- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Eugene Register-Guard, Aug. 9, on legalizing marijuana

Another significant voice has joined the growing chorus asking the federal government to change the way it deals with marijuana.

The National Conference of State Legislatures on Tuesday passed a resolution asking the federal government to change its classification of marijuana from Schedule I - which includes the most dangerous drugs, with no accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological or physical dependence - to Schedule III - drugs with moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.

A bipartisan group of Oregon lawmakers - including Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day and Eugene Democratic Reps. Phil Barnhart and Julie Fahey - were in the forefront of the effort.

State legislators from across the country also renewed their efforts to help legal cannabis businesses gain access to banking services - now both a problem and a public safety risk - due to federal banking laws.

Under the current administration in Washington, D.C., however, these lawmakers are facing an uphill battle, despite growing national support for their position.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the governors of Alaska, Colorado and Washington - states that also have legalized recreational marijuana - earlier this year sent a letter inviting U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin “to engage with us” on the subject. They got a snarky response from Sessions.

In a letter to Brown, Sessions cited an Oregon State Police draft report raising concerns about black market marijuana and surplus marijuana from Oregon being sold out of state. “This report raises serious concerns about the efficacy of marijuana ‘regulatory structures’ in your state,” Sessions said, among other things.

Brown’s office hasn’t publicly responded to Sessions’ letter, but state police told The (Portland) Oregonian that the report Sessions cited is preliminary and incomplete.

Marijuana has gradually become more accepted in mainstream America. When a John Day Republican supports removing cannabis from the Schedule I list, it’s a strong indication this isn’t a radical, or even a liberal, cause anymore.

The patchwork of laws and regulations relating to marijuana that has sprung up around the country makes no sense. But inconsistent laws do make it harder to regulate production and use of marijuana. They also make it difficult to do research on marijuana or raise public funds by taxing the industry.

Want to end the black market in marijuana? Make it legal and regulate it. Concerned about quality and safety? Make it legal and regulate it. Concerned about criminal elements being involved in marijuana? Make it legal and regulate it. Concerned about the impact of marijuana on the human body? Make it legal, clearing the way for research into its effects - including medicinal uses - that is now, with few exceptions, barred.

Continuing to treat marijuana as if it were heroin serves no useful purpose or the public interest.


The Oregonian/OregonLive, Aug. 9, on lack of patience for Portland Marathon organizers

It’s unacceptable that runners from across the country who’ve trained for months and spent money on travel should have to worry whether the Portland Marathon’s organizers can pull off this year’s race.

Who could blame them? The Oregon Department of Justice is investigating the nonprofit marathon’s corporate structure and its relationship with the for-profit Next Events. Both entities are operated by Les Smith and Mamie Wheeler.

Separately, Smith has yet to receive a permit for the Oct. 8 race following months of skirmishes with city officials over a change to the course. The marathon director told The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Lizzy Acker he’s on track to get the permit. That’s good for Portland and the thousands of runners who’ve already paid to participate.

But clearly it’s time for city leaders to find a new group to take charge of the popular marathon in 2018.

Over the past 35 years, Smith has helped shape the race through Portland’s neighborhoods that has won the hearts of runners around the world. It’s known as the “People’s Marathon,” a relatively forgiving course perfect for first-time marathoners. Even Oregonians who can barely jog around the block have a soft spot for the race. They’ve passed water out at mile 20 or cheered on runners out their car window. There’s no denying the marathon has brought Portland tourism dollars and further affirmation of our outdoor adventure cred.

But the stakes are high and the troubles have become too big to ignore. In 2016, a series of mistakes led as many as half of the 8,000 participants to run an additional half-mile. That’s an eternity for runners carefully tracking the time and pace. The extreme carelessness also meant runners lost out on achieving personal records or qualifying times for the Boston Marathon.

