Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The (Medford) Mail Tribune, Sept. 10, on Oregon's medical marijuana dispensary law
Jackson County commissioners should breathe deeply and relax a little about a new law legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries. Their fears about an instant crime wave are probably overblown.
Gob. John Kitzhaber signed House Bill 3460 on Aug. 14. The legislation corrects a flaw in the state's medical marijuana system that made it difficult for some patients to obtain the marijuana they needed to treat the symptoms of serious illness and disability.
Oregon's law allows holders of medical marijuana cards to possess and use marijuana. It also allows them to grow it themselves or arrange for a licensed grower to produce it on their behalf. But they were prohibited from purchasing marijuana, and the statute made no provision for dispensaries to operate within the law.
HB 3460 will change that — after state officials finish drafting new administrative rules to govern the operation of dispensaries. It is those rules that have the commissioners fuming.
"Even if we wanted to put a countywide ban on this, basically, they've pre-empted us from doing that," Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said.
That's because it's a state law. County officials don't generally have the power to completely overrule state laws they don't agree with.
The other concern of Jackson County officials has to do with where the dispensaries can be situated. The new law says they must be in agricultural, industrial, commercial or mixed-use land, not within 1,000 feet of a school and not within 1,000 feet of another dispensary.
Commissioner John Rachor raised the specter of a 20,000-square-foot warehouse operating on agricultural land and the parking and traffic issues that might result. But there is nothing in the law that says counties cannot treat a proposed dispensary like any other permitted land use, requiring reasonable steps to mitigate traffic concerns and ensure adequate parking. In any case, it's difficult to imagine a dispensary, which can cater only to medical marijuana cardholders under the law, needing to be anywhere near that large.
The League of Oregon Cities endorsed the bill, noting that it allows municipalities to enact their own ordinances regarding dispensaries, so it's hard to see how counties would not be allowed to do the same.
As for fears of a crime wave, we think they're exaggerated. While it's true that the state's medical marijuana system has been used by some as a smoke screen to obscure black-market sales of the drug elsewhere in the country, it should be possible for state rules to prevent any increase in crime as a result of new dispensaries.
Besides, dispensaries will operate in the open, in full view of law enforcement, unlike the private networks of growers and "caregivers" under the existing law. The new law allows the Oregon Health Authority to inspect the dispensaries "at any reasonable time," and to audit their financial records.
The new law does not take effect until March to allow time to develop rules. If past experience is any guide, there will be plenty of opportunity for this county and others to participate in that process.
The (Klamath Falls) Herald and News, Sept. 9, on the "State of Jefferson" secession movement
Take a look at a Klamath Falls phone book and you will find businesses with the name "Jefferson" in the title. It also shows up in the titles of local organizations and events.
It is almost a symbol in Southern Oregon and Northern California of the distance in geography, culture and politics that separate rural parts of the two states from their centers of political power.
The subject came up last week as Siskiyou County, which includes the Tulelake area, endorsed a movement to secede from California and form a new state along with neighboring counties.
In the past, such proposals have sparked an interest in Southern Oregon, including Klamath County and part of Nevada.
In 1941, it was on the front burner. While it had, at best, only a semi-serious look, there were significant issues at the core, such as the lack of response from Salem and Sacramento to the poor roads and bridges that hurt efforts to develop the region's abundant natural resources.
The "State of Jefferson" even elected a governor, but the issue died when Japan attacked the United States, Dec. 7, 1941, and the nation's attention turned to World War II. But feelings of being ignored remained.
Times change, feelings remain
California is the nation's biggest state in population, with about 38 million people, and its third biggest in land area. It's bigger than many countries by any measure. So, it has huge problems with proper governance.
There's a similar feeling in Klamath County, though in some respects we think it isn't as bad as it was, say 40 years ago, when a visitor could walk through Klamath Falls and wonder what state he was in.
That was when the San Francisco Chronicle was readily available for sale on the streets and the Herald and News regularly ran the popular Herb Caen column about Bay Area personalities. Giants' and 49er ball games were broadcast on local radio, a TV "super station" from Oakland piped Bay Area news into Klamath County and when people talked about going somewhere for the weekend to have a good time, they were more likely to be talking about San Francisco or Reno than Portland.
