- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers.

The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Feb. 12, on the end of the Malheur refuge ordeal

Oregonians breathed a sigh of relief when the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge finally ended peacefully Thursday, with about the best outcome under the circumstances - no more violence.

There were no real winners, only losers. From both an environmental and human viewpoint, it was a disaster.

A man died and, regardless of how one feels about his politics, it was a needless loss of a human life. From a law enforcement point of view, the killing of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum left an indelible stain on an otherwise successful operation.

The occupiers prevented refuge staff from doing their jobs, putting work, research and habitat at risk. Just how much damage was done, whether the effects will be long-term and how much it will cost to clean up the mess won’t be known until the refuge employees can get in to do a thorough assessment.

No one has yet totaled the local, state and federal law enforcement costs accrued over the last six weeks due to the occupation, but these costs will be borne by taxpayers.

The heaviest burden has fallen on the people of Harney and surrounding counties, whose lives were disrupted beyond belief. They were frightened and angered by the occupiers and now have to put their lives and communities back together, including repairing fractured relationships.

Dwight and Steven Hammond, the father and son ranchers whose imprisonment was used by the occupiers as an excuse to seize the refuge, are no better off - and may be worse.

There was some sympathy in Oregon for the men, who after serving prison terms for burning federal land were sent back under mandatory minimum sentencing laws. A number of people, including the judge who originally sentenced them to shorter terms, felt the Hammonds were treated unfairly and hoped they might receive a presidential pardon or other reprieve.

The occupiers, who don’t appear to have consulted the Hammonds before barging into Oregon, have likely diminished the chances of that happening.

The chance of a government official or agency doing anything that would allow the occupiers to claim victory, emboldening others, is slim.

The occupiers themselves, led by Ammon Bundy of Idaho, have done themselves no favors. Many now sit in jail, facing federal charges.

Bundy had been looking for a likely target to stage a protest for some time before the Hammonds crossed his radar screen. His decision to target Oregon was the first of a series of poor choices.

He didn’t notice that Oregonians do not like outsiders coming in and telling them what to do.

He also badly misread the nature of eastern Oregon conservatism, which is imbued with a love of country, respect for law enforcement and love of their heritage and Oregon’s outdoors.

While the Bundy-ites did receive some initial support for drawing attention to ranchers’ issues, most people distanced themselves after becoming uncomfortable with Bundy’s tactics and philosophy.

The occupiers’ harassment of local law enforcement officers and their families, trashing of the refuge, and blatant contempt for the rule of law had more in common with the anarchists of the radical left than with the people of eastern Oregon.

As the occupation wore on, the lengthy criminal records of a number of the occupiers also came to light, further tarnishing the group’s image.

The occupiers also badly misjudged the amount of outside support they could expect to receive.

From wild tales of sympathetic members of the military who would be parachuting in during the early stage of the occupation, to increasingly desperate calls asking for thousands of supporters to converge on Harney County, the group found its national army of supporters was a fantasy.

“Where are the people?” one anguished occupier asked. The answer: This vast army of militant supporters existed only in the occupiers’ minds, magnified by the echo chamber of the radical rightwing websites they favored.

With the leaders of the occupation now sitting in jail, the ongoing drama has ended.

Probably the closest thing to satisfaction that anyone can claim is felt by law enforcement agencies, whose patient approach was vindicated.

Now, it is left to Oregonians to clean up the mess left by the intruders, and hope that their experience will discourage any further circuses.

___

The (Pendleton) East Oregonian, Feb. 12, on fallout from the Malheur refuge standoff

It’s over. Finally, it’s over.

After 41 days that alternated between hand-wringing and heart-wrenching, the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge has ended. Four protesters remained until Thursday. Much of their last 12 harrowing, confusing hours in the refuge streamed live and unedited through the Internet. It was a glimpse into paranoia and fear, into anger and frustration.

We heard grievances about this country - a lack of jobs, a lack of purpose, a lack of morality, a lack of future. It was the cry of the fearful, the pessimistic and the proud, grabbing the bullhorn and the moment and shouting straight into our speakers.

Whatever it was, you had to listen. At times it was scary - the threat of violence both coerced and self-inflicted were ever-present. And at times it was farcical - the list of grievances included Hillary Clinton, the Middle East and a lack of marijuana.

But there is no laughing off the underlying issue.

This has been a traumatic experience for Eastern Oregon. The days sure were dark. And now that the out-of-state players have left the field, we’re left to sift through their message and their actions.

For 41 days, Eastern Oregon was a dangerous place to be. Not because of the armed men and women holed up at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, and not because of federal and state law enforcement swarming around them. They posed threats only to one another and anyone who stood between them.

But the weapons carried by both sides isn’t what threatened us.

The danger is the seeds, already planted and beginning to take root, now doused with gallons of water and a hefty heap of fertilizer. You know the kind. The seeds of mistrust for neighbors with the wrong bumper sticker on their truck. Of animosity toward “the government” as a bogeyman instead of an entity that can and should be held accountable by the people. Of blatant disregard for reasonable discourse - instead choosing to cling to a single line from the Constitution, an ugly prejudice, or a stern glare and a wall of silence.

Like a flock of winter birds taking off from Malheur Lake, the occupiers have left. It’s up to us to decide what their pattern in the sky means, and which seeds we want to tend to now that they’re gone.

___

The (Bend) Bulletin, Feb. 14, on reducing school absences

Oregon is a national education leader in one of the most awful ways: absenteeism.

Some 94,000 students miss at least 10 percent of the school year.

Wonder why Oregon students don’t do better when measured against their peers in other states? The school absenteeism epidemic is one reason.

The Oregonian reported that one study in Oregon found that students who miss 10 percent of kindergarten can lag on average “almost a year behind in reading by third grade and are unlikely to ever catch up.” Students who miss so much school are also unlikely to graduate.

