- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The (Bend) Bulletin, June 10, on transition program for inmates

A key element of Oregon’s effort to hold its prison population down is the state’s plan to move prisoners back into their communities as quickly as possible. The state allows prisoners to leave early, though only if certain conditions are met. Among them: Prisoners must have a place to live before they’re allowed out.

Yet finding housing can be difficult.

Starting this month it will be a bit easier in Bend, thanks to an arrangement between Deschutes County’s Community Justice Department and Bethlehem Inn. The county, using funds from the state’s Justice Reinvestment Program, will rent five beds from the homeless shelter for inmates in the state’s transition program. No sex offenders will be placed at the shelter, officials note. Nor will residents be displaced.

The transition program allows prisoners to move back into their communities 90 days before they’d otherwise be eligible for release. During that time, participants in the program must continue to work on everything from substance abuse treatment to finding employment to making restitution to their victims.

And, though they may be living at Bethlehem Inn, they’re still considered inmates. Thus, any slip-ups in behavior can mean a swift return to prison.

In a housing market as tight as Bend’s, the Bethlehem Inn beds are critical to making the transition program work in this area. Low-income housing is in high demand and low supply, and that’s a situation that will not correct itself overnight.

The deal is a good one for the state. It will pay, through the county, $3,000 a month to care for five inmates. Were they still in prison, the bill would run to nearly $40,000 for the same five prisoners.

It’s also good for the men and women who will spend time at Bethlehem Inn. Without the shelter’s beds, fewer might get out of prison early than will be the case. And, the added structure the shelter requires may well make former inmates’ transition easier.

Finally, it’s good for Bethlehem Inn, which will see its steady income rise by $3,000 a month. The agency has struggled financially in the past, and while this money won’t fix all its problems, it no doubt will help.


The (Medford) Mail Tribune, June 11, on birth control legislation

Gov. Kate Brown is scheduled to sign into law today the nation’s first law requiring insurance companies to provide a full year’s worth of prescription contraceptives at a time, making it easier for women to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Lawmakers should also pass a second measure, which would permit pharmacists to dispense birth control to adult women without a prescription.

The measure that becomes law today should reduce the odds of unplanned pregnancies by 30 percent when compared with dispensing contraception every 30 or 90 days, according to supporters.

The second measure, still making its way through the legislative process, would empower pharmacists to dispense birth control pills without a prescription to women 18 and older. Minors still would need to see a doctor for their first prescription, but could obtain refills without a subsequent visit to a doctor.

The measure, House Bill 2879, cleared the House last week on a bipartisan 50-10 vote. It is sponsored by Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, a physician, who said he was prompted to introduce it because women could obtain the “morning-after pill,” or emergency contraception, without a prescription but not ordinary birth-control pills. He also notes that men can obtain contraception over the counter, but women cannot.

Although some lawmakers have raised concerns about health risks, a committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2012 recommended on-demand birth control pills as a way to reduce unplanned pregnancies up to 25 percent. HB 2879 would require women to complete a 20-item health screening questionnaire before obtaining contraceptives, a step recommended by the panel.

The panel also noted that the risk of blood clots from newer types of birth-control pills is quite low, and in fact is less than the risk of the same complication in women who are pregnant or have just given birth.

The important thing here is that both of these pieces of legislation will make it easier and less expensive for women to obtain contraception in the first place and to continuously protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy thereafter. The fewer unwanted pregnancies, the fewer abortions. That’s an outcome everyone can agree on.


The (Pendleton) East Oregonian, June 12, on historic preservation in rural parts of the state

In the last few days, on these very pages, we have published two opposing opinions about the Main Street Revitalization Act. That’s of value to the reader - to have the argument from both sides right there in front of you and allow yourself to arrive at a conclusion.

On Wednesday, we published a piece titled “Renovation tax credit would rob public schools,” penned by The Oregonian newspaper in Portland. On Thursday, Restore Oregon responded by submitting their op-ed: “Revitalize Main Street Act would support local economies, schools.”

Both made sense, from where they were coming from.

The Oregonian view is easy to see, if you are writing from a desk in Portland. The city has developers outbidding each other to spend money on land and facilities in Rose City. Long-neglected neighborhoods are being spruced up - to the detriment of some - with each new Trader Joe’s and the coattail-riding coffee shops that follow. Housing prices continue their steady climb from affordable to Seattle. And of course that Portland sensibility for real things (or really ironic things) makes historical preservation pay off in the long run. Why do we need the inefficient state to get involved?

That’s not the case outside of the metropolitan area, and not the case anywhere in Eastern Oregon.

Over here, we’re fighting tooth and nail to hold onto our young people, our jobs and our buildings. Some money from the state could help, and some brick-and-mortar investment can save crumbling bricks and mortar on our main streets and highways. Why won’t the taxpayer-funded state get involved and preserve our history?

At least that’s how Restore Oregon sees it.

In the grand scheme of the gargantuan state budget, we’re arguing over a few pennies. While it’s true that every penny counts, $12 million per year into a Historic Rehabilitation Fund is small enough to worry that it’s not enough dollars to make a dent in the backlog of infrastructure demand that is closing in on collapse.