Things changed and improvement in communications in various ways helped to reconnect Klamath County with the rest of the state. It's easier to get information about state government these days, thanks to the Internet and websites that let people track legislative bills and interact with state government.
Even as contact with state government has improved, Eastern Oregon political power has waned.
Political clout weakens
Part of the reason might be the 1964 "one man, one vote" ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that whittled away at the region's representation in Salem. Until then, Oregon legislative senate district boundaries depended more on geography than population, and Eastern Oregon didn't automatically lose political representation when its part of the state senate grew proportionately smaller.
That was also true for California and other states, and beginning with the 1970 census, boundaries of both houses of the state legislatures depended entirely on population, instead of only the state House of Representatives. Since then, Eastern Oregon senate districts kept getting bigger in area, and more of the districts — and their legislative votes — were moved to western Oregon, where the people were.
As more political power flowed to the urban areas of Oregon and California, a more restrictive and regulatory attitude toward use of natural resources developed, and differences in values between urban and rural were a part of that.
We don't know where Siskiyou County's effort will go. But if it can at least deliver a message that gets heard, that will be worth something.
The La Grande Observer, Sept. 9, on Sen. Wyden's bill on Eastside forests
You can't eat the scenery. Any way you cut it, Eagle Cap granite is hard on the molars. And the Blue Mountains aren't made of blue cheese.
Fourteen eastside county commissioners with enough meetings under their belts to win a Nobel Sitting Prize have looked at this issue from every angle. They've talked with the experts and the guy next door.
The bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, known as the Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Acts of 2013, doesn't go far enough.
The bill doesn't ensure a reliable supply of timber to keep mills in business and to restore family wage jobs that would once again make the local economy hum.
Wyden's plan, the commissioners agree, also doesn't give enough power to local Forest Service specialists who know the unique concerns of the Wallowa-Whitman and Umatilla national forests. Congress has no business managing forests. With its track record of debt and contentiousness, Congress thinking it might successfully manage national forests is a stretch. What's good for Ohio is not necessarily what's good for Oregon.
Sure, we want to preserve the forests for future generations, not just from here but from across America. We want our children and grandchildren to have the same access and privileges we do to harvest wood, pick mushrooms, and hunt and fish in a forest not denuded for the profit of industry and bigwigs in distant cities. We don't want our calendar shots turned into posters of pillage.
The question arises, what happened to multiple-use management? What happened to balancing the needs of people with the needs of fish, wildlife, owls and butterflies? Each species is important in the overall scheme, even humans.
Wyden means well. He is a man of character and intelligence who works hard for Oregon and our values of self-reliance and a love for the land.
Still, the commissioners are right on this one. The recession has hit hard. People are hurting. Electricity and gas bills need to be paid. Children are leaving to find work in distant cities.
We welcome visitors from far and wide to enjoy our wide-open spaces and grand vistas. But we cannot live by tourism and service industry jobs alone.
The scenery in Northeast Oregon is dazzling. It is a privilege to live here in the shadow of the Blue and Wallowa mountains. Still, granite makes a pretty chunky stew.
The (Bend) Bulletin, Sept. 13, on review of health insurance premium rates
How can Oregon's robust and open review of health insurance premium rates possibly be bad? Let us count some ways.
Gov. John Kitzhaber asked the Oregon Health Policy Board to recommend more health care reforms for Oregon. He wants what everybody wants — the so-called triple aim of controlling of health care costs, improved quality of care and healthier Oregonians. And one solution he wants examined is enhancing insurance premium rate review.
How much then can insurance rate review deliver?
There are many good things about Oregon's rate review. It's similar to the review that power companies must go through. The insurance rate review is also very open.
The premium increase proposals made by insurers are available to the public. There are open public hearings. The state even pays OSPIRG, an Oregon consumer group, to act as a voice for consumers and question the technical and complex assertions in the proposals.
The state also has the authority from the Legislature to modify a requested health insurance premium increase. The state can even and has decided to require insurance companies to set their premiums so the insurer loses money on some lines of business.
There is no question that Oregon's review process has saved some consumers money. Rate increase requests are routinely lowered.
How much closer, though, is it getting Oregon to that triple aim?
