- Associated Press - Monday, March 30, 2015

Albany Democrat-Herald, March 27, on the passing of Hector Macpherson Jr.

When you consider the list of people who truly have helped to shape modern-day Oregon, the name of Hector Macpherson Jr. isn’t likely to spring immediately to mind.

But it should. Macpherson, a longtime dairy farmer in Linn County’s Oakville area, was the guiding hand behind Senate Bill 100, which the Legislature passed in 1973. He died last week at age 96.

Senate Bill 100 created the Land Conservation and Development Commission to oversee compliance of local planning with statewide goals. The bill also preserved prime farm and timber land from urban development.

Macpherson’s interest in land-use planning began in the 1950s, when he started paying careful attention to how agricultural land in the Willamette Valley was being lost to urban sprawl. When Linn County commissioners pulled together stakeholders to ask whether the county should form a Planning Department, Macpherson lobbied for the move and ended up leading the county’s Planning Commission.

That work with the Planning Commission gave Macpherson plenty of experience to draw upon when he ran for the state Senate in 1970. His big campaign issue: saving farmland from urban development.

In Salem, Macpherson found a natural ally in Gov. Tom McCall. In a famous 1973 speech, McCall ripped into “sagebrush subdivisions, coastal condomania, and the ravenous rampages of suburbia,” and requested legislation to establish a statewide program for land-use planning.

Macpherson answered the call. While McCall barnstormed around the state for the measure, Macpherson worked to ease the fears of farmers that the bill would affect their ability to sell their properties to developers.

The fact that he was a working farmer undoubtedly helped him make that case.

In 1974, though, running as a Republican in the wake of the Watergate scandals that rocked the party, he lost a bid for re-election. It probably didn’t help his re-election chances among rural Linn County voters that he was perceived as an advocate of land-use planning. The loss marked the end of his legislative career.

But he stayed vitally active in land-use issues. He served a decade on the Land Conservation and Development Commission that had been established by Senate Bill 100 and served on the advisory board of the advocacy group 1,000 Friends of Oregon, which McCall helped to launch in 1974.

As friends and colleagues this week reflected on Macpherson’s life, a common theme emerged: They don’t make public officials like him any more. And, in fact, Macpherson’s ability to form consensus on the most contentious issues, his consistent willingness to look across the aisle to forge partnerships and his focus on the long term all are skills that increasingly seem to be in short supply in Salem (to say nothing of Washington, D.C.).

Oregonians continue to benefit from his contributions. But the question remains: Who will take up the battle with the same common sense and common touch that Hector Macpherson demonstrated throughout his career?


The (Eugene) Register-Guard, March 28, on gun sale background checks bill

The dismaying failure of Congress to approve common-sense gun controls in the wake of recent mass shootings, including the 2012 slaughter of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn., has shifted the battle for reform to state capitals and ballot boxes across the nation.

With a Legislature controlled in recent years by Democrats and a Democratic governor, Oregon should have joined Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Washington and other states that have approved tougher gun laws.

That didn’t happen in the last two sessions when Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene,, introduced promising packages of gun measures, including proposals to expand Oregon’s limited background check requirements.

The prospects are hearteningly improved this year as a result of last fall’s election, which increased Democratic majorities in the Legislature and should enable Democrats to withstand fierce lobbying by gun-rights groups, possible Democratic defections and the lockstep opposition of Republicans.

Prozanski’s proposal would close a loophole in current state law, which bars felons and some others with criminal backgrounds, people with outstanding warrants, and some people with a history of severe mental illness from buying a gun.

The existing law requires background checks for sales of guns by federally licensed dealers, such as retail stores, and at gun shows, but not for person-to-person or private online sales. Senate Bill 941 would expand background check requirements to gun transfers between private individuals, whether through the Internet or personal contact. It would also allow judges to bar patients receiving court-ordered outpatient mental health treatment from buying a gun.

These are all needed reforms, and Prozanski has been careful to include specific language and reasonable exemptions. That won’t keep critics from waging an all-out fight, but it might prevent Democratic defections and, possibly, snag a GOP vote or two.

Polls show that a majority of Oregon voters want expanded background checks. They understand, despite gun-right groups’ claims, that universal background checks are the most effective way to keep guns out of the wrong hands.


The Daily Astorian, March 23, on gillnet lawsuit

It was unfortunate to see the Oregon Court of Appeals reject the lawsuit brought by Steve Fick and Jim Wells. Fick of Fishhawk Fisheries and Salmon for All President Wells contested rule making by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This lawsuit was about former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s surprising decision to eliminate gillnet fishing on the lower Columbia River. The outcome of Kitzhaber’s directive - to move from gillnet fishing to a seine net fishery - is not the success story Kitzhaber said it would be.