The proposal - in our view - is a relatively modest one that would benefit historic towns like Pendleton, Echo and Baker City, and at a negligible cost to taxpayers statewide.

In rural Oregon, our historic cities have not been built around and overshadowed by expansion that scrapes the sky and pushes against city limits. Our old, economic districts are modest - just a building or two in many places. And by giving them access to state funds for a fresh coat of paint, a whole town could become brighter.


The (Salem) Statesman Journal, June 14, on sick leave for state employees

The Legislature last week passed and sent to Gov. Kate Brown a good bill that would provide sick leave for most employees in Oregon.

Government generally should stay out of business instead of telling employers how to operate. However, sick leave is a common-sense provision for business, one that will benefit workers, their colleagues and their employers.

This is good for employers? Yes. Sick employees are less-productive employees. Both their germs and their decreased productivity can be contagious.

In contrast, sick leave is a benefit that can contribute to improved morale and commitment to the job.

Senate Bill 454 would require employers with 10 or more workers to offer up to 40 hours of paid sick leave a year. For employers with fewer workers, the sick leave could be unpaid.

The leave could be used for one’s own illness or to care for a family member. Some of the most compelling testimony came from parents, who sent sick children to school because there was no one to stay home with them.

No one benefits from having sick, potentially contagious children in the classroom. Neither does society benefit if an older child must stay home from school to take care of a younger, sick one. Education is important at every level, and absences at higher grades can have deleterious effects.

Many Oregon businesses already offer sick leave, and most of those would be unaffected by this legislation. But sick leave has been rare in low-wage industries.

Those lower-wage workers will finally receive the same opportunity - yes, opportunity - as their higher-paid neighbors. It’s been a sad commentary on Oregon society that only some spouses could be with their loved ones at medical appointments or during critical times in illnesses.

It is unfortunate that sick leave turned into a largely Democrat vs. Republican issue in the Legislature, with each party representing the concerns of a key constituency: workers for Democrats and businesses for Republicans.

Both sides have legitimate concerns, but health and the workplace should not be partisan.

Republicans worried about the cost for employers. Agriculture, along with other seasonal industries, was a particular concern because of its limited time for growing crops and for processing foods. Finding replacement workers in agriculture is difficult, an issue that long has needed government action.

However, it is not healthy to have sick workers involved in any aspect of the food chain, whether harvesting crops or serving diners.

In its final form, SB 454 is less burdensome for employers than previous versions. Critics, though still not thrilled with the final product, helped improve it. And in light of Oregon and national trends toward government-mandated sick leave, it makes sense to have a statewide standard rather than a confusing mix of city-by-city standards.

If Brown signs the bill into law, it will take effect Jan. 1. In the meantime, the Oregon Legislature should be cautious about imposing other workplace mandates on employers.


The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, June 15, on the Legislature working on a transportation deal

One of the big questions remaining on the Legislature’s docket as it races toward its conclusion is whether it will be able to reach some sort of deal on transportation.

You’ll remember that a transportation package to find money to pay for badly needed improvements on state roads, bridges and other infrastructure was a top priority for former Gov. John Kitzhaber and his successor, Kate Brown. In fact, Brown said she wouldn’t let legislators leave Salem until they had crafted a transportation package.

But then Democrats passed, and Brown signed, a bill extending the state’s controversial clean-fuels program, a measure meant to cut carbon emissions. Republicans vehemently opposed the bill, arguing that it was certain to increase the cost of gas - and they went on to make it clear that they could not support a transportation package funded by an increase in the gas tax. The clean-fuels program, coupled with a gas-tax increase, Republicans argued, would mean that consumers would have to cope with two separate increases in the price of gas.

Because any increase in the gas tax would require votes from Republicans, even with the majorities Democrats enjoy in the Legislature, that appeared to be the end of chances that the session would reach a deal on a badly needed transportation package.

And, in fact, that’s still one likely result.

But The Oregonian reported over the weekend that long-shot discussions on the issue between Brown’s advisors and legislators of both parties - first reported a month or so ago - still are continuing. The participants were generally mum on the details, but the frequency and length of the meetings (sometimes twice a day, with at least one meeting stretching out over seven hours) suggest that momentum for a deal might be building.

The Oregonian was able to report on the general outlines of the potential deal, and they won’t come as much of a surprise to people who have been following the debate: The negotiators are considering rolling back, to some extent, the clean-fuels program in a bid to win enough Republican votes to pass a gas-tax increase.

That means lawmakers are looking for methods to reduce carbon emissions that wouldn’t result in an increase in gas prices.

With less than a month to go before the Legislature’s scheduled July 11 adjournment, though, this will be a tricky bit of business. For many Democrats (and some of the well-heeled supporters who contributed to their campaigns), the clean-fuels program was a top priority. Rank-and-file Democrats may well be unwilling to accept a compromise that would gut the program.

But they should keep an open mind on the matter. We think a well-designed transportation package could do more to reduce carbon emissions than the clean fuels program ever will. And the transportation package also could help deliver good-paying jobs all through the state, especially in its more rural areas.

It’s still a long shot that the Legislature will come up with a transportation deal. But the fact that these talks still are going on is one of the rare bits of good news the session has delivered thus far.

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