- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The (Medford) Mail Tribune, Sept. 30, on criminal justice reform:

Illegal drug use has often been called a “victimless crime.” Too often it isn’t, when drug users commit burglary or robbery to feed their habits, or people under the influence injure or kill others. But possessing drugs alone - when other crimes are not involved - still means a felony charge.

The result is drug users marked for life as felons, even if they manage to stop using. That can make it difficult to find work and qualify for housing, which can prompt many to turn to crime anyway.

Police chiefs and sheriffs around Oregon are supporting a proposal to reduce drug charges from felonies to misdemeanors for possession of small amounts when other crimes are not involved and the offender gets treatment.

As Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls put it to the Mail Tribune, “I don’t like the concept of being lax on crime, but it’s time to look at ways to do things differently.”

The approach has much to recommend it.

For starters, don’t assume this would mean turning a wave of suspected drug users loose to roam the streets. They’re not behind bars anyway; county jails have little room for those charged with nonviolent crimes, and people arrested for simple possession are among the first to be released, if they are lodged at all.

The Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association want to see more state funding for drug treatment, and they’ve pledged to work with lawmakers to craft rules ensuring that misdemeanor offenders would get the treatment they need.

The status quo - saddling drug users with a felony record that will stay with them for life - only serves to perpetuate the problem by making it almost certain that they will stay on the wrong side of the law. Requiring them to get treatment for their drug use without the stigma of a felony conviction makes it more likely that users can move away from drugs and into gainful employment.

The problem, as some in the law enforcement community pointed out, is how to pay for training when funding is reserved for felony cases.

In the long run, money spent on treatment would pay off by saving on future incarceration if the offenders who complete treatment manage to stay out of the criminal justice system. Either way, it makes sense to address drug use by helping people move forward with their lives rather than holding them back.

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The Bend Bulletin, Sept. 30, on marijuana testing requirements:

Starting Saturday, marijuana sold in Oregon is supposed to meet new standards for the presence of pesticides, and packaging and labels must reflect those standards. Yet with only five labs in the state certified to test weed, meeting the deadline statewide is difficult to impossible.

Some lawmakers and the Oregon Cannabis Association want the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which oversees recreational marijuana in much the same way it oversees liquor in the state, to allow the current rules to stand for at least 90 days. That or something like it is what should happen.

It’s not that OLCC didn’t see the problem coming. The agency had planned to allow recreational sales to begin at all licensed stores in the state beginning Saturday. The testing rules were written to coincide with that change.

But the state has had to make adjustments, because it has not certified enough labs for the testing. Currently there are five labs certified, agency officials say, with a sixth expected in the next few days. Six more are expected to be certified in relatively short order, and there could be as many as 20 ready to go by the end of October.

The agency’s new plan is to stagger the opening dates of retail establishments. A relatively small number of retailers will open this weekend, with more coming online in the days ahead. There might also be some temporary changes in testing rules.

It’s important that Oregon has strict testing for its marijuana. Testing potency and screening for pesticides are vital parts of addressing public concerns about recreational marijuana. But it makes sense to allow the existing standards to operate until the state can certify enough labs to meet demand.

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The Yamhill Valley News-Register, Sept. 30, on a sales tax proposal:

What’s the good of working to increase graduation rates, only to send newly minted alumni out into a job market devastated by Measure 97? Why invest in expanded services to seniors, only to force them into paying more at the gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies under this disguised sales tax?

And how can we promise $3 billion a biennium in new revenue would be spent on “public early childhood and K-12 education, health care, and services for senior citizens,” as the measure’s union sponsors claim, when it would actually feed a general fund Oregon politicians can allocate any way they wish?

These are questions voters must consider when making their decision on 97, easily this election’s most contentious ballot measure. For the sake of Oregon, we are confident that would persuade them to join us in voting no.

The deceptively titled Oregon Business Tax Increase Initiative, created and financed by organized labor, would exact a 2.5 percent tax on C corporation gross sales exceeding $25 million. Yes, sales, not income, thus serving to punish two elements of the economy disproportionately - consumers and high-volume, low-margin retailers, such as grocery stores.

Backers claim the tax would be largely limited to greedy out-of-state corporate goliaths, whose CEOs are capable of jetting off to exclusive island retreats any time they wish. In fact, it would also hit homegrown retailers like Wilco and Bi-Mart, who aren’t capable of simply brushing it off, as Walmart might.

What’s more, manufacturers, distributors and retailers would each build the increase into their price structure and pass it on to the maximum extent possible. Given the multiplier effect, the consumer would end up bearing a big portion of the burden in the end.

A report released in May by the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office estimated Measure 97 would cost the average Oregonian $600 a year, or $2,400 a year for a family of four. It estimated public-sector job gains at 18,000, dwarfed by private-sector job losses predicted at 38,000.

A counter study, commissioned by Measure 97 supporters, estimates a loss of 17,000 private-sector jobs and gain of 30,000 public-sector jobs. But even that scenario has a downside, as it would further stress a public employee retirement system already facing a $22 billion shortfall.