Smith, the event director, never apologized publicly. No, he consistently pooh-poohed concerns, saying “it’s no big deal.” Same story when organizers failed to get the finish line up in time for the men’s marathon and gave the third-place runner the first-place trophy. Smith went on to complain in less than professional terms about city fees the marathon pays to cover police overtime, traffic planning and safety measures.

“They literally are raping the events that are in town to get money from them,” Smith told Acker.

What’s most troubling is Acker’s report that the 2016 race was nearly shut down 30 minutes after runners had left the line. Smith had failed to distribute a key plan to aid stations outlining safety procedures to keep runners and crowds safe in the case of an emergency. City officials told Acker that Smith was reluctant to change the emergency plan he’d used for 27 years, even after the deadly terrorist attack at the 2013 Boston Marathon prompted law enforcement to demand new security measures here.

Ultimately, the city’s reputation is on the line with such an event and Portland’s leaders must be able to trust organizers to work in the best interest of the participants and the city. It’s no longer clear that is the case.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, an avid runner himself, says he knows the difference between a well-organized marathon and one that’s a sham. That should help as the city works to find a more reliable team to run this signature event in 2018.


The Bend Bulletin, Aug. 8, on Oregon Health Authority revealing lack of ethical standards

How does a state agency influence proposed legislation?

The Oregon Health Authority came up with a shocking approach: Try to plant negative news stories about a nonprofit that would benefit from the legislation.

The Portland Tribune’s Nick Budnick reported Friday that the OHA plotted to find a disgruntled patient and anonymously connect that patient with a newspaper. The goal was to have the newspaper publish a story that would damage FamilyCare’s credibility. The OHA plan involved identifying friendly legislators and getting them to plant the stories so the OHA could appear neutral.

FamilyCare is a Portland-area nonprofit that provides care to low-income Medicaid patients under the OHA’s supervision. The two were in a court dispute because FamilyCare said OHA set reimbursement rates too low.

No newspaper stories resulted, but a bill that would have helped FamilyCare died in committee in the recent session of the Legislature.

The plan came from OHA’s communications staff and was not formally approved, but Budnick found evidence that OHA Director Lynne Saxton signaled her approval in an email, saying some new developments “will build on the already good start you have outlined.”

FamilyCare is one of the state’s 16 coordinated care organizations. It has been a vehement critic of the OHA, Budnick reported, accusing the agency of incompetence and trying to damage the nonprofit.

FamilyCare had a lower rate of reimbursement than other CCOs because it had a healthier population, Budnick reported. The agency also said FamilyCare was “taking advantage of taxpayer money” by paying providers more than Medicaid required. FamilyCare said it did so to make sure patients could get appointments and to focus on prevention.

Whatever the merits of the rate argument, the notion of a state agency seeking to influence the Legislature by secretly planting negative stories reveals an appalling lack of ethical standards.

Budnick found numerous references to the OHA’s interest in maintaining its reputation. Clearly, the agency has done exactly the opposite with its underhanded tactics.


Medford Mail Tribune, Aug. 5, on the Medford police’s video cams should be aired publicly

We are not opposed to the idea of video cameras capturing 24/7 images of people in public areas, especially those areas that have a reputation for trouble. We are concerned, however, that the Medford Police Department has begun the practice without a public discussion or, apparently, specific direction from elected city leaders.

Medford police are now videotaping two places: Alba Park and near a pedestrian bridge off Ninth Street that leads to the Bear Creek Greenway. Alba Park has become a hangout for homeless and transient people, with all the accompanying issues. The bridge at Ninth Street is used by Rogue Community College students to go to and from a parking lot and there had been several incidents of the students being harassed, again, by homeless or transient people.

Medford police say they are not monitoring people with the cameras but rather using the stored video if complaints or crimes are reported to see whether they can identify the alleged perpetrators. They also say the clearly visible blinking, blue lights of the video cameras serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals.