For Kitzhaber’s successor, Gov. Kate Brown, the gillnet situation represents the opportunity to make a bad situation better. While we do not have the most recent numbers for seine net fishing, prior reporting indicated that mortality rates for released wild salmon are no better overall than for gillnetting. Far from being “walls of death,” as rhetorically suggested by uneducated detractors, modern gillnets and recovery tanks permit great specificity in what sizes of fish are caught, while providing wild salmon a chance to regain strength before going back in the water.

From our perspective, Kitzhaber’s gillnet decision had a lot to do with the political potency of the urban sports fishing industry and little to do with fisheries science or conservation.

One consequence of the former governor’s decision is the economic devastation of some longtime gillnet families as well as decreased business to the businesses that receive their fish and those who sell equipment to gillnet boat owners. At the time of Kitzhaber’s sudden directive, state Sen. Betsy Johnson criticized it as an exercise in “picking winners and losers in a tough economy.”

Kitzhaber rebuffed invitations from knowledgeable fisheries experts such as Steve Fick to engage in a dialogue about the outcome of his gillnet decision. Gov. Brown would advance the discussion by opening a door to that valid and insightful perspective.

We look forward to seeing our new governor in Clatsop County.


The (Bend) Bulletin, March 27, on the state’s jobs program

One way Oregon’s counties help attract new business is by offering companies property tax relief for a period of years. It’s a good deal for businesses, and, despite the loss of potential property tax revenue, it’s good for counties, as well.

Forgoing taxes does take a toll, however. New and bigger businesses and new jobs often mean increased demand for local services and more students in local schools. The state works to soften the blow by sending some income tax dollars back to the counties as what’s called gain share.

The system is far from perfect, however, and now competing bills in the state Senate seek to fix the worst of its problems. While both are better than the status quo, the one sponsored by Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, and Reps. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, is the better of the two.

Burdick’s Senate Bill 848 would send income tax money to counties only for new jobs created. Thus if a qualifying company expanded and added 10 jobs, its county would get half the income tax revenue from those 10 new employees. The remainder would stay with the state for schools and the like. Currently, gain share rebates money not only on new jobs but also on existing ones, as well.

The other measure, Senate Bill 129, is the work of Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin. It, too, would cut gain share payments, but by less than Burdick’s bill would. It is, Devlin says, a work in progress, likely to change. Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, favors the Devlin bill, because in part, it may be more likely to pass.

It’s clear gain share needs trimming. Only about 20 percent of what’s rebated can be attributed to new jobs, according to the Legislative Revenue Office. Meanwhile, a huge chunk of the $74 million the state has returned since the program began in 2007 has gone to Washington County, home of Intel, for existing jobs.

The impact is felt statewide. Bend-La Pine Schools, for example, would have about $1 million more to spend were it not for gain share.

Gain share is set to expire in 2019, but its looming demise shouldn’t be an excuse to leave it unchanged now. Burdick’s bill does the best job of repairing it.


The (Coos Bay) World, March 26, on timber payments

Good news this week with word that subsidies to Oregon timber counties appear secured for at least the next two years.

Oregon U.S. House members in Washington, D.C., came through on finalizing their agreement with House Speaker John Boehner to have funds tied to a Medicare bill that’s assured passage. And in the Senate the Secure Rural Schools act also seems assured to get a three-year extension. The two bills will still need to be reconciled, but that doesn’t appear to be a roadblock.

The fact that this issue was kept clear of the usual bipartisan rancor is itself to be commended. Last year the subsidies got tangled into overall forestry policy debates, with the usual divide between Republicans wanting looser timber harvest restrictions and Democrats wanting the opposite.

But, as Rep. Peter DeFazio said earlier this week: “Leadership on my side of the aisle said, ‘We can debate forest policy later.’”

Once again, Oregon’s 18 counties, including the Oregon & California Railroad counties, have dodged a bullet.

Certainly, the news was met with relief here by Coos County residents and the county commissioners. The funds will provide Coos County with nearly $2.4 million for fiscal year 2015 and $2.5 million for fiscal year 2014.


(Medford) Mail Tribune, March 25, on public access to video from police body cameras

Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would standardize the use of body cameras worn by police officers and strictly limit the public release of the video recordings. Those limits are reasonable for the most part, but when a recording involves the use of force by an officer, the presumption should be to release the video, not restrict it.

