Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The (Bend) Bulletin, June 13: "Pay It Forward report shows expensive long process"
A proposed pilot program for Oregon's much-ballyhooed Pay It Forward program would involve 4,000 students and take 10 years to show results. The cost is estimated at nearly $20 million for the 2015-17 biennium, climbing each biennium to nearly $40 million in 2020-21 before gradually decreasing to zero in 2038-39.
It would provide tuition-free college to those 4,000 students, who would still need to pay for books and living expenses. They would repay with 0.75 to 4 percent of their income — depending on the number of credits taken — for 20 years after completing their schooling.
It's a popular concept in a state and nation struggling with rising tuition and staggering student debt. But seeing these new details reaffirms that the idea is too expensive and too uncertain.
The Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission is considering the proposal, following the Legislature's instruction to research the idea and come up with a plan. If approved by the HECC and the Legislature, the program would launch with 1,000 students in the 2016-17 school year, adding an additional 1,000 students in each of the next three years.
Some of the participants would be selected randomly. Others would come from schools serving disadvantaged populations.
In addition to helping all students avoid the burden of debt, the program seeks to bring more disadvantaged students into higher education in order to meet the 40-40-20 goal established by Gov. John Kitzhaber, which states that 40 percent of the class of 2025 should earn at least a bachelor's degree, 40 percent an associate's degree or certificate and 20 percent at least a high school diploma.
We share proponents' desire to provide equal access to higher education and relieve the crushing burden of college debt. But we live in a state that has been disinvesting in higher education for years. A recent study in The Washington Post showed Oregon with a 49.9 percent drop in per student spending on higher education from 2008 to 2013, the third worst in the nation. This is also a state that struggles to support its K-12 system. We should focus on those basics, not on a fancy, new and unproven system.
Grants Pass Daily Courier, June 11: "Legislature needs to take the lead on liquor reform"
A ballot measure that would make wholesale changes in the way Oregon regulates hard liquor sales has been put on the back burner, at least for now. Supporters of a proposal that would allow grocers to sell liquor announced last week that they do not believe they can round up at the necessary 87,000 petition signatures by the July 3 deadline to get a measure on the ballot in November.
The state Legislature now has a window of opportunity to get out in front on this issue. Although the question at hand is liquor, as with many things in life the real issue is money.
Not surprisingly, the main promoters of this change are grocers, who would benefit if liquor sales are moved out of stand-alone liquor stores and onto the shelves of grocery stores. Furthermore, one of the main opponents of such a move is the Oregon Beer & Wine Distributors Association, which is just fine with the system as it is. After all, if purchasing distilled spirits becomes more convenient it might cut into sales of beer and wine. Or, maybe not. But the beer and wine lobby would just as soon not test the hypothesis.
Then there is the state. And cities. And counties. They all have a dog in this fight.
Liquor stores that are operated by private contractors, yet remain under strict state control, are a significant profit center for all levels of government in this state. During the 2012-13 fiscal year, state liquor stores generated net revenue of $202 million. Of that, $115 million found its way into the state general fund and another $78 million was distributed to cities and counties throughout the state.
Granted, in a state budget that has a $16 billion two-year general fund, the money generated by liquor sales may seem like chump change. But the $230 million that flows into the general fund during a two-year budget cycle would be difficult to replace.
So, for now, we have put off the day of reckoning. However, it seems pretty obvious that Oregonians favor the convenience of buying liquor in grocery stores, just as they already can in both California and Washington.
Accomplishing this change in a way that is revenue-neutral would make a lot of sense. However, such a result is far from a sure thing at the ballot box. This is a complicated issue that would change the way the state has done business for decades. It would be best if the details could be hammered out in the Legislature rather than waging a campaign with slogans that fit on a bumper sticker.
The Oregonian, June 11: "Reynolds High School tragedy needs unpacking -- and patience"
On Tuesday, Portland and Oregon were thrown a hideous shock. A high school freshman armed with an AR-15 rifle, packing several magazines of ammunition and a backup semi-automatic handgun, shot and killed a fellow classmate and injured a teacher before shooting himself dead. The carnage might have been multifold greater at Reynolds High School in Troutdale had police not responded so swiftly, apparently forcing the shooter into a bathroom, and according to plans devised for this type of scenario.
It's the according to plan part that hurts most. From Columbine forward, from Thurston forward, from Sandy Hook forward, from Clackamas Town Center forward, we have adapted to a new world in which crazy violence erupts in crowded places and leaves the unsuspecting innocent dead. That was true on Tuesday for Emilio Hoffman, 14, who played on Reynolds' junior varsity soccer team and volunteered as a coach of younger players at Total Futbal Academy Barcelona-Oregon. In the hour following his murder, panic engulfed Reynolds parents, herded by plan to a nearby Fred Meyer parking lot and awaiting student pickup of another kind: the alive, the stunned who survived, the teenagers for whom tomorrow may pose yet thornier dilemmas.
