- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Oregonian/OregonLive, Jan. 24, on a new policy for policy’s sake:

At last week’s Portland City Council meeting, city transportation bureau director Leah Treat dropped the sobering statistic that 45 people died in traffic crashes in Portland last year. The death toll, up from 2016, served as a grim backdrop for city commissioners who unanimously approved a proposal to lower the speed limit on Portland’s residential streets from 25 mph to 20 mph, as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Elliot Njus reported.

The problem, however, is that nearly all of those fatalities occurred on arterials and busy streets that won’t be covered by the new speed limit. Instead, they occurred on “high-crash corridors” - thoroughfares that account for the vast majority of serious crashes and whose speeds are controlled by the state - not the city.

Certainly, lowering fatalities isn’t the only goal of the transportation bureau, and Treat emphasized the benefits of slower speeds to reduce crashes of all types, improve neighborhood safety and make residential areas more welcoming to bikers and walkers. The bureau has also undertaken other measures that more directly address Portland’s most dangerous streets. But the implication that this new speed limit will dramatically change the death toll is misleading.

Unfortunately, it’s not the only way that city officials flunked the good-policy test.

Take data, or rather, the lack of it. Transportation officials point to studies showing that crashes at lower speeds result in fewer deaths as generic justification for the change. But what they should have provided is specific data from locations where the speed limit has been dropped from 25 mph to 20 mph. And the bureau would not have had to go far. Since 2012, Portland has done exactly this on select streets that the transportation bureau designated as “neighborhood greenways.” Have crashes decreased? Are drivers following the speed limit? Are cars diverting to other roads? Who knows. Apparently, not the bureau, which did not answer the Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board’s questions about the greenways.

Now, consider enforceability. Treat acknowledged that Portland Police will continue to focus their law enforcement on the 30 “high-crash corridors” in the city. That makes sense. The city should target its limited resources at the biggest source of the problem. But it then raises the question of how city leaders expect the new speed limit to be enforced. Their answers: Complaints, which could trigger police to set up an enforcement operation on a residential street, and, the Portland standby of shaming. In other words, those who speed will continue to do so with little chance of getting caught.

On the flip side, maybe a lack of enforcement isn’t so bad. City commissioners didn’t even stop to consider the ramifications of a law that lowers the threshold for police to stop a driver. That’s a serious oversight when Portland Police’s own statistics show that officers stop African American drivers for traffic violations at disproportionately high rates. A recent series by InvestigateWest/Pamplin Media Group showed African Americans in Multnomah County on average paying higher traffic fines than whites.

Many residents would welcome efforts to tame the aggressive, speeding and dangerous drivers who zip through neighborhoods. It’s anyone’s guess whether the new speed limit will do any of that.


The Eugene Register-Guard, Jan. 24, on preventing traffic deaths:

A new national report calls for lowering the legal blood alcohol concentration for drivers nationwide, with the goal of preventing drunken-driving deaths in the United States.

The current legal limit in all 50 states is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 - the standard set by Congress in 2000, which was backed by a threat to cut highway funds if a state did not comply. (Utah’s legislature voted to lower its limit to 0.05, effective at the end of this year.)

The new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which was commissioned by the federal government, says the limit should be lowered to 0.05 nationwide - the equivalent of one to two drinks for most women weighing more than 120 pounds or two to three drinks for most men weighing more than 180 pounds. (Factors such as how recently someone has eaten can affect blood alcohol concentration.)

Deaths and injuries due to drunken driving are 100 percent preventable: Just don’t drink and drive. But a lot of Americans either don’t understand this, or have been unwilling to accept it. Several studies, including one involving college students, found that many people who drink alcohol severely underestimate how drunk they actually are.

Even after drunken-driving deaths fell by 27 percent from 2005 to 2014 in the United States, to reach historic lows, they still accounted for almost one out of every three traffic deaths - or an average of one every 53 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

These are far too many deaths, given that they are totally preventable and that almost 40 percent of the deaths are of innocent victims such as pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles.