The timing for a record-breaking, tradition-defying sales tax couldn’t be worse, as Oregon has enjoyed two straight years of strong economic growth. It is finally approaching a full recovery from the Great Recession, and Measure 97 would toss a grenade into that.

If enacted, Measure 97 would surely dominate the upcoming Legislative session. Petitions for relief and pleas for funding would trigger endless debate. There are too many pressing needs in our state for our elected officials to get bogged down in such a political quagmire.

We have no quarrel with the premise that corporate America is getting a free ride in Oregon, and that needs to end. Putting the best face on it, perhaps the current proposal could serve as a framework for a better-conceived measure to address that inequity.

Enacting an Oregon sales tax promises to create a lot more harm and havoc than good.

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The East Oregonian, Sept. 27, on a proposal aimed at preventing the sale of products from Oregon’s endangered animals:

There are plenty of controversial decisions to be made in November, but Measure 100 is not one of them.

The Wildlife Trafficking Prevention Act would prohibit the sale of products and parts from 12 endangered animals in Oregon. Those animals are rhinos, cheetahs, tigers, sea turtles, lions, elephants, whales, sharks, pangolins, jaguars, rays and leopards.

A similar effort passed overwhelmingly in Washington in 2015, and California has a similar law on the books. That means Oregon could join its neighbors and present a united West Coast front against importers, making it more difficult for them to find buyers throughout the United States.

And, yes it’s true that in most cases there are already federal bans on many of these items. But it’s also true that in Oregon it’s much more likely for law enforcement to encounter endangered animal parts on sale within state lines, instead of on the docks. Under current law, once those products are through the port of entry, the state has no ability to ban their sale.

That will no longer be the case if Measure 100 is passed.

Additionally, the law was written so grandma’s ivory-keyed piano is not made illegal, nor her antique ivory-handled gun or jewelry box. It may be illegal to sell those items from here on out, but they can legally be possessed and passed to a family member.

African elephants and rhinos may seem far away, but Measure 100 is a small way to protect them. International animal welfare groups have bigger fights underway in Thailand and China, for example, but Oregon can be part of the solution in November.

Measure 100 is a clear yes.

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The (Portland) Oregonian/OregonLive, Sept. 30, on curbing Oregon’s high school dropout rates:

In the struggle to find what works educationally, and to fund programs that are winners, Oregon loses. The state’s graduation rate, among the worst in the nation, means about 10,000 young Oregonians drop out or fail to complete high school on time every year. Who are these students? And what becomes of them?

They are young people who couldn’t quite find their way and found high school to be fruitless or overwhelming. Upon dropping out or finishing late, they typically struggle to find home and a job and, perhaps, a family. Engaged citizenship? Survival comes first. Like the education system that somehow failed to engage them, these young people lose: in their failure to find work and, if requiring social services down the line, in becoming society’s burden.

Few numbers are more chilling than those furnished by the Oregon Employment Department. Young people from 16 to 24 years of age in 2015 made up 12 percent of the state’s labor force yet accounted for 27 percent of the state’s unemployed. On the flip side of the equation, significantly, are Oregon industries that profess not to be able to find the right skilled workers when they have jobs available.

Oregon has tried to fix this, though the number of high school career technical education programs statewide plunged from 1,202 in the academic year 1999-2000 to 690 in 2014-2015. Projections, despite a hopping economy, are grim. The Portland research firm ECONorthwest calculates that the state’s on-time graduation rate will notch up only four percentage points between now and 2029. That means 1 in 5 students starting kindergarten in Oregon this year will fail to graduate from high school at all or on time. The Class of 2029 will deliver to Oregon a swollen cohort of undereducated, struggling citizens whose likely prospect will be to lose, holding themselves and Oregon back.

Measure 98 stands a solid chance at turning this around. It requires no new taxes but would direct the Legislature to add to the K-12 budget revenue to be used exclusively for career technical training, dropout prevention efforts and access to college-level courses. It works out to $800 per student, but local school districts would have to apply for the money and then decide how to fashion qualifying programs that meet local needs. The state’s Department of Education would be charged with doling out the money and tracking results.

Nothing’s a sure bet. Accountability will be everything. The measure leans on the secretary of state to conduct financial and program audits of the spending and to gauge effectiveness of the effort. Good. But it will be essential that both the DOE and the secretary of state are in sync in their attempts to clearly align student success or failure with the underwritten programs. The burden of reporting on participating school districts, meanwhile, must be to accurately track student attendance - again, with an eye to correlating such data with participation in funded programs and, ultimately, graduation.

Budgeting by ballot measure can be risky. It constrains the Legislature in balancing a budget entirely of its own devising. But the fortunes of high schoolers statewide are too grim not to act.

Proponents of Measure 98, among them former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, cite short-term pilot projects in recent years that show bolstered efforts by schools at student retention and technical training to re-engage students who otherwise would slip away from school. That, among other things, makes the promise - and comparatively low price - of Measure 98 compelling. Voters should accept the risk as low and say yes.

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