resolution 10) passed without opposition in the House on June 20. But during the session’s final weekend, the measure was referred to the Rules Committee, which often is a place where bills go to die, especially in the days before adjournment.


It was not clear, in the smoke and dust of the final weekend, why the measure failed to pass muster in the Senate. There was speculation that senators wanted to wait for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Louisiana case involving nonunanimous juries; in theory, it’s possible that the high court’s ruling could render the question moot in Oregon. The Supreme Court has yet to set a date for arguments in the case, so the timeline for a ruling isn’t clear.

It’s also possible that the Legislature could return to this issue in its short session scheduled to begin in February 2020; that would still allow time for a proposed constitutional amendment to claim a spot on the November 2020 ballot. Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, has made this issue a priority, and she may well take another run at it in next year’s session.

Here’s hoping she does exactly that — and here’s hoping that Oregon voters get a chance in November 2020 to junk this nasty relic of the state’s judicial past.

Oregon and Louisiana are the only two states in the nation that allowed nonunanimous juries to convict defendants of most felonies. In Oregon, only 10 of 12 jurors need to agree in order to convict a defendant. (A conviction for murder does require unanimity.)

And Louisiana doesn’t allow nonunanimous juries anymore; voters there have approved a constitutional amendment that eliminated split-verdict convictions. (The Louisiana case before the Supreme Court involves a man, Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted in 2016 of second-degree murder in the killing of a woman in New Orleans. Ramos is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole; the change in Louisiana’s constitution took effect in January, too late to help Ramos without court action.)


Previous editorials have delved into the history of this practice in Oregon, so we need not examine that in great detail today. Suffice it to say that this practice was born out of prejudice against immigrants and dates back to a Columbia County murder case in 1933 that paved the way for a constitutional amendment allowing juries to decide most felony cases on a 10-2 vote.

Legal scholars (notably, Aliza Kaplan of the Lewis & Clark Law School) have written about the 1933 case, which involved a Jewish suspect, Jake Silverman, on trial for murder. One juror held out against conviction, and the jury eventually reached a compromise guilty verdict on a lesser charge of manslaughter. Silverman got three years in prison.

The backlash was considerable. The Legislature, responding to the outcry, voted to place a constitutional amendment on the May 1934 ballot to allow nonunanimous juries. The measure was approved by 58% of voters. Foes of the split verdicts have argued persuasively that the system was intended to silence the voices of jurors of color and to make it easier to convict minority defendants. Various efforts had been made to amend the constitution on this point — including a recent effort by the Oregon District Attorneys Association — but none had gained much traction until this legislative session.

The Legislature should take up the issue again when it next gathers, with an eye toward removing this taint on the state’s judicial system. There’s no need to wait for the U.S Supreme Court.


The Bulletin, July 9, on confusion over Bend’s plastic bag ban:

Plastic bag bans are a mixed bag, and Bend’s handling of its ordinance is truly garbage.

The latest wrinkle: The city of Bend recommended stores not follow it.

That may only make things harder on retailers.

Bend’s ordinance was mostly aimed at giving people a firm nudge away from using cheap plastic bags and toward reusable bags or paper bags. It essentially banned single-use bags and set the minimum charge for alternative bags at 10 cents.

New regulations always come with unforeseen consequences. The problems with Bend’s ban were foreseen.

Councilor Justin Livingston had pointed out the concern that a plastic bag ban may not be better for the environment. Bans may reduce nonbiodegradable waste, though switching to paper bags or cloth bags may increase greenhouse emissions. Others pointed out that a 10-cent minimum charge may be a subsidy for grocery stores. Councilor Bill Moseley said such a regulation would make much more sense at the state level. And now there is a state law. It is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1 and retailers can provide alternatives to cheap plastic bags for at least 5 cents.

The city ban and the state law have caused some confusion for shoppers. That’s to be expected and will eventually clear up. But the city’s recommendation that retailers not carry out Bend’s ban adds another layer of unnecessary confusion and hassle for retailers. “It’s a strange message to give out,” said Anne Aurand, the city’s communication director. Ain’t that the truth.