One study, by researchers at the University of Chicago, estimated that lowering the blood alcohol limit to .05 would reduce fatal alcohol-related crashes by 11 percent, based on research from other countries - more than 100 of which have already dropped their limits to .05.

Even at .05 percent, drivers experience reduced coordination and ability to track objects and difficulty steering, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But at .08 percent, add trouble controlling speed and difficulty processing information and reasoning - which bolsters the argument for reducing the blood alcohol limit to .05.

Opposition to decreasing the allowable blood-alcohol limits has come mainly from the beverage industry, which went on the attack when Utah passed the law lowering the blood alcohol limit there, the Deseret News reported. This included mounting an ad campaign to discourage tourists from visiting Utah.

There’s a strong argument to be made for reducing blood alcohol limits nationwide, rather than having limits that go up or down when state borders are crossed. Drunken-driving deaths are needless deaths, which are costly in both human and financial terms - in the end, everyone pays, in the form of higher insurance premiums, for example.

With a teetotaller president in the White House, now is a good time to look at drafting a national policy to reduce drunken-driving fatalities. But even if Congress has no appetite for this, states such as Oregon can follow Utah’s lead and pass their own laws. Lives could depend on it.


The Bend Bulletin, Jan. 23, on bill not being the best way to improve education:

Oregon struggles at near bottom in high school graduation rates, and the state’s absenteeism is through the roof.

A group of legislators led by Democratic Reps. Brian Clem of Salem and Margaret Doherty of Tigard have proposed to make education in Oregon better by mandating class size be negotiated in labor contracts. House Bill 4113 would make class size a mandatory subject of collective bargaining between teachers and school districts.

It’s not completely unreasonable that class size be included. It’s included in the collective bargaining in other states. But the only clear thing the bill would do is strengthen the power of teachers’ unions. Legislators should vote ‘no’ on HB 4113.

Class size is excluded by law from collective bargaining in Oregon along with a long list of other items - teacher evaluations, dress, grooming, smoking, student discipline, the time between classes and more. The most curious exclusion under Oregon law must be “gum chewing.”

It’s taken as almost a given in education that smaller class size is better. There would be less chaos and more one-on-one time with the teacher, right? Years ago, a key study in Tennessee “proved” smaller is better. But that study had holes. And when schools go gonzo for smaller class sizes, it means something else suffers. Reducing class size is actually one of the most expensive ways to improve education. Some states - California, Florida and Wisconsin - ratcheted back after trying to dramatically improve class size because of costs and lack of sufficient improvement.

HB 4113 seems more like an effort to deliver a boon to teachers’ unions in Oregon than an effort to improve education. The Oregon School Boards Association fears it will add costs and lead to other cuts without necessarily improving education.

If there’s anything education research is clear about, it is that the single best way to improve student performance is improving teacher quality. But instead of a bill aimed at that issue, Clem and Doherty crafted HB 4113 to strengthen the power of the state’s teachers’ unions. Vote it down.


The Daily Astorian, Jan. 23, on abortion being a woman’s choice:

This week, instead of quietly marking the 45th anniversary of the passing of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, citizens around our nation are gearing up to fight to protect it.

President Trump’s flip-flop from supporting to opposing legal abortions took place some while ago, although he still would allow early terminations in cases of rape and incest. His emotionally charged pronouncements Friday to demand changes in the law were a thinly veiled attempt to solidify his crumbling political base.

His decision to embrace the belief that the federal government knows what is best for any American woman making this difficult choice is simply disturbing. The revival of the clashing rhetoric - over a battle that was settled long ago - is simply a political distraction just when his administration is under fire from all sides.

Abortion long has been a core issue of his vice president, Mike Pence, who brought many hardline evangelicals on board to win the 2016 GOP campaign with his emotionally charged rhetoric against legal abortions and homosexual rights.

