Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The (Medford) Mail Tribune, April 7, on health insurance savings:
A legislative proposal to move the state’s public employees’ health care into coordinated care organizations makes sense on multiple levels: It would save hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when Oregon’s institutions are facing massive cutbacks, it would enroll public employees in a system that focuses on total health and it could do so without a major hit to the public employees’ pocketbooks.
The author of House Bill 3428, Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, says the bill could save nearly $1 billion per biennium. That’s hard to quantify, but even if it were half that amount, there seem few other places where that kind of savings could be realized. And, lest some consider this another attack on public employees by a conservative lawmaker, consider that she came up with that estimate from statements made by former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2013 (and that Parrish is considered one of the more moderate members of her caucus).
More evidence comes from the state’s universities, which estimated they could save $100 million per biennium if they were allowed to participate in the CCOs. As Parrish notes, “… imagine what the savings would have been over four years had 197 school districts, 19 educational service districts and 17 community colleges been afforded the ability to buy their insurance through the Exchange.”
The proposal also comes on the heels of a Sunday Eugene Register-Guard story reporting that Oregon pays far more for health insurance for its employees than either Washington or California. The annual average cost for public employees in Oregon is $16,992 per year, compared with $12,312 in Washington and $15,500 in California. The average portion of their health insurance paid by the employee in Oregon is 5 percent. In Washington it’s 15 percent and in California 23 percent.
There is a related bill in the Legislature that should be paired with this: House Bill 2122 would require that CCOs become nonprofit by 2023. As is evidenced locally by the enormous profits - $11.3 million last year - reaped by the private AllCare CCO primarily in Jackson and Josephine counties, allowing the CCOs to remain private would have a significant drag on health care savings.
Legislators have focused in recent sessions on ways to get around the huge financial burden of the Public Employees Retirement System payments. But the courts have made it clear legislators can expect few if any victories in that arena. The state’s annual health insurance bill of $1.7 billion, however, actually exceeds the PERS expense.
Looming in the midst of the discussion is the eventual likely demise of the Affordable Care Act and the state exchanges that provide insurance. Parrish notes, however, that the CCO system, which was established to manage Medicare, would remain and already has proven its worth in curbing costs.
Public employee unions, generally intent on preserving the comfortable status quo, likely will object. Will the Democrat-controlled Legislature and governor’s office fend them off and do what’s right, if this pencils out as advertised? If they want to protect the public services that could be funded by the savings, they will.
The (Yamhill Valley) News Register, April 7, on the release of public records:
For almost 50 years, records compiled or acquired by a public agency in this state - any type of agency at any level, from a lowly cemetery district to the Oregon Supreme Court - have been open for inspection unless expressly exempted.
But during that same span, ever since the Watergate scandal drove adoption of a tidal wave of state records laws, agencies have been resisting. And the more damning the records at issue, the more fiercely they tend to fight.
Two such cases are currently unfolding in Oregon, on eerily parallel tracks.
One focuses on Psychiatric Security Review Board records supporting release of a patient who proceeded to murder his ex-wife, then lead police on a high speed chase which claimed the life of an innocent father of five. The other entails Portland School District records identifying employees remaining on paid administrative leave for up to three full years without resolution of their cases.
The attorney general ordered release of review board records to Les Zaitz, publisher of the Malheur Enterprise weekly in Vale. Meanwhile, the Multnomah County district attorney ordered release of the school records to freelance reporter Beth Slovic and citizen activist Kim Sordyl. And rightly so, as both sets promise to expose particularly egregious governmental malpractice.
But a quirk in Oregon law allows agencies to challenge such orders by dragging the petitioners into court. And requesters like Zaitz, Slovic and Sordyl must have seemed like easy marks, based on lack of resources to support protracted litigation with government goliaths on the taxpayer dole.
Fortunately, both Zaitz, one of the most heralded investigative reporters of his time, and Slovic, who earned investigative credentials of her own with Willamette Week and The Oregonian, have friends in the right places.