First of all, it doesn't help everybody. Insurance rate review only covers individual and small group plans. And because it only covers those individual and small group plans, it may be increasing premiums for other consumers on commercial or large group plans as insurers make up for lower rates.
One "solution" would be to expand insurance rate review so that it covers more plans.
But rate review has other limitations. It's about making guesses about the future based on the past. That's part art and part science. It's uncertain and unpredictable. And when the government gets more involved, it could drive insurers to leave Oregon's competitive insurance marketplace.
Rate review is also an isolated attack on a complex problem of health care costs. There are so many drivers of health care costs — lifestyle choices, taxes and fees, the difficulty of turning down a patient, liability costs, consolidation of providers, research and development. Rate review won't tame much of that.
Did you know, for instance, that at the same time the federal health reform is trying to control premiums, they include a new tax on premiums that will drive up the cost? Rate review doesn't solve that contradiction.
Rhode Island made one of the more profound changes in its rate review. It used it as a lever to require insurers to ramp up spending on primary care. The idea being that more money spent on primary care means less health care spending on more expensive care down the road.
It's only been a handful of years since those changes went into effect, but as Rhode Island's former insurance commissioner told the Oregon Health Policy Board this week, "we were not appreciably bending the cost curve."
Rate review may be relatively easy to ramp up in Oregon. That doesn't mean it can be relied on for results.
The Oregonian, Sept. 12, on the battle title for the "right to work" initiative
The Oregon Supreme Court passed judgment Thursday on the ballot title for Initiative Petition 9, better known as the "right to work" proposal that may be heading for a November 2014 vote. People on both sides of the fight proclaimed themselves pleased with the court's work, which means that Oregonians should be pleased as well. The ballot title will now be more comprehensive, but the changes won't be dramatic enough to dissuade the petition's sponsor.
The initiative would allow public employees who hold jobs covered by union contracts to opt out of what are known as fair share fees. These fees, paid by people who choose not to become union members, are intended to cover the cost of representation and bargaining. They can be substantial. In Portland Public Schools, where the same rate applies to union members and fair share members, full-time teachers pay $74.67 per month. As of mid-August, according to the district, the Portland Association of Teachers was collecting deductions from 1,954 members and 707 fair share payers.
The best argument in favor of the proposed measure, which would apply only to public sector employees, is that people shouldn't be compelled to support politically active organizations against their will. Fair share fees pay for representation and organization rather than political activity, but such a distinction is not particularly meaningful. The money extracted from fair share members strengthens organizations that engage in activity with which some, and perhaps many, fair share members disagree. Which is, perhaps, why they choose not to become members in the first place.
The best argument against the initiative is that it creates a "free rider" effect, in which people who benefit from union representation aren't required to pay for it. The Supreme Court's ruling will require the petition's ballot title to include information about this consequence. Unions are pleased with this, as The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes reported.
The proposal's sponsor, Jill Gibson Odell, says she's pleased with the ruling as well. The court dismissed the bulk of the unions' challenges to the ballot title. Meanwhile, says Odell, "I think that I prevailed on the most important argument, which is that the words 'compulsory payment' be retained" in the ballot title's caption. Nothing in the court's ruling, in other words, has persuaded her to abandon the effort.
And that's a good thing. Odell's right-to-work proposal might make it on the ballot and fail miserably, but it's a discussion Oregon ought to have. The "free rider" effect is real, and permitting it would necessarily weaken unions to some degree. But protecting unions should be less important to Oregonians than protecting individuals who object — imagine that — to making forced payments to politically active organizations.
Giving employees a choice in the matter, by the way, won't prohibit unions from collecting money. They'll just have to use persuasion rather than coercion, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Albany Democrat-Herald, Sept. 16, on community colleges' role in reshaping the economy
We're still a couple of weeks away from the first day of classes at Linn-Benton Community College's Advanced Transportation Technology Center, but the center nevertheless offers a great example of the increasingly important role that community colleges will play in reshaping our economy.
Greenberry Construction of Corvallis has been working to renovate the 35,000-square-foot structure in Lebanon — formerly, a Pape Manufacturing site — since the first week of July. LBCC officials say the project is on schedule for an Oct. 1 completion date.
