Editorials from Oregon newspapers
Albany Democrat-Herald, May 5: "Battle over dispensaries finally lands in court"
The battle over medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon finally landed in the courts last week, as the city of Cave Junction asked a judge to decide whether the state law authorizing the dispensaries complies with the state and U.S. constitutions.
The lawsuit, filed in Josephine County Circuit Court, is one of the first legal salvos on the medical marijuana front. You can guarantee that it will be closely watched throughout the state. It seems a good bet that the case will go to the Oregon Supreme Court and possibly beyond.
You also can expect that other aspects of the medical marijuana dispensary law will be challenged by any number of different plaintiffs.
The specific issue raised in the Cave Junction lawsuit revolves around the conflict between federal law, which prohibits the sale of marijuana, and the state law authorizing the sale of medical marijuana.
Like many other cities, Cave Junction prohibits issuing a business license to anyone violating federal law.
The city attorney for Cave Junction, Ryan Kirchoff, asked the Circuit Court to cut through the contradiction between state law and federal law. (It's worth noting that this conflict also could haunt the attempt to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Oregon.)
"It's not about the politics of marijuana," Kirchoff said. "It's about the rule of law and the status of cities and counties and institutions, many of which are home-rule entities that would like to manage this themselves, but are stuck with the inevitable conflict."
The specific facts in the Cave Junction case do not seem to apply to Albany, where businesses do not need licenses. In fact, the Albany City Council has cleared the way for dispensaries to open in the city, provided the establishments meet certain land-use restrictions. For its part, Linn County has joined a list of more than 100 governments throughout Oregon that have elected to ban the dispensaries for a year.
The legislative action that allowed governments to temporarily ban the dispensaries was intended in part to buy some time for the courts to sort through the various legal issues that have been raised. But it's not out of the question that someone could file a court challenge to the legality of the law allowing the one-year moratorium.
Or, for that matter, just about everything else regarding the state's convoluted efforts to roll out a system of medical marijuana dispensaries. Given time, maybe our courts can begin to create some coherence where our legislators and administrators have created continuing confusion.
The Daily Astorian, April 29: "Big Oil Is About To Surround Us."
In the same way it surprised Pacific Northwest coastal residents to learn in the 1990s that we live in one of the planet's great seismic subduction zones, it now should amaze us to be in the midst of a massive boom in crude-oil transportation facilities.
It's a bit like having multiple new interstate highways unexpectedly converge on some quiet Kansas farm town.
This explosion in corporate interest in neglected Northwest ports and terminals — they could barely give space away a couple years ago — is the product of several factors. The biggest is the history-making expansion in oil production from the Bakken geological formation in North Dakota and Montana.
Though some credible experts believe Bakken production will peak in a few short years and then start trailing off rather quickly, there is enough crude trapped in the field's ancient shale to influence U.S. energy markets for as much as a generation.
North Dakota has only two small oil refineries. Most oil must be shipped elsewhere for processing. With ample labor supplies, plenty of cold water for refineries, and much demand for gasoline, West Coast states are a logical destination for Bakken crude. In addition, a push is on to end the ban on U.S. crude oil exports. Terminals here would be valuable gateways to Asian markets.
Just last week, U.S. Development Group filed an application for what would be a third oil terminal on Grays Harbor in Washington. The newest proposal would bring about one 120-car train to the facility every two days, according to the Columbian newspaper. Each car can hold about 28,000 gallons. Earlier proposals by Westway Terminal Company and Imperium Renewables would, respectively, handle 1.25 trains per day and about one barge every two days, and two trains per day and one ship or barge per day.
These three facilities to our north bring to 11 the number of refineries and port terminals in Washington and Oregon that are planning, building or already operating oil-by-rail shipments, according to Sightline Institute in Seattle. Oil shipments across Washington are expected to triple this year from the 17 million barrels in 2013. A huge expansion is also underway in Oregon.