Responsible retailers have had to ramp up to comply with the city’s law. They have had to alter their bag orders, implement the charge in their systems and train staff. They are supposed to undo that and then reimplement in January? Does that make much sense? Only about as much sense as Bend’s bag. So not much.


The Oregonian/OregonLive, July 7, on a political reset for Oregon:

The final weeks of the 2019 legislative session made for some ugly politics. In between Senate Republicans’ walkout and Democrats’ hobbling of Oregonians’ ballot-initiative power, partisan conflict metastasized — both in and out of Salem. Sine die, it seemed, marked the opportunity for legislators and Oregonians as a whole to break from the drama and hit the reset button.

That reset, however, has yet to occur. Frustrated by the death of a carbon cap-and-trade bill, Gov. Kate Brown announced last week that she may resort to executive orders to carry out some of the ideas and policies included in House Bill 2020. While Brown is right to continue pressing for carbon-pricing legislation, she should abandon any efforts to implement such controversial policies by fiat. What Oregon needs most is thoughtful leadership that rallies people behind a common goal, not flexing of political muscle.

There’s already been far too much of that. Senate Republicans, mired in minority status, staged a walkout twice this session, fleeing the Capitol in order to deny the Senate a quorum. The first time, they disappeared to delay a vote on a new business tax for education, returning only after securing promises to kill two unrelated bills. The second time, they stayed out even longer, holding legislative operations hostage to block passage of HB 2020 which, they argued, would hit rural communities and their industries especially hard.

Their message, however, was soon drowned out after Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, warned that any Oregon State Police troopers sent to bring him back to Salem better be bachelors and “come heavily armed.” But such muscle flexing ultimately won’t help Republicans, despite the bill’s demise. Boquist now faces a formal complaint in the Senate, as he should — there’s simply no conceivable defense for making such threats. And Republicans have handed Democrats a potent weapon in future elections. Why should voters choose Republicans when they admit — twice in one session — that their only tool to effect change is a constitutional gimmick? While legislators must stand up for the interests of their constituencies, they also must let voters be the ones to hold lawmakers and their work accountable.

It should be noted that HB 2020 was not doomed by the Republicans’ no-show, but by three Democratic senators who ultimately decided that the legislation posed more pain than promise for their constituents.

That should resonate with Brown because Oregonians’ support or opposition doesn’t depend so much on whether they believe climate change is real. Rather, it’s how they weigh the difficult set of facts underlying any action to price carbon in Oregon.

Climate change is already having devastating effects on lives and livelihoods around the world, from intensifying wildfires to deadly heat waves and starving wildlife populations. Scientists have sounded the alarm that we are running out of time to stem the worst effects of climate change.

But Brown and leaders still need to acknowledge the tensions that make acting on that moral obligation harder to do.

Carbon pricing legislation is necessarily about inflicting economic pain on those engaging in acts of pollution in order to change behavior, whether it’s people driving gasoline-powered cars or farmers raising methane-belching cows. That uncomfortable reality becomes even trickier if options for changing behavior don’t exist or are exorbitantly expensive.

At the same time, Oregonians’ share of emissions is so tiny that even drastic reductions in Oregon would have nearly zero impact on national emissions, much less global. How should policymakers weigh the obligation to act for the common good versus the hit of a gas price increase of up to 72 cents a gallon in year one? And while cap-and-trade legislation could fund breakthrough research that yields global benefits far beyond any reduction in Oregon emissions — perhaps the single best argument for enacting cap and trade — what’s the right level of investment versus devoting dollars to mitigate the harm felt by individuals?

As obvious a problem as climate change is, convincing people what to do, how much to do or even whether Oregon should do anything at all is far more complex. To Brown’s credit, she said she will first push for a legislative solution before resorting to executive action. She is also directing her carbon policy office to work with rural manufacturers and transportation entities to figure out how they can meet emissions goals.

But this past session showed that even with a supermajority of Democrats, carbon pricing isn’t a slam dunk. Brown should not treat it as if it should be.