- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The Bend Bulletin, Oct. 11, on zapping proposal for charging stations

Electric cars may someday rule the road. It won’t happen if there aren’t enough places for them to plug in.

But who should pay for the charging stations?

Both Pacific Power and Portland General Electric have proposals before Oregon’s Public Utility Commission that would allow them to pass the cost of building about a half a dozen charging stations apiece to their ratepayers.

They may only be pilot programs, but it’s the wrong model. It’s wrong for ratepayers to underwrite the expansion of the monopoly that electrical utilities already have to include charging stations. If the two investor-owned utilities want to plunge into the charging market, they should come up with the money themselves just like any other business.

Electric cars are still a novelty on the road. Last year they were only about 1 percent of vehicles sold worldwide. But more electric cars are being built and bought. The price point for electric vehicles may decline even as engineers come up with ways to extend their range.

The right model of charging stations may not be like the gas station. Even with fast chargers, it can take a half an hour to fully recharge a car battery. It makes more sense to have people recharge where they park - at home, where they do their shopping or where they work. There would still be a need for charging stations along highways for people making longer trips.

Electric vehicles and charging stations are a fledgling industry. Oregon should be encouraging innovation, competition and customer choice. It doesn’t do that by giving utilities the ability to use their ratepayers to squeeze out the competition. How is another charging business supposed to compete with utilities being able to fund charging station construction by ratepayers?

Some ratepayers might be happy to support electric vehicles. But it’s not fair to other ratepayers to compel them to pay to grow a utility’s monopoly.

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The Eugene Register-Guard, Oct. 11, on recruiting in-state students benefiting colleges

The rapid increase in out-of-state enrollment at the University of Oregon in the last decade speaks to the effectiveness of its campaign to attract more students from other states and countries.

The UO’s annual admissions budget has been increased by $1.3 million - or almost 30 percent - this year, Register-Guard reporter Saul Hubbard wrote earlier this week.

Some of this will go to in-state recruitment, but it also will go to increasing UO’s recruiting presence in up to 20 other states on the East Coast, in the Midwest, the West and the South.

The different perspectives of a geographically diverse student body, along with the significantly higher tuition nonresident students pay - approximately triple that of an Oregon resident - are understandably attractive to the university.

But the not-so-silver lining to all of this is an accompanying decrease in in-state enrollment, a trend that the university expects to continue. By 2025-26, UO students from out of state will outnumber those who are from Oregon, the university projects.

This is troubling for a number of reasons, first and foremost that it goes against the most basic mission of public universities - to provide a high-quality affordable education to the qualified students of their state, especially those who might not otherwise be able to attend college.

This benefits not just these students and their families, but the state as a whole and the taxpayers who have invested in Oregon’s public universities.

A state’s economic health depends on having a well-educated and skilled workforce to fill jobs, create and expand businesses, spark innovation, raise productivity, help attract new businesses, pay taxes, raise income levels and contribute to their communities in a multitude of ways.

Numerous studies, including from the U.S. Department of Education, have shown that college graduates - particularly at public universities - are likely to remain in the state where they graduate if they grew up and attended kindergarten through 12th grade schools there. Out-of-state students are far less likely to remain after graduation.

The UO is not alone in its pursuit of out-of-state students; this is a trend that has become prevalent across the country, which can make it difficult for any one university to hop off the merry-go-round.

What the UO and other public universities in Oregon can do, however, is make sure that they work just as hard to recruit and retain in-state students - including those being wooed by other states’ universities - as they do to recruit out-of-state students.

The UO and other public universities also should weigh carefully the benefits of investing significant sums in recruiting out-of-state students, who are less likely to remain in the state after graduation, vs. investing that money in in-state students who are more likely to remain in Oregon after graduation. That calculation should include the jobs they will fill, the businesses they will create, the taxes they will pay and the contributions they will make to their communities after graduation.

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Albany Democrat-Herald, Oct. 10, on new law triggering drop in inmate numbers

A law approved by this year’s Legislature appears to have made some immediate progress toward one of its goals, fending off for the time being the costly opening of a second women’s prison in the state.

But whether the law in the long run improves public safety in Oregon will depend on a large degree on the state’s willingness to properly fund community-based corrections programs.

