- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The Statesman Journal, May 6, on the need for sobering centers:

People who are acutely intoxicated on drugs or alcohol often wind up commanding too much law-enforcement time, cost taxpayers and businesses money, and fill emergency rooms with inebriated individuals.

But frequently, the publicly intoxicated are just plain drunk, and sobering centers can keep these individuals out of the criminal justice system, and get them needed mental-health or substance-abuse services.

We support an effort being sponsored by Rep. Duane Stark, a Republican from Grants Pass and co-sponsored by Rep. Knute Buehler, a Republican from Bend.

Stark has been shepherding the sobering-centers project for several legislative sessions. During 2015, three sobering facilities were approved by the Legislature and required to register with the Oregon Health Authority

There is one in Portland, one in Medford and another in Eugene. In 2016, three more were allowed to register, one in Grants Pass, and one each in Klamath and Douglas counties. But caps were added to the 2015 legislation in order to gauge success before allowing more centers to be built.

These centers have been successful, and have given our law enforcement officers another tool to keep the public safe.

Stark is working to get the Senate to approve HB 2175 after the House passed it last week. The bill would lift the cap on the number of sobering centers across the state, and law enforcement officials are throwing their support into the effort.

Marion County, along with the city of Salem and the Salem Police Department, wants to open the seventh sobering facility in the Mid-Valley.

“Sobering centers are a very important component for our local public safety systems,” said Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers. “Sadly, most Oregon communities do not have this kind of resource so individuals suffering from extreme intoxication end up in our local jails and emergency departments to detox.”

There is no charge to the intoxicated individual when they’re admitted to a sobering facility. Stark said one-third check themselves into the centers, which are locked. They can’t stay more than 24 hours, but they can get counseling or social services if they request it.

The facilities adhere to a gross negligence standard to be held liable, and typically don’t make money, Stark said. They are usually public/private partnerships and work because they let police focus on more pressing public-safety issues when publicly intoxicated people don’t present a threat to themselves or others.

Stark said he knows of a few other states piloting programs, but Oregon has a chance to lead on this issue.

The Senate should vote ‘yes’ when the bill comes before it. As Buehler pointed out, more innovative ideas like this are needed “that emphasize compassion and rehabilitation rather than incarceration and punishment.”

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The Register-Guard, May 4, on Oregon Retirement savings plan federal pushback:

The federal government has decided to interfere in Oregon’s new program to offer low- and middle-income workers a low-cost, no-hassle, retirement savings plan.

With the enormous number of pressing problems facing the country - from health care to national security - it’s difficult to understand why Congress is finding it necessary to poke its nose into Oregonians’ business.

It is doubly puzzling given that the new OregonSaves program, scheduled to launch on July 1, embodies the very virtues that the GOP majority in Congress would normally embrace: self-reliance, fiscal prudence and reduced dependence on government handouts.

Nonetheless, Senate Republicans Wednesday voted to roll back a federal rule that cleared the way for state-based retirement plans such as the ones being introduced in Oregon and a handful of other states.

The Oregon plan, like many good inventions, is beautifully simple. It focuses on the one in two private-sector employees who don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work, including many owners of small businesses.

A small percentage of workers’ pay - 5 percent, unless a worker chooses to save more or less - will be deducted from each paycheck and invested in an individual account. The state government can’t touch these accounts, which will be managed by private sector professionals at a cost of 1 percent of assets under management - and possibly less over time.

Employees are automatically enrolled in the plan unless they choose to opt out. They can quit participating at any time or take money out before retirement if they need it.

Such a plan has multiple benefits. Between 600,000 and 1 million Oregonians currently have no workplace savings option. Unless they have a defined-benefit pension plan at work - an option that is rapidly going the way of the dodo - significant savings, or a wealthy elderly relative, they’re going to be depending on Social Security for retirement income. Given that Social Security benefits average $1,341 a month, that is a grim prospect, one that is likely to increase the burden on social service agencies by impoverished seniors.

Workers can brighten that prospect significantly, however, while also reducing their taxes. Saving $25 a week through OregonSaves, for example, adds up to $44,600 in 20 years, or $90,475 in 30 years, assuming a 5 percent net rate of return.

About the only real opposition to these workplace savings plans has come from the financial services industry, which presumably see these low-cost plans as competition.

Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley blasted the GOP’s action. State Treasurer Tobias Read called it an attack on working families and vowed to continue with plans to launch the pilot project on July 1, although OregonSaves’ future is murky if President Trump signs the Senate resolution.

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Yamhill Valley News Register, May 5, on gross receipts tax:

The governor and Legislature are battling on two fronts to balance the state budget for the next biennium. On the first, the government has no choice but to curb spending.

The Oregon Constitution requires the state to balance its budget ever two years to prevent the kind of out-of-control debt and spending we see at the federal level. Accordingly, Gov. Kate Brown released a three-point plan last week to help cut a $1.6 billion deficit by pruning expenditures.

Brown proposed a task force to identify elements that can be privatized or leveraged, impose market-driven compensation for salaries and crack down on unpaid tax obligations to the general fund, currently running half to three-quarters of a billion.

Many won’t like the resulting cuts to services and grants, but they are essential. A bipartisan letter from the Ways and Means co-chairs said as much, noting, “Without action to contain the growing costs of state government now, the structural imbalance will cause even greater deficits in future years.”

But over the long haul, cuts won’t be enough. Changes to the tax code are needed in order to raise additional funds more efficiently.