To say Hoffman's death was senseless demeans him. To ask what was running through the mind of gunman Jared Michael Padgett, 15 and portrayed by Reynolds classmates to The Oregonian's Laura Gunderson as a serious student with an interest in the military, is to pose a riddle.
Padgett, Gunderson wrote after viewing his Facebook page, had listed 14 apps and games he favored, "including the 'first-person shooter survival horror' game Area 51." But the only illuminating truth so far about Padgett's state of mind is inferred from Tuesday's events: He was a live bomb waiting to go off, and he did, and he was trapped, and he ended what might have been a siege by putting a bullet into himself. Padgett, who carried his rifle onto school grounds in a guitar case, joined the Sandy Hook gunman in having appropriated his weaponry from the family home.
Sorting it out never has a plan, however. Pundits immediately barked about school security, public shootings, gun control, gun rights. The efficacy of expensive metal detector technology, applied in schools elsewhere, was debated. Radio psychologists told parents how to listen to young people suffering the emotional charge of an event so unscalable. All were joined Tuesday by an exasperated President Barack Obama, who blamed Congress for doing nothing about the flood of guns in a society weary of shootings whose frequency reduces tragedy to a one-day story.
It won't be so here. Not for Emilio Hoffman, who made people laugh, and not for his family and his friends and his lucky soccer students. Not for Padgett, either, for the tragic riddle he poses will need thoughtful unpacking. And certainly not for anyone connected to Reynolds and to our schools, historically among the last public spaces of warranted security and learning. The schools only contain our future.
Most Reynolds seniors weren't on campus on Tuesday. They'd finished their course work and were awaiting graduation, still scheduled to take place Thursday at 7 p.m. at Portland's Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Graduation from the Reynolds Learning Academy, an alternative high school situated nearby, in Fairview, was to have occurred on Tuesday but is rescheduled for June 26 at the Melody Ballroom in Portland.
Both ceremonies will have somber moments. But they will otherwise, in the best sense of the phrase, go according to plan. It's the only choice going forward. Education, and all plans to serve and protect it, are the things to which hope is attached.
The (Medford) Mail Tribune, June 12: "No perfect solution to gun violence"
Local officials are urging increased measures to make schools less vulnerable to intruders carrying guns. That's a good idea, especially the recommendation of a school resource officer that districts in the area should standardize their emergency plans. But no one should get the idea that even the best precautions can guarantee everyone's safety under all circumstances.
Improving planning and preparedness is one logical step in response to school shootings. Another would be imposing universal background checks to limit mentally ill individuals' access to firearms. We're not holding our breath on the latter; despite majority support for the move among the general public, the gun lobby will fight anything they see as an infringement of the Second Amendment, no matter how reasonable.
And no, even improved background checks won't prevent mentally ill people from getting guns in every instance. But even one success could save lives.
Tuesday's attack by a teenaged gunman who killed a fellow student and then himself at a Troutdale high school followed by days another shooting on the campus of Seattle Pacific University that killed one and wounded two.
The Troutdale shooter was likely suffering from mental disturbance, though he's dead, so there is no way to say for sure. The Seattle Pacific shooter, who was arrested, is definitely mentally ill, and told detectives he deliberately stopped taking his medications because he "wanted to feel the hate."
Meanwhile, local officials are looking to increase security measures in schools. Ernie Whiteman, a school resource officer at North Medford High School, noticed that Reynolds High School in Troutdale had a Twitter feed to notify parents when students were evacuated after the shooting. Whiteman wants to implement a similar alert system here, and is working with other school districts to standardize emergency procedures across the county so responding police agencies know what to expect.
As far as security systems go, it's simply not possible to make school buildings impenetrable under all circumstances. But some steps can be taken, such as ensuring classroom doors are lockable from the inside and installing panic buttons and buzzed entry systems.
On the prevention side, identifying and reaching out to troubled students with mental health professionals, as Medford is doing, is another positive step.
Ultimately, it may take concerted public pressure on Congress to get any traction on sensible gun sale restrictions. No one is proposing to take guns away from law-abiding, rational citizens, but not everyone with access to guns falls into that category.
And still, as the body count mounts, the gun lobby opposes common-sense efforts to deal with that small group of people.
As President Obama said after Tuesday's shooting, "There's no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this."
Except, apparently, this one.
(Roseburg) News-Review, June 11: "Roseburg VA needs independent probe to restore credibility"
By now the credibility of the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center is so shot only an independent investigation can repair it.
