Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Albany Democrat-Herald, Dec. 18, on sheriffs' role in guns debate
It looks as if Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller might have been a few months ahead of his time.
Back in January, as you may recall, Mueller fired off a letter to Vice President Joe Biden. In the letter, Mueller said, in essence, that his deputies wouldn't enforce any federal law that he believed trampled on Second Amendment rights.
Now, as the year draws to a close, sheriffs across the nation (especially in Western states) are starting to follow a similar line, according to a story that ran over the weekend in The New York Times.
The newspaper focused on Sheriff John Cooke of Colorado's Weld County, who's making the rounds of the state explaining why his deputies aren't enforcing some of that state's new gun laws, including one banning ammunition magazines with more than 15 rounds and another one mandating background checks for private gun transfers.
Cooke is by no means alone in Colorado. Some sheriffs there say that they won't enforce the laws because they violate the Second Amendment — a judgment that, frankly, they might be better off leaving to the courts. To that point, though, the vast majority of sheriffs in Colorado have joined a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the statutes — a legal step that, of course, is well within their rights.
Other sheriffs in the state just say that the laws won't be high on their list of things to enforce.
Which raises an interesting point: Certainly, sheriffs swear to enforce the laws within their jurisdictions — but the fact of the matter is that they have to prioritize issues, just like dealing with a finite amount of resources. And, of course, individual sheriffs have wide latitude in determining which items move to the top of the "to-do" list — in fact, that's one of the reasons why we elect sheriffs, to make those judgment calls about the best ways to allocate scarce resources. If they consistently make the wrong decisions, voters can toss them out at the next election.
The truth also is that sheriffs, as elected officials, always will (at least to some extent) reflect the standards of the communities they serve. It's worth remembering that Mueller drew wide support from county residents in the wake of his letter to Biden.
It all tosses another bump in the road for those who would tighten restrictions on gun ownership in Oregon: If the measures are destined to be widely ignored by Oregon law enforcement officials, what's the point?
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Dec. 18 on free speech and political ads at PDX
Oregonians have valued free speech and nurtured a healthy, well-founded distrust for intrusive governmental restrictions since their state's constitution was drafted in 1857.
Oregon's founders purposefully gave their state's constitution far stronger free-speech protections than those listed in the U.S. Constitution. Anyone doubting that should read Article I, Section 8 of the state's Bill of Rights. It reads: "No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right."
That's about as plain as the law gets. Multnomah Circuit Pro Tem Judge Eric J. Neiman cited that same section in a ruling last week that struck down the Port of Portland's ban on political advertising at the Portland International Airport.
While the courts have ruled that the free-speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution make some room for government bodies to refuse political ads, the Oregon Constitution does nothing of the kind, Neiman rightly ruled.
The port could have saved the expense of fighting a lawsuit brought by Oregon Wild, the nonprofit environmental organization which, along with the Audubon Society of Portland and other groups, sought to display a billboard at the Portland airport. The postcard-like advertisement showed a large slope in the Coast Range that has been completely logged and said: "Welcome to Oregon: Home of the Clearcut."
The port also could have prevented a well-deserved public-relations black eye by first consulting the free speech protections in the state's constitution, which are the strongest in the nation. Or it could have followed the lead of the Eugene Airport, which earlier this year allowed the display of the same billboard that the Port of Portland refused. Eugene officials accepted the ad based on advice from the city attorney's office, which cited a 2011 ruling by the Oregon Court of Appeals, which found that the policy of Portland area transit operator TriMet to accept only commercial ads violated the First Amendment. (That decision has been appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, which has yet to rule in the case.)
Portland airport officials should have credited visitors to their airport with having the intelligence and reasoning powers to look at the Oregon Wild billboard and make up their own minds — as many visitors to the Eugene Airport no doubt did when they saw the same advertisement. Most people don't need or want government officials to decide for them whether political advertisements are persuasive, foolish or offensive.