On April 17, The Oregonian reported that in 2013, 19,065 tank cars moved more than 11 million barrels of oil through the state, up from the 5,491 cars that moved 2.9 million barrels in 2012. Additional rapid growth lies ahead.
Just as Bakken development has spurred job growth and provided ample tax revenue in North Dakota, oil terminals in this vicinity will also be a boon to economically woebegone places like Hoquiam, Wash. But anyone who has lived in a place in the midst of an energy boom will testify that all is not rosy. All these impacts are predictable: Accidents and deliberate shortcuts on pollution laws; increases in crime, congestion and prices; and dealing with an ugly aftermath after the boom fades.
These considerations and others led the Quinault Indian Nation to say it is adamantly opposed to increased oil train traffic in Grays Harbor County, the construction of new oil terminals, increased oil shipping from the port of Grays Harbor and dredging of the Chehalis River estuary.
"The small number of jobs this dirty industry brings with it are vastly outnumbered by the number of jobs connected with a healthy natural resources and a clean environment," Quinault President Fawn Sharp said. "Derailments, crashes, spills and explosions are extremely dangerous and they happen with frightening regularity. The fact is that there will be accidents and there will be spills, and they will do extensive damage."
Corporations are targeting several coastal and Columbia River communities for oil terminals in part because we are perceived as economically needy, with relatively low-cost and underutilized industrial property. Looking around the world at other examples of the power imbalance between the energy economy and needy communities, the outcome is often dismal. The despoiled Niger River Delta comes to mind.
But even in the more likely scenario here — of marginal environmental degradation and a low ongoing risk of a catastrophe from a major spill — the Quinaults are on the right track. Local people and long-established coastal industries — including tourism and fisheries — must stay on top of these oil proposals. A majority here may not want, or be able, to stop them all.
It should be up to us, though, and not industry fat cats from far away to determine what our coastline's future will be.
Klamath Falls Herald and News, April 29: "State makes the right call on health care website mess"
It's time to move on for Oregon's abortive attempt to organize its own exchange for health insurance, but it's a long way from time to close the books.
The bills will keep rolling in and so will the criticism. Gov. John Kitzhaber is running for re-election, and the issue will be a major item. And should be.
His opponent is likely to be State Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, an early and vocal critic of Cover Oregon's failure to fully enroll anyone through its website.
Oregon officially gave up that effort Friday. State officials said Oregon, instead, will use the federal website to enroll Oregonians in need of health care and give up on the $137 million already spent on the project. That figure includes $3 million spent promoting it.
Rather than spend the $78 million it would take to "fix" the state exchange, Oregon will spend "only" $4 million to $6 million to join the federal exchange. Not much choice there.
It's important to know, too, how so many costly bad decisions were made. Even though the buck stops in the governor's office, it appeared at times Kitzhaber didn't know how badly things were going, even when others inside and outside his administration did know. Four people connected with the expensive fiasco have resigned or been fired, and two federal investigations are underway.
A state review faulted Oregon State officials for disregarding warnings about the problems, and the contractor, Oracle, for the problems themselves.
We've praised Kitzhaber for his willingness to take on some of the state's big problems, which included not just health insurance, but the cost of pension plans for public employees and improving the state's education system, and there were gains. His administration was also helpful in arriving at a water agreement in the Klamath Basin.
Undoubtedly, it will all be part of the campaign, especially Cover Oregon.
A political campaign isn't always the best way to establish facts, but the Cover Oregon mess needs a thorough examination.
The Oregonian, April 29: "Boggling IT failures should push the state to name its limits"
It took six months for the state to fully name the failure that is Cover Oregon by deciding to throw it away. It's been only days, however, since the revelation that another IT cyclops — a Department of Human Services online service called Oregon Benefits Online, to help folks sign up for food stamps — teeters towards the same fate.
Can Oregon dig a bigger hole in the ground? Or light a money bonfire?