When finished, the site will allow LBCC students the chance to hone their skills on a variety of different vehicles, including the most recent electric passenger vehicles.
A primary focus will be offering students training in working with alternative fuel vehicles, and the center will feature access to eight alternative fuel sources, from electricity to propane to compressed natural gas. The site also will feature several electrical charging stations.
The idea is obvious: To offer training that will give students a leg up in working with the type of alternative-fuel vehicles that increasingly are showing up on our highways. The result: Trained workers ready to step into well-paying, in-demand jobs. It's exactly the kind of work force training that community colleges can provide.
In the words of LBCC's Gary Price: "The whole idea is to get people employed."
Plans for the next phase of the Advanced Transportation Technology Center include a new 10,000 square-foot innovation center that will focus on research and development. That site will offer services to the private sector, which seems reasonable considering that the private sector has put up much of the funding required to launch the center.
And it's the sort of private-public partnership that community colleges, in particular, seem well-suited to tackle. Part of the mission of our community colleges involves identifying and responding to work-force trends — to identify the sorts of careers that will be in demand in the future and figuring out ways to train students for those careers.
It's a tricky business, and it requires close relationships with the private sector. Part of the challenge is to keep an eye on the changing economy and to make smart predictions about future trends.
In this case, the Advanced Transportation Training Center has hit a nice sweet spot. There's little doubt about the need for trained automotive technicians, and it seems that the center's graduates will be ready to deal with the complex demands presented by our vehicles — both today and tomorrow.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard on Art Robinson's request for urine samples
Art Robinson can expect a lot of ridicule for his latest project — to collect and analyze the urine samples of everyone in Josephine County. He should be used to it by now, because his unconventional scientific postulates and inquiries were widely mocked during his two losing congressional campaigns against Rep. Peter DeFazio. But people should not discount the possibility that Robinson, newly elected chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, is doing useful work in his Cave Junction laboratory.
Robinson can claim at least partial credit for inventing the field of metabolomics — the study of chemical products of plant or animal metabolisms to detect patterns or abnormalities. More than 40 years ago, he and his then-partner, two-time Nobel Prize-winner Linus Pauling, were the first to use a mass spectrometer as a metabolic profiling device. Their aim was to identify the metabolic markers of cancers, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and other diseases.
Robinson's research led nowhere— he claims in his 2012 campaign book "Common Sense" that his data were sabotaged by a competitor. Robinson had a falling out with Pauling and moved his family to Oregon. But metabolomics has emerged as a productive field. Robinson has never lost interest in it, partly because he believes metabolic profiling might have led to an early diagnosis of his wife's fatal case of pancreatic disease.
The power of spectrometers and computing equipment has vastly increased since Robinson performed his early work. He has this gear in his Cave Junction lab and can process large volumes of samples quickly, testing for thousands of metabolites. His plan now is to derive a metabolic profile from the urine samples of all Josephine County residents who agree to participate. It's free-lance science, unconnected to any university, corporation or government agency.
There are reasons to question whether Robinson's project will yield useful information. Some of the samples are likely to be contaminated by pranksters who return vials of cat urine or Budweiser. The samples might be degraded during days of transit through the U.S. mail.
Even if Robinson obtains a statistically meaningful number of viable samples, it might not be possible to interpret the results of their analysis. Peer review of any results could reveal other deficiencies. And Robinson's tendency to see conspiracies all around him — as when he accused Oregon State University of torpedoing his children's academic careers — may color any findings.
Robinson's chief interest, according to the mailing he sent to Josephine County households, relates to longevity. More limited research of the same type is already being conducted elsewhere on mice. A countywide metabolic database might have unexpected uses, such as revealing the prevalence of dietary imbalances or exposure to toxic chemicals.
None of this will advance the fortunes of the Oregon GOP, which will now be known as the party led by the man who wants everybody's urine. Robinson's scientific and quasi-scientific endeavors have always been political liabilities, ranging from his campaign to challenge the consensus on climate change to his interest in the possibility that exposure to small doses of radiation has health benefits.
In a political campaign, such ideas are labeled as those of a crank. In the laboratory, they can be the mark of an iconoclast. Robinson is clearly better suited to the latter.