Legislators seem set on a corporate gross receipts tax of 0.25 percent to 1.0 percent. And either would be much easier to swallow than that outlandish 2.5 percent written into last year’s failed Measure 97.

Oregon’s current corporate income tax is abused by large corporations. There are myriad methods they can use to dodge net income numbers and take advantage of tax credits, thus incurring a smaller tax payment than warranted.

A gross receipts tax is much easier to manage on the state side and much more difficult to abuse on the business side. However, research shows corporate activities taxes tend to translate into higher prices for consumers. Ultimately, the company is able to pass on much of the burden.

That’s particularly true of retailers with the capital to produce their own ingredients and create their own products - companies like WinCo, Safeway and Walmart. They enjoy a huge advantage over smaller, locally rooted businesses in passing costs along.

Secondly, a receipts tax can prove devastating for mid-range businesses, which may easily log $5 million to $10 million in sales without finishing the year in the black. They could be tagged with tax bills of $50,000, $100,000 or more despite turning no profit.

Unfortunately, there seem to be few alternatives on the horizon. As Sen. Mark Hass told The Oregonian: “If anyone has a better plan to look at how to reform and modernize corporate taxes, bring it forward.”

For the sake of a healthy and diverse business community, we’d like to see something new emerge. In the meantime, it appears we’re stuck with this one.

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The News Review, May 5, on prescription drug abuse:

We have a problem.

It goes beyond politics. It isn’t confined to particular neighborhoods. It’s often hidden - all too frequently behind the bathroom mirror.

It begins when a teenager pulls some unused pain pills out of the medicine cabinet, left over from a parent’s surgery. And it progresses to heroin. Sometimes then to a hospital bed, or a jail bed.

Addiction is an ugly, terrible thing, one that causes untold suffering to individuals and their families. It costs our society plenty of money to deal with. Too often, we deal with it badly, sending someone who needs treatment to jail. Sometimes, we don’t identify the signs of mental illness, and so the sufferer seeks solace in drugs. Or we don’t identify the signs of drug addiction before they lead to mental illness.

Either way, someone who could be contributing to society becomes a drain on it.

Is there any end in sight?

Lt. Pat Moore, commander of the Douglas Interagency Narcotics Team, told members of our Community Editorial Board last week that it’s hard to talk about prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction separately. His team asked 100 heroin addicts how they got started, and 73 of them said it began with pills. Oxycodone, hydrocodone, Percoset, Vicodin - it’s all morphine once it gets into the body, just as heroin is.

The other big problem here, of course, is methamphetamine. It’s basically the same thing as speed was in the 1960s. Its ingredients are so cheap that it priced cocaine out of the market. Fewer meth labs are being busted here than were before Sudafed got put behind the pharmacy counter, but it’s still pouring into Douglas County from labs in rural Mexico.

Meth’s big in South County, while heroin’s big in central Douglas County. There’s too much of both everywhere.

And while our kids are vulnerable to the opioids in our medicines, they’re also vulnerable to the adult addicts in their lives. Douglas County has a stunning number of kids in foster care who are there because their parents are on drugs and aren’t able to access the drug treatment they need. Many of these kids are staying in foster care so long they age out of it. At 15, never having been restored to their own families or adopted, they drop out of foster care and out of school and begin couch surfing with their friends, stalling out just when they should be finishing up high school and preparing to soar out of a safe nest into adulthood. What chance do they have at creating their own healthy families and choosing meaningful work?

Perhaps there will be mind-altering drugs as long as there are humans on earth. But that doesn’t mean we should just sit back and let rampant drug addiction erode our community’s culture. We can all start by cleaning out our medicine cabinets. Then we can start pushing for, and supporting prevention and treatment programs that work. Whatever solutions we implement, and pay for, should be evidence-based. We ought to get the best bang for our buck.

The drug problem may seem like one that’s impossible to solve. But we must do everything we can. Our kids’ future is at stake.

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The Baker City Herald, May 5, on suicide bill:

We agree with members of Oregon’s Legislature who want to reduce the state’s suicide rate. Indeed, does anybody not share that goal?

But we disagree that a law - and in particular the constitutionally shaky bill that the Oregon Senate approved this week - is likely to accomplish, in any meaningful way, this noble objective. Senate Bill 719 passed by a 17-11 vote and is now under consideration in the House.

The bill would require people whom a judge deems to be at risk of suicide or of harming another person to surrender all their guns or other potentially deadly weapons to police, a gun dealer or potentially a third party.

The law would apply only if a judge approved what the bill calls an “extreme risk protection order.” A police officer, spouse, parent, child or sibling, or anyone living with the allegedly suicidal person could petition the court for such an order. If it’s approved, the person would have 24 hours to surrender guns and other weapons.

Subjects of such an order could appeal, but the order would remain in effect until the appeal was decided. The order otherwise would be in effect for one year.

Besides its potential conflicts with the Second Amendment, our main concern with the bill is that it focuses solely on the means by which a person might harm himself or others, but has nothing to do with the person’s motivations. And we’re not convinced that those motivations can be addressed through legislation. Not every societal problem can be fixed with a law.

The Legislature can, and should, ensure that the state has a robust and accessible system available for people who seek help with severe emotional problems. But we don’t believe that Senate Bill 719, which treats distraught people as though they were criminals, constitutes that sort of help.

Moreover, relatives and friends need no law to compel them to help people they’re worried about. That’s why people take the car keys from loved ones who have been drinking.


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