OBO has eaten up $71 million of an authorized tab of $142 million but has been found to be only 11 percent complete and otherwise failing to perform. OBO was to have been fully functional back in the fall. But nobody noticed that it failed to be, because Cover Oregon had bellyflopped spectacularly and snagged all the negative attention. Bonfires, even at ignition, hold attention.
The common thread in the failures is Oracle, the California firm hired to create both IT behemoths and paid $48 million so far for OBO and more than $130 million for Cover Oregon. But bureaucrats and specialists within Oregon government did the conceiving, the hiring, the overseeing, the squabbling over authority — and, finally, the embarrassing backpedaling when their denial was pried open by reality.
It's galling to consider the scale of the waste. But the larger and immediate problem lies in Oregon government's capacity to manage complexity. Apparently, it cannot.
Health exchange problems of a lesser scale currently dog Maryland and Massachusetts. While California, Kentucky and Connecticut can brag about their simpler but successful exchanges, 36 states avoided blazing new IT trails from the outset by choosing to join the federal exchange, troubled at first but functional now and soon to become Oregon's marketplace for obtaining health plans.
Few things are as gnarly as let-the-computer-do-the-job projects that braid changing variables in real time from many thousands of users. The systems are at once powerful and problematic, requiring extensive testing during development to keep bugs at bay. Project management is everything — and in Oregon's case it was torn among Cover Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority and Oracle. An independent report about Cover Oregon showed a deep disconnect between Oracle and Oregon managers on the subject of system progress and readiness. Separately, a consultant's report on OBO faulted the project as "not built on a cohesive vision and managed in a realistic fashion."
Oracle has taken the litigation-ready stance of saying Oregon managers weren't up to the task of managing something so ornate as Cover Oregon — this while Oregon officials reserve the right to sue to get some or all of the money back. Meanwhile, Oracle remains steadfast when it comes to OBO, still in play, by telling The Oregonian's Nick Budnick and Jeff Manning the firm "will continue to support the state in providing long-term solutions for Oregonians and to assist with its ongoing health care modernization efforts."
Oregon faces three immediate challenges. First, it must fix or dump OBO with a full accounting as it separately migrates from Cover Oregon to the federal health exchange. Second, it must assess and name its capacity for undertaking never-before projects of complexity and risk. And third, it must devise and announce new, publicly accessible management oversight requirements to safeguard the public's interest on any project of large scale.
Significantly, it must do these things while navigating a charged political climate in which Gov. John Kitzhaber takes election year heat for allowing such failures on his watch. Kitzhaber has built a reputation, and won credibility with federal health officials, for advancing the Oregon Health Plan and leading the state's efforts at controlling health care costs — the latter with enormous federal support. But Cover Oregon and, now, OBO threaten to change that. Bonfires can leave burns.
The best Kitzhaber can do for Oregonians now is to make known how the state will proceed on its health exchange and OBO — and enumerate how, through new management reporting requirements, Oregon government will forever be inoculated against such debacles.
The (Bend) Bulletin, May 2: "Tight housing market throughout the region"
We don't doubt that the Central Oregon rental housing market is a tight one these days, nor that for earners at the low end of the scale, the number of hours one needs to work to afford rent is far too high. At the same time, those two facts are only part of a larger picture.
For most of us living and working in the tri-county area, our jobs do, in fact, pay us enough to find housing — if it is available.
The so-called housing wage varies in the three counties, according to figures from the Oregon Labor Market Information System of the Oregon Employment Department. Assuming one works a 40-hour week, that number ranges from $25,792 in Deschutes County, to $22,006 in Crook County and $20,235 in Jefferson County.
Meanwhile, the jobs that tend to pay just about that much or, in some cases, less, are heavily concentrated in the leisure and tourism industry and, according to OLMIS, include an above-average number of part-time workers.
Then there's this: While we continue to think of tourism, where the largest number of low-wage jobs are concentrated, as the largest employer in the tri-county area, it actually comes in fourth.