In the review board case, which quickly triggered high-profile features in The Oregonian and Seattle Times, two shoes dropped in quick succession. First, celebrated First Amendment specialist Duane Bosworth of Davis Wright Tremaine agreed to represent Zaitz for whatever he could raise. Then, Gov. Kate Brown made that unnecessary by ordering the board to drop its unseemly challenge, which would have required costly private counsel because the state’s law firm had already ruled the other way.
The Oregonian has already slapped the school board around editorially for suing Slovic, and Bosworth now has his calendar free. So it’s safe to predict a similar outcome here.
But what if ordinary citizens like Sordyl had to face this sort of challenge on their own? There would be nothing preventing big government from using its superior might to conceal acts of gross malfeasance.
We should not have to depend on the crusading spirit and moral outrage of people like Bosworth and Brown for right to prevail. With rare and narrowly crafted exceptions, all records coming into public hands in Oregon ought to be open to public scrutiny.
We urge the Legislature to close the door on litigation targeting citizens for nothing more than lodging a good-faith request for a public record. That action offends the conscience.
The Bend Bulletin, April 9, on marijuana reform:
With recreational marijuana legalized in eight states and the District of Columbia, some 20 percent of Americans can or soon will be able to light up without worrying about legal problems later. Still, many of those who grow, process or sell the stuff are having trouble gaining access to banks and to laws open to other legal businesses in the United States. That’s because, while states have legalized marijuana, the federal government has not.
Sen. Ron Wyden and Portland-area Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Oregon Democrats, hope to change that, if not completely eliminate the current discrimination against the marijuana industry and those involved in it. On March 30, the pair introduced a trio of bills they’ve dubbed the “Path to Marijuana Reform:”
-The Small Business Tax Equity Act would end federal tax penalties on marijuana businesses and allow them to claim deductions and tax credits available to other small businesses.
-The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act would end the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s listing of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug as harmful as heroin or ecstasy.
-The Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act would remove the federal criminal and civil penalties that can be levied against individuals and marijuana businesses even if they’re abiding by state law.
It also would ensure access to research and advertising and set up ways a consumer could have a marijuana violation expunged from the record in states where weed is legal. That would give users access to public housing and financial aid for education. The bill also would ensure veterans could get medical marijuana.
Too, the measure would ensure those in the marijuana business have access to banking. As an April 2 article in The Bulletin noted, most banks will not deal with marijuana businesses or the people who work in them. That makes getting loans difficult and makes businesses more vulnerable to crime because they often have substantial amounts of cash around.
So far Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, has not taken a position on any of the three bills. He should, and he should support all three, for together they’re a sensible approach to what’s currently a difficult situation. Like it or not, marijuana is legal in this state, and this trio of bills would make life easier for the industry and those who support it.
The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, April 5, on reaching out to Oregon’s young voters:
A measure that allows 16-year-olds in Oregon to register to vote (although they still must wait, of course, until they turn 18 to vote) has passed the state Senate and awaits consideration by the House.
The legislation, Senate Bill 802, is a logical extension of a process that’s already in place, thanks to the Oregon motor voter law. As you might recall, that law automatically registers people to vote when they have an interaction with the Department of Motor Vehicles, such as applying for or renewing a driver’s license. People can choose to opt out, although the experience thus far with the program suggests that most people do not.
The program has added more than 225,000 new voters to the rolls. Impressively, nearly 100,000 of them actually voted in the November election, a turnout rate of about 43 percent. That’s not anywhere near the overall turnout rate of about 80 percent, but it’s considerably more than many observers expected.
What impact these new voters will have on the state’s political landscape is a question that will occupy election strategists and political scientists for many years to come.
Oregon law already allowed teenagers to register to vote when they turned 17. Here’s the reasoning behind Senate Bill 802: Since many people have their initial contact with the DMV when they turn 16, it makes sense to register them at that time through the motor voter program.