The Port of Portland argued that it has traditionally prohibited political and religious advertising in an attempt to provide a welcoming atmosphere and to not be seen as taking positions on political or religious issues. But it's doubtful that visitors to the airport think the airport endorses every commercial product advertised in its corridors, and there is no reason they would think the same of political advertisements.
By rejecting the Oregon Wild billboard, the Port of Portland inadvertently insulted the intelligence of visitors who are entitled to make up their own minds about political ads, and it wasted valuable resources fighting a lawsuit it had no chance of winning. More importantly, the port ignored the constitution of a state whose founders understood that it is necessary to allow the widest possible range of expressions to safeguard against government meddling.
The (La Grande) Observer, Dec. 16, on Cover Oregon
Anger is not good for health. Apoplexy is even worse. And there's a lot of that going around the state these days.
Cover Oregon had good intentions. And the health insurance exchange may end up being the best thing in the state since the bill that made beaches public. But for the moment it is covering Oregon like a holey, moth-eaten blanket.
Initially last week, thousands of Oregonians, who sent in applications by the Dec. 4 deadline, were told they wouldn't have health insurance on Jan. 1, as they were promised. These unlucky souls, already stressed by the vagaries of the system and the complexities of signing up, would have to go elsewhere for temporary coverage. Blame technical issues with the exchange's faulty online portal, which has yet to sign up a single person. Not one.
But, later in the week, with its online enrollment system still not fully working, Cover Oregon announced that insurance companies have agreed to delay the deadline for people to select their plan, a final piece of the multi-step enrollment process. Plan selections must now be made by 5 p.m. on Dec. 27. The previous deadline was Sunday.
As of Tuesday, less than half of people who had completed paper applications by the Dec. 4 deadline have had them processed. Of the 37,000 applications remaining to be processed, half of these people will be eligible for Medicaid and will be automatically enrolled, said Dr. Bruce Goldberg, acting head of Cover Oregon. The other half, about 19,000 people, will fall through the doughnut hole and may be without coverage for a month.
As many people know, through bitter experience, a day without health insurance is a day too much. Think about it. Anything can happen. Cancer. Stroke. Heart attack. Bronchitis. Pneumonia. Torn meniscus.
Health care doesn't come cheap. It's said that two out of every 1,000 people each year will rack up an illness that costs at least $100,000 to treat.
Cover Oregon, to its credit, has added night shifts and a call center to try to deal with processing the mountain of applications. And it says it is working hard to rectify the technical problems with its faulty online portal, but that will not be a quick fix.
It's unfortunate that Cover Oregon was rolled out before all these bugs were worked out of the system. The system should be user friendly. It should not be something that causes people to tear out their hair and incur additional stress-related health problems.
(Salem) Statesman Journal, Dec. 18, on Cover Oregon
Cover Oregon finally is offering Oregonians some hope instead of mere embarrassment.
Under interim leader Dr. Bruce Goldberg, Cover Oregon is working around-the-clock to arrange health insurance for residents despite the program's dysfunctional website.
As the head of the Oregon Health Authority, Goldberg may well share responsibility for the management and technology decisions that led to Cover Oregon's woes. But in temporarily moving over to Cover Oregon, he has brought a welcome transparency and accountability to its work.
The health-insurance exchange has canceled much of its advertising so it can focus on serving existing applicants instead of attracting new ones. It has borrowed staff from state agencies, is tracking down applicants whose applications are incomplete, and is urging residents to work directly with insurance carriers when possible. It also is holding additional enrollment fairs.
"This is about getting people health-care coverage," Goldberg emphasized during his weekly press briefing Monday.
Some insurance carriers are allowing Oregonians to continue health plans that, under the Affordable Care Act, initially were to end Dec. 31. Some are allowing lower-income individuals to sign up for health coverage and to later add tax subsidies if they qualify. Under pressure from legislative leaders and others, the state also is extending its high-risk insurance pool. Meanwhile, work on the problematic website continues, with outside experts being brought in to provide quality assurance.
In other words, Cover Oregon has adopted the mode of disaster recovery, with an "all hands on deck" mantra and all options being pursued. That should have happened long ago.