A new report from the state Office of Economic Analysis reports that the state’s prison population is expected to be 11 percent less in the coming decade than previously projected. That’s mainly thanks to House Bill 3078, which made three adjustments to state law to try to reduce the number of female prisoners:

. First, it expanded eligibility criteria for the Family Sentencing Alternative Pilot Program to allow more parents to participate

. Second, it increased the limit for a supporting early-release program known as short-term transitional leave from 90 to 120 days.

. The third provision was by far the most controversial: It reduces the sentences for first-degree theft and identity theft, from 18 months down to 13 months. Lawmakers targeted those specific crimes because they’re more likely to be committed by women. Many district attorneys, including Linn County’s Doug Marteeny, had serious reservations about that provision. The bill ended up passing mostly (but not entirely) on party lines, with Democrats tending to support it and Republicans against.

Mostly as a result of the bill, the number of inmates housed in Oregon prisons (14,725 as of the Oct. 1 report) is expected to fall significantly over the next five years and then should grow nominally. The number of female inmates is expected to drop by 8 percent. The overall inmate population is expected to drop by 0.1 percent in the next 10 years, compared to an estimated 12 percent growth in the state’s population. (Over the previous 10 years, the report said, the inmate population has kept pace with the state’s population.)

One immediate result: Plans to open the second women’s prison, with a price tag of $10 million, have been put on ice for the time being.

But it will take years to gauge the full impact of the new law - and whether it makes Oregon communities safer.

Tim Colahan, executive director of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, told the Portland Tribune that the law needs “to be judged by the impact on the rates of crime and recidivism. . Safety should not be compromised for savings.”

One of the bill’s proponents, Andy Ko, the executive director of the nonprofit group Partnership for Safety and Justice, argued the other side to the Tribune: “We know that addiction and mental illness are the primary contributors to many drug and property crimes.” Ko said it makes more sense to invest in drug abuse treatment, mental health care and other services instead of warehousing inmates in prison cells.

But it’s essential that the state follow through on this effort by ensuring that community-based correctional programs are properly funded. Prisons, of course, are by far the most expensive stop on the corrections program.

Which is why community-based programs, done right and funded adequately, can be considerably more cost-effective than prison and help reduce recidivism rates. But if we’re just releasing offenders back into the community with limited supervision and without access to the mental-health and addiction programs they need, we won’t be doing them (or our communities) any favors.

The $10 million saved by not opening another women’s prison helped to plug the state’s billion-dollar budget shortfall. But imagine if we had been able to spend all of that money on community-based programs. It’s another example of the difficulty state officials have in focusing on solutions that will save money and make communities stronger over the long run.

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East Oregonian, Oct. 6, on kids these days

American colleges have long been bastions of learning and growth, where thoughts and ideas are imparted, debated and strengthened. It’s only natural that academia gets tied up with politics, where many of our philosophical ideals meet their practical applications.

Donald Trump is unpopular with young people and the college educated, so it is little surprise that supporters of our current president feel outnumbered in many classrooms and college greens. What is surprising and disappointing, however, is the anger and violence that have erupted against those who have professed their support.

Right-wing media gleefully runs video of the anarchists mobs that gathered in Berkeley and at Evergreen College to protest right-wing speakers (some, white supremacist and neo-Nazi, others merely conservative Republicans), offering it as proof that the left has gone loony. Recent polling data have shown that an increasing number of millennials - in a recent Pew Study it was 40 percent - believe that speech should be restricted to prevent people from saying offensive things about minority groups.

College presidents know the stakes. They know that their campus is always one incident away from online infamy. Or that an incident a thousand miles away, propelled by social media, may end up in protests on their doorstep in a matter of hours.

The presidents of Eastern Oregon University and Oregon State University, as well as University of Oregon vice president for student services Roger J. Thompson, gathered in Pendleton last month. It was purportedly for the Pendleton Round-Up, but we’ve always thought they come every September to chat with the East Oregonian editorial board.

This year, the conversation turned to issues of free speech, and how their campuses are supporting the foundation on which higher education is built.

Each said they have updated policies and procedures, and have tried to engage and challenge students during orientation - as soon as they arrive on campus.

“We all hear about how higher education is coddling,” said Eastern Oregon University president Tom Insko. “At EOU we’re not looking to coddle our students … we want to create a safe environment for you to face these challenging issues head on.”