Several people interviewed for the story we published on July 31 said they had no problem with the cameras, as long as they were not being used to target the homeless. Police say that’s not the case; the cameras are used to deal with crimes, not homelessness. They also say the cameras already have been a success at curbing problems near the pedestrian bridge.

We agree the cameras’ current use is not an overreach. People in a public place, like a park, should have no expectation of privacy. If they are behaving themselves, i.e., not committing a crime, they have nothing to fear from the recordings.

But questions arise:

Where was the public discussion on this plan? Do the citizens of a community have a right to know they are being videotaped?

What process did the city go through in determining this would be a reasonable tool to use in crime fighting?

Where else, if anywhere, do police plan to post video cameras?

What safeguards are there to ensure the videos are used only for the stated purpose of investigating crimes after they happen?

The “slippery slope” argument is overused by opponents of any number of things. But in this case, there is a long-term slippery slope that is very real. At what point do we wake up and realize that our movements are constantly being recorded, and perhaps by then, observed in real time by authorities?

That slippery slope presents the possibility that authorities would in some distant future use the videos to crack down on political dissent. That happens elsewhere in the world already, where Big Brother is an ever-present part of people’s lives.

We are not suggesting the Medford police are doing anything beyond exactly what they say they are. Today is not the issue; tomorrow could be. Different people in charge, different social or political climate, different uses for the video.

It’s a topic that at a minimum should be discussed in a public forum. The end result may very well be the same, but it would be with the consent or at least the knowledge of the community.


The Roseburg News-Review, Aug. 4, on schools needing to aim higher

At first glance, it’s heartening to see that several Douglas County schools are above the curve in rankings recently released by U.S. News and World Report.

We’re worried, however, about just how low the bar has apparently been set.

Three local high schools - Oakland, Roseburg and Yoncalla - received bronze medals in the 2017 rankings released in July.

That puts them ahead of about 14,000 lower-ranked schools across the country.

U.S. News and World Report evaluated 20,487 schools for its ranking. It looked at a variety of statistics for those schools, including English and math scores, percentage of disadvantaged students earning good scores, college preparedness and graduation rates. In all, 3,432 schools received bronze medals nationwide, while 2,019 received silver and 500 received gold.

No Douglas County high schools received silver or gold medals. Most didn’t medal at all.

Those who did win medals deserve some recognition for prevailing against the odds in a poor, rural county with limited funds.

Still, a closer look at the statistics makes the victory seem a bit hollow.

About three quarters of the 11th-grade students at each school met state standards for English proficiency - not horrible, but not great either, since it means that a quarter of the juniors in those schools are apparently not proficient in English.

If the English scores seem less than stellar, the math scores are dismal. At Yoncalla, the best of the bunch, 47 percent (by our math fewer than half) of the students meet state proficiency standards. At Oakland, the figure is 39 percent. And at Roseburg, 31 percent (fewer than one third) of the students are proficient at math.

What’s worse, remember, is these are the good schools. They’re well above the Oregon and national averages and far above the lowest-ranking schools in Douglas County. In Glendale, the worst in the county on these measures, math proficiency is at 11 percent and English proficiency at 30 percent.

One genuinely good mark is Oakland’s graduation rate of 96 percent. Now there’s a statistic deserving of praise.

Seventy-four percent of Roseburg students graduate high school, and Yoncalla 79 percent. This puts them ahead of the county, state and national curves, but leaves a lot of students out - students who are ill prepared for the job market and will likely be dependent on government handouts for life.

Overall, we’re discouraged by the state of education reflected in these rankings - locally, statewide and nationwide it appears that most of our schools are not preparing students for the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs of the future.

The bronze schools, if their percentage performance received a letter grade, ought to be given “C” grades in English and “F” grades in math. The 14,000 schools below them, including the other 11 high schools here in Douglas County, are even worse.

It seems to us that we ought to look at these scores as a challenge. We all - students, teachers, administrators, parents and community - need to aim higher.

Our future depends on it.

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