It seems, however, that top officials at Cover Oregon and in state government were disconnected from the disaster awaiting them when the health-insurance website was supposed to go live Oct. 1. The Oregonian newspaper on Sunday published a devastating account of the many missteps by main contractor Oracle; the Oregon Health Authority and Cover Oregon. Mistrust and turf battles compounded bad decisions.
Those decisions deserve a thorough, honest and public investigation. Undoubtedly, there will be lawsuits.
But for now, the focus must be on one mission:
Getting health insurance for Oregonians who need it.
The (Bend) Bulletin, Dec. 20, on the next round of health reform
Oregon's health care circus that brought you the embarrassment and disaster of Cover Oregon is already dreaming up the next round of reform.
It's more can-do attitude from a state government that has proven it can't do.
The next experiment to be inflicted on Oregonians is ramping up state control of health care.
The Oregon Health Policy Board has shipped off the plan to Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Back in happier days, Kitzhaber told the board in June he wanted more ideas to lower costs, improve care and expand access to care. Specifically, he wanted to find ways to mitigate cost shifting, decrease health premiums and give health care more transparency and accountability.
Those are things almost every Oregonian wants.
The board's plan has three big recommendations. One is to require more public reporting of health care utilization, cost, quality and health equity. That information could create a better marketplace for consumers and give health care professionals better tools to figure out what works.
The second is to have the state government flex its regulatory muscle to control costs. It is developing a "sustainable rate of growth" for health care costs. It would presumably also need the power to forbid or punish those who transgress as it already does with health insurance rates.
And the third recommendation is to expand and improve primary and chronic care. One example the board looked at is Rhode Island, which mandates that insurers spend more on primary care. That comes at the expense of specialized care.
These fresh reform novelties are a welcome roost for the state officials ashamed of Cover Oregon's failure. They blame the problems on somebody else. They tingle at another chance to improve health care.
What could possibly go wrong?
But just try singing that song to someone whose family will not have promised health insurance come Jan. 1.
Oregonians need less hubris from their dreamy reformers.
(Roseburg) News-Review, Dec. 18, on timber plans: Wyden vs DeFazio
Numbers, charts and assumptions are being brandished like swords as analysts compare U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden's timber plan with a House bill coauthored by Rep. Peter DeFazio.
The Senate natural resources committee, which Wyden chairs, sought to draw blood last week by touting the findings of an independent, nonprofit research group.
Headwaters Economics concluded that Wyden's plan could deliver as much revenue to cash-strapped counties as DeFazio's, even though the senator's proposal would cut fewer trees.
"Voodoo economics," replied DeFazio, using a zinger coined by George H.W. Bush in 1980, when timber came off the Oregon & California Railroad trust lands as fast as it grew.
If you believe, "the devil is in the detail," the fine points of the plans are a good place to search for the devil.
The thing is, details aren't bedeviling timber counties or the wood-products industry. Overall federal management of O&C lands has been the dickens.
Wyden nibbles at the problem. DeFazio bites its head off. No wonder O&C counties and the timber industry are skeptical of Wyden, while embracing DeFazio.
Wyden has asserted, with more gusto than proof, that his approach would lead to annual timber production of between 300 million to 350 million board feet, a doubling of current levels. Estimates for the House plan range from 400 million board feet to 500 million board feet.
The House plan offers a clear path to achieving the goal: let the state manage (but not own) 1.5 million acres of federal timberlands in Western Oregon.
Since federal polices produce so little timber, it's logical to assume the House plan will raise timber production, no matter the fine print.
The senator would retain federal management. He says Congress and the White House won't relinquish control anyway, so why bother trying?
His lack of enthusiasm on this matter contrasts with his willingness to clash with the White House, intelligence agencies and other senators over spying policies.
Lacking similar passion for increasing timber production, Wyden has settled for trying to make individual timber sales harder to stop with litigation and by employing logging principles developed by professors Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin.
It's not hard to imagine Wyden's plan backfiring and actually leading to lower timber production.