Oregon State University President Ed Ray said his school has also increased discussion.

“You need to be able to engage in conversation that may make you uncomfortable,” said Ray. “That’s how you harden and develop your own ideas, and learn how to in fact speak up against things that are awful.” He said it’s worth remembering that “whoever is offended has a right to speak also. And they need to know how to do it, and they need to know how to do it in a civil way.”

Thompson said the University of Oregon also has its eye on the free speech/hate speech spectrum. He believes that students - and young people in general - should get more credit than they do. He doesn’t see coddled kids wanting protection, he sees young people that want to be involved, invested and committed to improving their lives and communities.

“I see kids that are connected, that want to make a difference … and they’ve done it high school already,” he said. “They’re kind of questioning the gray-haired folks in the room, looking around and wondering ‘What kind of world are you leaving us?’”

As newspaper editors, we are by definition supportive of First Amendment and free speech. We are also supportive of the kind of debate required to strengthen that support in others.

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The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oct. 6, on day care agency forgetting its duty to protect children

There have been a few signs over the past year that things are terribly amiss within the state agency tasked with watching over the businesses that care for more than 100,000 babies and young children.

In June, The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Brad Schmidt detailed how Oregon’s Office of Child Care allowed a Keizer day care center to continue operating over nine years collecting more than 100 violations and logging the state’s highest count of broken bones. The agency’s response to the troubling pattern? Fines totaling just $325.

The story helped illustrate the findings of a 2016 state audit critical of the agency’s systemic failures to identify problem facilities and act quickly to be sure kids are safe.

Then last month, the agency’s governing body ignored recommendations by the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Education that licensed day care centers test their water for lead. Instead, the Early Learning Council decided it was a “huge burden” to require operators to cover tests estimated to cost between $63 and $95.

Concern that facilities might close - broken by the $100 charge - apparently outweighs the risk that young children could suffer lasting learning disabilities or nervous system damage from even a low-level exposure to lead.

Lead is a neurotoxin that’s most dangerous for children 6 and younger - the very population likely to spend large portions of their days in care centers. As Schmidt reported, at least five other states have figured out that this is a valid concern they should address. Among them is Washington, where leaders shrugged off questions about cost and required licensed daycare providers to test their water by the end of the year.

But no, the Early Learning Council seems more worried about operators’ financial health than children’s health. As one member, Bobbie Weber, put it, “we’re going to run these people out of business.” She went on to ask what good comes from testing if facilities can’t be forced to fix the problem?

Now it’s encouraging when regulators take the time to consider the impact of their decisions, especially those likely to hit smaller businesses harder than their larger competitors. In fact, most day care operate on increasingly thin margins. That’s especially true for businesses anticipating minimum wage increases rolling out in coming years.

It’s also true that parents sometimes struggle to find affordable child care, especially in Oregon’s smaller towns. The state has argued that in some cases, their reluctance to shut down problem operators stemmed from concern they’d leave some families in the lurch.

But to answer Weber’s question, the good that would come from lead testing is transparency and integrity, which is listed as one of the council’s core values.

Parents have a right to know whether the facilities where they leave their children are safe. And it’s the state’s job to help establish the definition of safety. Water without neurotoxins is a good start.

For those with tainted water, the solutions may not be so complicated or costly. Parents could be asked to provide their own bottles or other drinks from home. Operators also could use water coolers, as Portland Public Schools officials have done at many buildings since the district’s own lead crisis was discovered more than a year ago.

Instead, Oregon’s day care regulators plan to rely on videos to train workers. They also plan to require daycare staff to run water for two minutes if a tap hasn’t been used for more than six hours.

Yet these recommendations are simply unacceptable. Council members should take another look at this issue and consider the very young Oregonians who they’re tasked to protect. They could also take another look at their governing body’s mission statement, “to support all Oregon families to learn and thrive.”

Lastly, they could take a look at the agency’s budget. On Sept. 13, the state hired a public relations company to “craft persuasive messages” to address questions being raised by Schmidt and other reporters about these ongoing issues.

Instead of spending $9,900 on out-of-state spin masters, perhaps the money could go toward grants to help struggling operators pay for lead tests.

Just a thought.


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