- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

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The Journal Record, Jan. 19, 2015

Chance for compassion

This week we expect to see plenty of bills filed that are pro-life or hope to strengthen the state’s rights while curtailing the role of the federal government.

We did not expect to see one penned by a Democrat.

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, on Friday filed House Bill 1074, the Right-to-Try Act. Modeled after a Colorado law that was drafted by the Goldwater Institute, Morrissette’s bill would give terminally ill patients the opportunity to use drugs not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Colorado is one of five states that recently passed a right-to-try law; the others are Michigan, Louisiana, Missouri and Arizona.

Under the law, licensed physicians would be able to go directly to the drugmaker to learn of a medication’s risks, then decide whether it is appropriate for a patient. That system would bypass an existing FDA program that makes as-yet-unapproved drugs available to terminally ill patients and others. Officially called expanded access and more commonly known as compassionate use, the FDA has granted nearly every request since the program’s 1987 inception. The trouble is that even that work-around can take a lot more time than some patients can afford, and the application process can be more time-consuming than the doctor can handle.

Pharmaceutical companies are surprisingly reluctant to support the right-to-try movement. In November, Sascha Haverfield, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry’s trade group, told U.S. News and World Report that there were serious concerns with any approach to make investigational medicines available that seeks to bypass the oversight of the FDA and clinical trial process, which is not in the best interest of patients and public health.

Medical ethicist Arthur Caplan pointed out that right-to-try laws have little effect because access, supply and affordability of the drug frequently pose insurmountable hurdles.

Let us assume that Morrissette’s right-to-try bill is nothing more than a placebo, as Caplan suggests. By definition, there is no harm in a placebo. Even if a new drug comes with bad side effects, the patient would have knowingly taken the risk. The bill could help extend or save a life, and none among us would keep even the unlikeliest hope from the hands of the dying.

This bill should get bipartisan support and pass early in the session.

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The Oklahoman, Jan. 19, 2015

Are two years really needed to examine justice issues in Oklahoma?

Our excitement about Gov. Mary Fallin forming a high-level committee to guide criminal justice reform efforts is tempered by the fact the group will have two years to issue its recommendations.

A news release from the governor’s office says the committee “is to present its findings to the governor and the legislative leaders by Dec. 31, 2016.” So that’s the drop-dead date, and it’s certainly possible the committee will get to the finish line before then. But does anyone want to take that bet?

Fallin is seeking better ways to treat nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems and mental health issues. Amen! Oklahoma has a large population who struggle with those issues, and they contribute greatly to people winding up in prison. For example, 44 percent of nonviolent admissions from 2005 to 2012 were drug related.

The committee includes Fallin, the attorney general, the Senate president pro tem, the House speaker, the head of the Department of Corrections and the head of the state’s mental health agency, or their designees. They ought to consider adding a representative from the District Attorneys Council, as prosecutors’ insight could prove invaluable.

The committee already has plenty of data it can reference, which should help quicken its work. Those who helped get the Justice Reinvestment Initiative approved by the Legislature in 2012 provided reams of information about the need for, and benefits of, alternative sentencing options. In addition, Fallin last summer tasked a Harvard graduate fellow to dig into JRI, many pieces of which haven’t been implemented. His report could answer many of the committee’s questions.

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, says proper funding and implementation of JRI is what’s needed, not “kicking the can down the road for two more years.” Our hope is that this exercise doesn’t last anywhere near that long. It certainly shouldn’t have to, given the foundation already in place.

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Tulsa World, Jan. 20, 2015

When is free college tuition not really free?

President Barack Obama wants every American kid to go to community college for free for two years.

That’s everyone’s favorite price, right? Free.

But there’s a catch. It wouldn’t really be free. Nothing ever is.

What details have been released so far on Obama’s America’s College Promise program show that it would cost federal taxpayers $60 billion over 10 years. And the states would still get to pick up billions more.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re big fans of higher education. We believe that it’s the best path to prosperity, and it is in the community’s best interest to make sure that every young person has an affordable opportunity to get a proper education.

Tulsa Community College’s publicly funded Tulsa Achieves program (tuition-free, fee-free classes for two years for any Tulsa County high school graduate with a 2.0 grade point average) is one of the smartest investments this community has ever made in itself. Our only disappointment in the program is that more young people aren’t taking advantage of it.

But one of the best aspects of Tulsa Achieves is that it is a local program: Locally funded and locally tailored to meet local needs. Local taxpayers can see the need that is being met and feel comfortable with the process, or they can put pressure on local officials to change it.

We don’t want innovative programs like Tulsa Achieves to face a one-size-fits-all Washington stamp press conformity mandate.

We’ll listen to Obama’s program when he rolls out the details, but we’ll do so with a healthy grain of salt. Community colleges can be the heart of a community, and that’s why we think they’re best left run and funded a little bit closer to home.

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