The move also makes sense as another step in Oregon’s praiseworthy efforts to make it as easy as possible to exercise the franchise. (Another bill before this session would require the state to pay the postage for returning mailed ballots, which is a good idea, but likely too expensive for a state facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall. By contrast, Senate Bill 802 would have a negligible impact on state coffers).
In addition, it’s possible that the early registration could serve as an incentive for teenagers to pay more attention to current events and politics. In the words of a news release from Oregon Senate Democrats: “Engaging people in the democratic process at a young age is shown to increase voter engagement in adulthood.” Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Republican, found that argument persuasive and is backing the measure.
But it could also lead to a moment of disappointment when those young registered voters finally turn 18 and get their first ballots in the mail.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment: Let’s say you’ve been politically active since you were 16. Let’s say when the postcard arrives from the DMV listing your options under the motor voter program, you actually returned it, and affiliated with a particular political party. (If you don’t return the postcard, you go on the rolls officially as an unaffiliated voter; most of the people who are registered through the program don’t return the postcard.) You watch C-SPAN in your spare time, maybe participate in a march or two. You run for a seat on the student council (or, in the alternative, you manage a classmate’s campaign for the student council). You become an engaged, knowledgeable political animal, bless your heart.
And then you turn 18 and you get that first ballot. You rip open the envelope, you glance over your choices, and your heart sinks a bit: To put it gently, your voting options are not as inspiring as you thought they might be. Those two years of being registered but not able to vote have resulted in a ballot moment that is somewhat anticlimactic.
Take heart, young voter: Swallow hard and cast your ballot, like the rest of us. Then, perhaps, work toward a day when your name is among those listed on the ballot. We look forward to that day.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, April 7, on the firing of the Oregon Lottery director:
An investigation into events leading to the firing of Oregon Lottery Director Jack Roberts last year has shed some welcome light on what had been a murky situation at an agency that handles a lot of public funds.
The lottery had $1.23 billion in revenues last fiscal year, with the main beneficiaries being schools and economic development/jobs programs.
Along with the welcome largesse has always come some level of discomfort about the lottery, however, particularly in regard to its relationship to problem gambling and the prospect of low-income residents gambling meager earnings at long odds, hoping to achieve financial security.
Given all this, it’s important that the lottery operate in a transparent manner without even a whiff of scandal.
Roberts is a well-known figure in state and local politics, having served as a Lane County commissioner and as state labor commissioner, among other positions. So when Gov. Kate Brown abruptly fired him from the lottery last year, it drew statewide attention, including speculation that his firing was politically motivated. Roberts is a prominent Republican; Brown is a Democrat.
In an interview with Register-Guard reporter Saul Hubbard last year, Roberts said his termination was tied to his decision to place his chief deputy, Roland Iparraguirre, on paid administrative lead after complaints from one of Iparraguirre’s subordinates of a hostile work situation. Roberts said he wanted the dispute to be investigated by an outside party; Brown’s office sought to have Iparraguirre immediately reinstated. When Roberts refused, he was fired.
In the ensuing months, Roberts has taken the high road, saying he served at the pleasure of the governor and occasionally offering factual corrections to published reports or comments on the situation.
An independent investigation into the events preceding Roberts’ firing was completed last August, but state officials attempted to keep the report private. It became public only this week, after The Oregonian succeeded in a public records appeal to the state Department of Justice.
The investigation paints a damning portrait of Iparraguirre as a workplace bully who did all that the employee who complained about him said he did - and more. (Iparraguirre disputes the report). In other words, Roberts’ course was the correct and prudent one, protecting the integrity of the lottery’s operations and possibly shielding it from future lawsuits.
What is troubling is the way the matter was handled, especially the attempt to keep the investigation’s findings secret. Roberts’ firing was news around the state, fueling speculation and rumors. This did no one any good, least of all the lottery. The results of the investigation were no doubt embarrassing to Brown’s office and to Iparraguirre - who has since landed another state job. That should not be a deciding factor in the public’s right to information about a major source of state funds.
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