Leading the pack are those employed in the trade, transportation and utilities fields, with 19.6 percent of the labor force. Second are government workers, and the third group includes those in education and health. Combined, the top three occupational groups account for just over half the region's jobs. The tourism industry comes in fourth.
Worse for people at just about any income level is that lack of available rental housing in the region. According to an article published in The Bulletin April 19, only Prineville has an apartment rental vacancy rate above one-half of 1 percent. Its current rate is 2 percent, according to the Central Oregon Rental Owners Association.
Houses, too, are in short supply. There are no rental houses to be had in Prineville, Sisters and La Pine, the association says, and Bend and Redmond report only 1.2 percent and 2.3 percent availability, respectively.
Finding a place to live in the region is clearly no slam dunk, however, whatever the reason. No matter which numbers you choose, that is clear.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, May 1, 2014: " Oregonians among the least eager to move"
According to a Gallup survey, people in Oregon are relatively happy where they are. The polling organization asked people whether they'd move to another state if given the chance, and only 24 percent of Oregonians said yes. A likely explanation is that most Oregonians are here by choice.
People are less likely to say they want to move in only three states — Montana, Hawaii and Maine, where 23 percent said they'd leave if they could. At 24 percent, Oregon is tied for second place with Texas and New Hampshire. In Connecticut (49 percent) and Illinois (50 percent), just about half the people wish they could live somewhere else.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 45.5 percent of people living in Oregon in 2010 were born in the state, a lower percentage than all but eight other states and the District of Columbia. All but one of the 10 states where people are most eager to leave have higher percentages of native-born residents — 67.1 percent in Illinois, for example. The exception is Nevada, where 43 percent said they'd move if they could but only 24.3 percent were born in the state. But Nevada is an outlier in more ways than one.
The correlation between mobility and contentment is no surprise. People's most common reasons for moving are related to jobs or businesses — they're attracted by opportunities, or forced to leave because of a lack of them. A state with a low percentage of native-born residents can be presumed to have a lot of people who believe they have improved their lives by moving. Others — retirees, for instance — arrive by choice, drawn by a state's climate, scenery, culture or cost of living, and will continue to value the attributes they sought.
A state with a high percentage of people who aren't interested in leaving has an asset. These are people who will work to protect the qualities they appreciate, rather than seeking to leave them behind. That means they're more likely to be engaged in public affairs, protective of the environment and concerned about their state's future. Oregon is fortunate in having relatively few people who wish they were somewhere else.
The (Ontario) Argus Observer, May 1: "Idaho lets the sunshine in"
We couldn't be happier about Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's recent creation of a public records ombudsman in his office.
Otter signed an executive order creating the position April 23. The ombudswoman, Cally Younger, will review how state agencies handle records requests. She'll also look for ways to improve Idaho's public records laws.
"An open and transparent government is a fundamental tenet of a free society," Otter said in a news release.
We couldn't agree more.
It's refreshing to see Idaho's highest state official declaring the importance of a transparent government. As a newspaper, we believe the people who elect officials to represent them have every right to know what's going on in government. We believe decisions, especially those that affect public policy and public safety, should not be kept behind closed doors. We believe that the taxpayers who foot the bill should know how their money is being spent.
Apparently not everyone agrees with us. Sean Evans, publisher of the Idaho Business Review and president of the Newspaper Association of Idaho, said his organization has seen "a trend of public record denials recently."
When government entities hide information, journalists and private citizens who should be privy to the details often have no option but to drop the issue. As Evans pointed out in a news release, "Few have the resources or inclination to sue every time the government rejects a request for a public record." The result, Evans said, is "a block on the freedom of information."
We'd like to see Gov. John Kitzhaber take a page from Idaho's book and consider instituting an Oregon ombudsman position. There are more than 400 exemptions to Oregon's public records law. The Center for Public Integrity recently gave Oregon an F in public access to information. Idaho scored a C minus — a score the ombudsman position can only improve.
Thank you, Gov. Otter, for ensuring your state's government is by the people, for the people and open to scrutiny from the people.