Environmental groups won't stop suing to block timber sales, and Johnson-Franklin principles don't stress maximizing timber production.
Even if the Wyden plan worked as advertised, O&C timberlands would be under harvested. Douglas County's wood-products industry would not be as strong as it should be.
Wyden calls his plan "first and foremost a jobs bill." Yet, the House plan would create more jobs.
The Wyden plan relies on federal subsidies to manage the timberlands and fund counties. The House plan would use timber receipts to do those things.
Wyden's plan may be able to contribute some good details to O&C reform. But the best big ideas are coming from the House.
The Oregonian, Dec. 22, on marriage equality
For better or for worse, news that this state or that state has legalized same-sex marriage has become almost commonplace. New Mexico became number 17 on the list last week and the eighth state to join it in 2013. Here in Oregon, where supporters are gathering signatures for a November 2014 initiative, voters are looking at close to mid-pack placement on the marriage equality list. Ho hum, right?
Of course not, though there is some risk of complacency. Many states have done already what equality-minded Oregonians hope to do next year (the list includes 18 jurisdictions if you include Washington, D.C.). Even in Oregon, the constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage has begun to crumble, thanks to the state's recent decision to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Meanwhile, on the very day that the New Mexico Supreme Court released its opinion, two couples filed a challenge in federal court to Oregon's gay marriage ban. Two other couples sued in October, The Oregonian's Christian Gaston reported.
Beset by federal lawsuits and undermined by state officials, Oregon's gay-marriage ban is, it's tempting to believe, a sad and vestigial constitutional appendage whose days are numbered. And that's to say nothing of the whole sweep-of-history thing, exemplified by the growing list of states that Oregon has yet to join. It's almost as if the right thing is happening — and will continue to happen — without the participation of voters at all. So why should they maintain a sense of urgency about this year's petition which will become, we hope, next year's ballot measure?
The first reason is a practical one. Sure, the state has undermined Oregon's constitutional ban on gay marriage. And sure, the courts may finish the job someday if it comes to that. But why wait? Voters next fall will almost surely have a chance to address the underlying problem, which is the ban itself. That means signing the petition — it isn't going to qualify itself for the ballot — and, when the time comes, voting "yes."
The second reason for urgency is what Oregonians will have a chance to say next fall: We support you. Of the multiple avenues to marriage equality, the statewide vote is the most meaningful in that it confers privileges while expressing acceptance. Of the 17 states in which same-sex couples may marry, only three have gotten there by statewide vote. They are Maine, Maryland and Washington, and in all three voters approved marriage equality in 2012. If Oregonians legalize same-sex marriage next year, the state will become the first to have a constitutional marriage ban done in by popular vote. Every vote cast for that measure is one that says of Measure 36, approved in 2004: That's not who we are.
That's an opportunity to anticipate eagerly, and it's one for which 17 other states have laid the groundwork. These states have demonstrated that marriage equality can be achieved, and in the process they've exposed how senseless and counterproductive it is to deny same-sex couples the marital privileges and responsibilities enjoyed by others.
Take New Mexico, for instance. The high court concluded that the purpose of the state's marriage laws "is to bring stability and order to the legal relationship of committed couples by defining their rights and responsibilities as to one another, their children if they choose to raise children together, and their property." Among the New Mexico plaintiffs is a lesbian couple who've been in a relationship for more than 20 years. During that time, they adopted three brothers as preschoolers from the state's Children, Youth & Families Department. Two of the brothers still live with them, and the third enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from high school. Why in the world would an opposite-sex couple, with or without kids, deserve the stability and order provided by marriage more than these two?
Opportunities to grow complacent about marriage equality will only multiply between now and November 2014. On Friday, just one day after the New Mexico ruling, a federal judge stuck a fork in Utah's same-sex marriage ban, passed by voters in 2004. Such developments will contribute to the perception, and perhaps the reality, that marriage equality is inevitable in Oregon asnd elsewhere. But Oregonians should focus on the task before them, which is both to legalize same-sex marriage and to repudiate the terrible message voters sent 10 years ago.