Police use of deadly force against citizens, armed and unarmed, is an issue of growing concern, and lawmakers across the country are grappling with how to respond to those concerns while allowing law enforcement officers to do their jobs and protecting the public at the same time. Many police departments have responded by equipping officers with body cameras that take video recordings of their interactions with suspects and others.

The Oregon measure, House Bill 2571, does not require police departments to use the cameras, but sets out guidelines if they choose to do so. Among other things, departments using cameras would have to require the camera to be turned on as soon as an officer had probable cause or reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed and leave it on until the police action was complete, and retain the recordings for at least six months.

HB 2571 would exempt the recordings from disclosure under public records laws except in two narrow instances: If the recording was part of a court proceeding or if it involved the use of force by an officer and the public interest required its release.

Elements of court proceedings already are public records, and ought to remain so. The desire to protect the privacy of individuals who interact with police is understandable, and most of the recordings likely would be of little interest to anyone not directly involved.

But any time an officer uses force, especially when injury or death results, releasing the recording should be presumed to be in the public interest, not subject to the discretion of the department. There is already an exemption for records involving active police investigations, and that would certainly apply when the use of force is being investigated. But once the investigation concludes, the recording should be released.

We would add a third instance when a recording should be a public record: when a complaint is filed against an officer alleging wrongdoing or misconduct, even if the matter does not become a court case. The public has a legitimate interest in how police officers conduct themselves on the job, and anyone questioning that conduct should be able to request a video recording of it.

Just as trust in government is strengthened when government records are available to the public, trust in law enforcement will be improved if recordings of police conduct are not hidden from public view.


The Oregonian, March 26, on public access to videos from police body cameras

The challenge associated with so many police custody or use-of-force cases is in belief: plain acceptance that things happened as police say they did. Yet police officers suffer from the credibility gap as much as an at-times incredulous public: Slow reconstructions of controversial events from narrative accounts by witnesses and police can wring faith from a community by showing a murky result, satisfying no one.

Body cameras do not fix everything. Least of all do they furnish uncontested truth. But their increasing embrace by departments nationally has yielded a new genre of public document: footage of engagement by police with suspects or others, as seen from the point of view of the officers wearing the camera. What is shown, typically, is believable. The body camera in that sense represents a documentary advance that, if managed wisely, can benefit the public and the police.

Portland embraces the new technology. Mayor Charlie Hales has made clear he wants body cameras to be available to all police officers while on duty by next year. Meanwhile the Legislature considers a bill that would establish ground rules to be followed by all Oregon towns and cities choosing to employ body cameras for their police officers.

House Bill 2571, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, and others, draws a sensible baseline that allows communities to create their own protocols and policies governing body-camera use. Among other things, the bill requires that body-worn cameras record continuously, from the moment an officer develops a reasonable suspicion that an illegal action is about to occur or has occurred, The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Maxine Bernstein reported.

That means no editing, no gaps in the event record. That also means the officer must, amid the many sudden decisions to be made in critical moments, choose to activate the camera in the first place - a leap of faith in some situations, perhaps, and the target of critics who worry about the selective use of the cameras by police. And Williamson’s bill correctly stipulates that all recordings would be the property of the law enforcement agency, not a third party hired to do so, safeguarding the public against contractors who might fail to recognize potential compromises to the personal privacy of innocent citizens. Who, if caught running nude from the shower during a domestic dispute, would want such footage to be released as a public document?

But that’s where things get sticky. HB2571 would require that videos from police body cameras be exempt from public disclosure except under limited circumstances. While the bill is otherwise smart and should be adopted by the Legislature, its provision to keep the documents out of the public’s review in most instances works against hard-won transparency provisions already in Oregon law and should be struck. The person caught running from the shower already enjoys protections against a damaging release.

The spirit of HB2571 aligns with actions underway in several other states. Arizona and Florida lawmakers, for example, have said they fear criminals could, using freedom of information laws, indiscriminately acquire police videos for uploading to the Internet only to extort those who are embarrassed and online. But that argument quickly falls apart: Several provisions already in Oregon law can be invoked to limit a document’s release in the interest of protecting personal privacy or an ongoing criminal investigation. And it ignores the fact that detailed incident reports at the police station or videos captured by a police squad car’s dashboard camera are public documents available for the asking.

Body camera videos are public documents and should be treated as such. To selectively withhold them is to address a problem that does not exist. Lawmakers should refashion the otherwise solid HB2571 to ensure body camera videos are readily available, passing the tests posed by so many exemptions on the books. The new law would then be a real gain in assisting communities in the complex task of having police officers reliably record their engagements with the public while bolstering their accountability as well as the public’s.

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