The Legislature has recently taken up the question of what to do about it. House Bill 4002 directs the Oregon Department of Education to come up with a plan by December.

The bill would require a process for disclosing absenteeism at each school, best practices for schools to implement and track, a way to identify schools that need more help and what that help would be, and an estimate of the costs involved.

The bill is not without controversy. The key point of debate is: Can the Department of Education really make a difference?

The answer is: Let’s hope so.

So many of the reasons children don’t get to school are outside of school. They are in the home or lack a stable home.

School districts in Oregon and other states have found ways to make a difference. They don’t let repeated absences go unnoticed. They talk to the students about it. They check in with them. They encourage them. They contact parents. And when all else fails, schools can even take families to court.

Other states do a much better job than Oregon of controlling absenteeism. Surely Oregon can do it, too.

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The (La Grande) Observer, Feb. 15, on minimum wage legislation

No matter how lawmakers spin it, no matter what justification is used, at the end of the day the effort by members of the Oregon Legislature to quickly throw together a minimum wage hike bill for Oregon is still a bad idea.

It was a bad idea a few weeks ago when we opined on this page about the potentially adverse impacts such a law would have on rural areas like Eastern Oregon, and the idea still exudes the same displeasing odor. Yet lawmakers - nearly all of them sitting on one side of the partisan fence - in the Legislature can’t, or won’t, allow themselves to whiff the malodorous fragrance from another one of those concepts seemingly delivered by the good-idea fairy.

Last week the Oregon Senate - on a largely partisan vote - gave the green light to Senate Bill 1532, an edict that will hike the minimum wage across the state in a three-tiered system based on location. Now that bill will go to the House where Democrats hold a majority. The chances the bill will secure approval in the House are very good.

At its base the idea to boost the minimum wage in Oregon is based on good intentions. We agree that methodical and sensible ideas to address the income disparity in Oregon should be a high priority for lawmakers. And perhaps a minimum wage hike of some sort is the answer. Maybe.

Yet we don’t know what we don’t know. And no one can really determine what the ultimate impact a minimum wage hike will be for the state. Self-proclaimed experts and political factions that support a minimum wage boost point to “studies” that indicate the minimum wage increase will be - in essence - some kind of magic bullet to slay income disparity in Oregon.

Unfortunately, it just isn’t that easy.

We once hoped the kind of partisan, one-party rule so prevalent during last year’s legislative session would evaporate. Instead of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle convening to find a solution to income disparity, a solution that takes into account the different cultures and economics of this great state, we are presented with the equivalent of a one-party junta pushing through bills tied to ideological mantra and not common sense.

The minimum wage hike issue should be considered by our lawmakers. The idea is a good one. Yet the concept deserves - as do Oregon’s voters - more time for study, debate and compromise. The best time for such a bill to be considered is during a full Legislative session where elected leaders can utilize months - instead of days - to find the best answer for Oregon.

Instead, we are left with what is essentially a one-party Legislature ramming through a bill on minimum wage that could be very damaging to Oregon, and especially to Eastern Oregon.

___

The Oregonian, Feb. 13, on recreational and medical marijuana legislation

It took a year of getting used to, but the unthinkable made sense from the start: Sell recreational and medical marijuana under the same roof. One-stop shopping. Streamlined regulatory efforts. No confusion from consumer. And, critically, no threat to medical marijuana users fearful their preferred products would be lost.

Blistering through bills in a legislative session lasting what seems the blink of an eye, lawmakers in Salem are tightening Oregon’s rollout of legal recreational pot in such a way as to integrate the well-established, but largely unregulated, medical marijuana market into the new recreational market. In doing so, they’ll save themselves and Oregonians from unkinking a dual system that might have sputtered in just a few years.

This week, a bill to close the separation between legal recreational and medical marijuana will go up for a vote. It should pass. It allows businesses with licenses to sell recreational pot also to sell medical marijuana products. Significantly, it also would require that any medical marijuana product sold in a recreational pot shop undergo the same rigorous tracking, from seed to sale, as recreational pot and as conducted by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. This is good for the consumer, good for regulators and law enforcement, and good for a new market segment that will depend upon state-certified product authenticity and consistency. A separate bill, meanwhile, would ensure that purchases by medical marijuana patients, along with their caregivers, will continue to be free of taxation.

To the credit of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91, whose long work last year was made sweaty from debates about keeping the markets separate, lawmakers now seem to believe enough ground has been turned to get pot right straight out of the gate.

Last week, for example, the Legislature’s Joint Marijuana Legalization Committee was unanimous in supporting yet another bill that would remove from early regulations protectionist language stipulating out-of-state investors seeking to do pot business in Oregon meet an Oregon residency requirement - a rule hatched last year to allay fears among some growers who worried their lunch would be eaten by wealthy outsiders. But even the Oregon Cannabis Association, which represents some growers, supported the wise action, Noelle Crombie of The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Big complicated new things take time to get right, and implementing Measure 91 is one such thing. Fortunately, the Legislature and then the OLCC had all of last year to lend provisional shape to what rational pot commerce might look like. This year, in the short session, they can and must fine-tune their statutes and regulations as they rethink some assumptions.

Few thought along the way that towns and cities across nearly half the state, whose residents overall had approved Measure 91, would opt out of allowing pot shops at all within their borders. But they have. And many municipalities embracing weed commerce have established their own offices to oversee store siting, policing and licensure, Portland among them.

Context, however, is everything. State laws that are lean, coherent and true to the broader goals of Measure 91 - among them the decriminalization of the marijuana trade and shrinkage of marijuana’s black market - are essential. Yet the very same laws and regulations must vigorously serve the ease and interests of both medical and recreational consumers to ensure success.

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