Up until Monday, the Roseburg VA distanced itself from the proposition that veterans must wait an unhealthy, literally, number of days to see a doctor.
The Roseburg VA had assured everyone of two things (facts): It promptly schedules appointments in nearly all cases and that it doesn't falsify records.
The nationwide audit of VA hospitals released Monday exposed the first thing as not true and called into question the truthfulness of the second thing.
Roseburg VA officials can crunch and spin the numbers all they want, but the audit found this: If you're new to the VA and call the Roseburg hospital to see a primary care doctor, you wait an average of 51 days for an appointment.
Maybe even more alarming, a veteran new to the VA health care system must wait an average of 47 days for a mental health appointment.
The waiting times are much shorter for established patients. That, apparently, allowed the Roseburg VA to rationalize asserting that the auditors found it does a nearly perfect job getting vets into see docs within 14 days.
Normally, the Roseburg VA would have stuck with its cagey claim, with some believing it and some disbelieving it. This time, though, the VA's national leaders were under too much pressure for stonewalling. The Roseburg VA looks bad here because the tried and true trick of circling the wagons didn't work.
The revelation that veterans must wait unconscionably long to see a VA doctor in Roseburg, as well as Portland and White City, contradicted what VA officials had been saying. U.S. Sen. Merkley, D-Oregon, had been misled and sounded like he'd been burned. The audit exposed waiting times "far worse than what local leadership has told us," the senator said in a statement.
The audit "raises substantial questions about whether we can believe anything we hear about what is happening in these facilities and demands explanation," Merkley said
Faced with such a demand, the Roseburg VA changed tactics Tuesday. The new line is: The waiting times are not good, but don't blame us, blame understaffing.
The Roseburg VA couldn't adopt this line sooner because top managers, eligible for bonuses, are loathe to admit imperfection in their organizations. Everything is excellent, until it isn't.
Everything isn't excellent at the Roseburg VA and more revelations may be ahead.
The Roseburg VA, like other VA hospitals that fared poorly in the initial audits, faces further review, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
This may answer the question: Does the Roseburg VA falsify records?
No matter the answer, a VA investigation of itself invites skepticism. The only hope for restoring credibility is involving another agency, such as the U.S. Office of Special Counsel or FBI. Heads may roll, but the institution, for the sake of veterans, needs to bounce back.
(Pendleton) East Oregonian, June 13: "Oil train information, preparation will save lives"
Railroads, including Union Pacific that runs through Umatilla and Morrow County, have been ordered to release information on the chemistry and frequency of oil freight to local emergency responders. It's a welcome decision, but state governments are still debating just who should be privy to that information.
Recent disasters underscore the danger of shipping oil via train. In Quebec, 42 people were killed after a train carrying North Dakota crude derailed, exploded and nearly leveled a small town. Another derailment near Virginia caused hundreds of people to be evacuated from the area after 30,000 gallons leaked into a river and caught fire.
In response, the federal Department of Transportation issued an emergency order in May that required railroads to notify local emergency responders whenever oil shipments traveled through their states, including detailed information about the number of oil trains each week and specific routes the trains will travel.
They had previously been under no obligation to disclose any of that information.
The order said the number of recent accidents "is startling, and the quantity of petroleum crude oil spilled as a result of those accidents is voluminous."
Other government officials are startled as well.
"I want to know how much oil will be shipped through my state and how we can be assured the kind of tragedy that happened in Quebec won't devastate families in our communities," said Washington Governor Jay Inslee last week.
Oregon governor John Kitzhaber said he has "deep concern" over the safety of oil trains. He wrote a letter to the Department of Transportation asking them to speed up the release of their report and to enact stricter regulation.
We see the need for regulation and we also see the need for information.
We hope state, federal and railroad officials realize the benefit timely and true data can be.
The basics — what actually is in those oil cars, where those trains go, how much flammable liquid they are carrying and how often they travel — is necessary information emergency responders need to prepare for a disaster and to respond to one.
It may not be necessary, but it sure could prove helpful, if that same information was distributed widely to local governments, residents and businesses located near the tracks, and to media who can spread the word and make sure people are prepared.
In a post 9/11 world, we are all cognizant of the threat of terrorism. Yes, that information could be dangerous in the wrong hands. But the truth is: it's dangerous now. Those trains are already barreling down thousands of miles of unsecured tracks. Crashes and derailments have already claimed lives, polluted drinking water, impacted transportation routes and caused environmental harm.
We are the ones putting our safety at risk, unless we impose stricter regulation — safer rail cars, improved brake systems, reduced speed limits and increased number of on-train employees — and give the public access to such critical information.