The key word in any abortion discussion is “legal.” Women who want to have an abortion will have the operation regardless of the law. The question is whether this simple medical procedure is performed in safe, hygienic conditions by trained professionals or in considerably less healthy circumstances which pose a danger to the women’s lives and long-term health.

Roe v. Wade was supposed to settle the matter. Both sides presented arguments in a Texas case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The battle was fought. And the battle was won. In 1973, justices voted 7-2 in favor of a ruling that overturned state bans and legalized abortion throughout the nation. They did so on privacy grounds, saying government intervention in a woman’s medical treatment was an unwarranted and improper intervention in her right to choose what happens to her body.

About 7 in 10 Americans (69 percent) oppose overturning Roe V. Wade, according to the Pew Research Center. About 3 in 10 (28 percent) would like to see it overturned. That split of public opinion has held relatively steady in recent decades.

Abortion opponents have worked hard to impose obstacles to women following through on their own choices.

In states around the nation, such groups have enlisted compliant legislators to pass laws that deliberately make it very difficult for a woman to obtain a legal abortion. Legislation has been introduced to restrict abortion to circumstances of rape, or where the woman’s life is in danger. All these strategies seek to chip away at a woman’s natural right to determine whether and when she bears a child.

Roadblocks like waiting periods, mandatory counseling and other restrictions reveal a concerted effort. In recent years, states have sought to insist that clinic doctors have credentials from their local hospitals and require clinics to make expensive modifications to their facilities. These latter two requirements were introduced in a Texas law in 2013, but struck down by subsequent court rulings.

Trump’s speech Friday has already been dissected for its mistruths. The false comparisons with other nations were easy to reveal, just like so many of our chief executive’s other dubious statements.

We simply do not need this. This country has enough problems with environmental threats, overwhelming debt, crumbling infrastructure, hunger, poverty and crime without revisiting a fight won long ago.

One person summed up the issue back in 1999.

It remains a statement with which we totally agree.

“I want to see the abortion issue removed from politics. I believe it is a personal decision that should be left to the women and their doctors.”

The speaker was Donald Trump.


The Medford Mail Tribune, Jan. 21, on the Southern Oregon ESD compromise seeming like a good one:

The Southern Oregon Education Service District has done the right thing by agreeing to a compromise with school districts that want to limit the services they receive from it. Now it’s up to the districts to accept or reject the new plan. In the process, the larger districts such as Medford need to ensure that their students receive all the services they need.

The Southern Oregon ESD, headquartered in Medford, is one of 20 statewide. SOESD serves districts in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties, providing special education, instructional support, and network and information technology services. ESD support is especially important to small districts that lack the resources to provide them on their own.

Larger districts, looking to squeeze as much as possible from tight budgets, reason that they can provide some services themselves for less money. SOESD receives $5.5 million for the services it provides the Medford district, for example. Medford would keep 90 percent of that money if it withdrew.

The two largest districts, Medford and Central Point, notified the SOESD in 2016 that they might pull out, but district officials wanted the ability to buy back services they still needed by paying a surcharge. The SOESD refused, and the districts stayed in for another year.

Since last fall, SOESD’s 13 districts worked to draw up a new formula that would persuade the big districts to stay. Finding a compromise was important, because losing the big-district funds could threaten the services the smaller districts rely on. The most popular plan they came up with would designate an “essential core” of services every district must participate in, but allow districts flexibility on the rest.

That makes sense for the SOESD, and its board has approved the plan. It makes sense for Medford and Central Point, too, which potentially could save money by providing some services in-house.

Medford Superintendent Brian Shumate will present the proposal to the Medford School Board this week; a vote is expected next month. Two-thirds of the SOESD’s districts, representing 50 percent of the total number of students, must agree to the plan before it can take effect.

The plan seems to be a good one for all concerned, as long as districts limiting their involvement maintain important services.

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