- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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Albany Democrat-Herald, June 27, on canceled event offering lesson to nonprofits:

The news last week was heartbreaking on a number of levels: Special Olympics Oregon announced that, because of financial troubles, it was canceling the statewide summer games it had planned to hold next month in Corvallis.

The games, which had been scheduled for July 14 and 15, were expected to draw about 1,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities to Corvallis. The cancellation has to sting for those athletes, their families and their supporters.



Last year marked the first year that the summer games had been held in Corvallis after years in Newberg. Oregon State University served as the home base for last year’s event, a move that gave the athletes a chance to experience something like an Olympic village atmosphere. Other events in the games (which included bocce, golf, softball and track and field) were held in other locations throughout Corvallis. By all accounts, last year’s games went well, and we were settling in for what appeared to be a long and fruitful association between the Special Olympics summer games and Corvallis. In fact, Special Olympics officials said they were looking forward to many more years of holding the summer games in Corvallis.

And it wasn’t just Corvallis that benefited from the games: By the time that the athletes’ friends and families had settled in for the weekend, it was a happily busy stretch for hotels, restaurants and shops throughout the mid-valley - all part of a remarkable summer for tourism in the area.

We expect that the partnership between Oregon State University, Corvallis and the Special Olympics summer games will resume, just as soon as the organization recovers its financial footing.

There’s no word how long that will take, but it is worth noting that Special Olympics made the decision to cancel the summer games after its new CEO, Britt Carlson Oase, reviewed the organization’s books with Lori Van Dyke, its new chief financial officer.

A story in the Portland Business Journal reported that Special Olympics Oregon lost $325,000 on $4.5 million in revenue in 2016, according to its most recent annual report made public. The organization has not yet filed its 2017 report with the Internal Revenue Service - but in its news release announcing the cancellation of the games, it said it expected to lose money again in 2018.

The review also found that the organization had overstated the amount of money owed to it, so its financial situation was even more tenuous than it might have first appeared.

“Coupled with existing debt, there is limited cash available for required pre-payments to vendors for the critical infrastructure needed to produce” the state games, the organization said in its press release last week. Considering all that, the organization appears to have made the right call to cancel the games.

We don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge of what happened at Special Olympics Oregon, but last week’s news release offered a clue: “Once we opened the books, we found significant challenges facing the organization,” Van Dyke said. “In recent years, record management, processes and accounting practices were not well maintained.”

Those are words that should strike right at the heart of anyone who volunteers with a nonprofit organization, in particular board members. Even the best nonprofits can fall prey to overly optimistic financial estimates; when you buy into a nonprofit’s mission, it can be easy to pretend that the finances will take care of themselves.

They do not. Even when everything seems to be going great, board members need to watch over the books with a careful eye and to ask pointed questions when necessary.

We are confident that Special Olympics Oregon, which enjoys a deep reservoir of support throughout the state, will be able to bounce back once it sets its financial house in order. In the meantime, there’s a lesson here for the rest of us: Nonprofits have to balance their books too.

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The Bend Bulletin, June 26, on remembering the new statewide transportation taxes:

If you work for a living, you’re likely to see your paycheck go down a bit with your first payment in July. You can thank the 2017 Oregon Legislature for that.

A new statewide payroll tax goes into effect July 1 as part of a massive, $5.3 billion package of transportation fees and taxes, the proceeds of which will finance everything from congestion-reducing projects to mass transit.

The payroll tax, 0.1 percent of a worker’s gross wages, will cost an Oregonian making $45,000 per year roughly $45, or about $1.88 each two-week pay period. But wait; there’s more line.

Gas taxes have already gone up by 4 cents a gallon, and will increase more in the years ahead. Like the increase in registration fees they generally must be spent on roadways and roadside rest areas.

Too, lawmakers imposed an 0.5 percent sales tax on the purchase of new vehicles. Kelley Blue Book says the average American model car this year costs roughly $40,000, and the tax would add $200 to that price tag. Bicyclists don’t escape, either. They’re paying a $15 “privilege” tax on bikes that cost $200 or more. Those taxes will be used for a variety of transportation-related things.

The payroll taxes will help fund public transportation in the state. For smaller counties that means about $50,000 that, presumably, will be used to beef up their services for the elderly and disabled. Too, in the first year Oregon’s eight Indian tribes will receive $50,000 each. Deschutes County is expected to collect more than $1 million in the first year of the payroll tax and more than double that in fiscal year 2020. Jefferson and Crook counties will get somewhat less.

The new taxes may ease the pressure for local communities to find money for road and transportation projects, but they won’t eliminate it. Cascades East Transit, which provides mass transit throughout the region, will continue to need local funding and may have to ask for local support to increase that funding in the future.

When that time comes, people should remember these new taxes.

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East Oregonian, June 26, on Congress needing to legalize industrial hemp:

We support efforts underway in Congress to make industrial hemp a legal crop for U.S. farmers.

Hemp is a cousin of marijuana that lacks the chemical properties that produce pot’s high. Nonetheless, it is classified with marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law.

Hemp has been grown for fiber for centuries. Colonial Virginia required its cultivation in 1691 and it became an American staple until the 20th century. By the 1930s it had been lumped together with marijuana and made illegal by most states - some say at the bidding of cotton interests.

During World War II the federal government encouraged farmers to grow hemp to replace jute and other fibers from Japanese-held areas in the Pacific necessary for the manufacture of rope. The plant proved so prolific that farmers in the Midwest still struggle to stamp it out of ditches and fence rows more than 70 years later.

In the meantime, products - clothing, foodstuffs, cosmetics and essential oils - made from hemp outside the United States have become a staple in almost every store in the country. So while the federal government bans hemp production in the United States, it approves for importation products made from the same vile weed.

That’s the government for you.

As several states have legalized and regulated marijuana production and trafficking, there has been an effort to liberalize policies on hemp production. The mishmash of state legalization schemes and the lack of much processing capacity has left would-be growers in a lurch. For years we have advised farmers against growing hemp because of the considerable potential downsides should federal narcotics agents decide to swoop down on the farm.

But the law could soon change.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has inserted language into his chamber’s version of the farm bill to make hemp legal again.

“We’ve won the argument that this is not about marijuana,” McConnell said about hemp. “Now we just need to pass the law. And I’m in a uniquely well-situated position to make that happen.”

That he is.

Hemp is not marijuana. Concerns that hemp fields will be used to conceal illicit marijuana grows, one of the main reasons many have opposed its legalization, are probably overblown.

Hemp is clearly a crop that has commercial applications. Before growers can capitalize on that potential, processing infrastructure needs to be built and both raw materials and finished product must be able to move freely across state lines. Eastern Oregon farmers and soils could choose to diversify their crop rotation and their business. They should have that right.

First, though, it must be legal.

It’s not clear that hemp is the highest use of prime ground and precious water. And it remains to be seen if it can be lucrative for growers once restrictions are lifted.

But farmers should have hemp in their portfolio and the chance to make something of it. Hemp should be made legal.

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Corvallis Gazette-Times, June 26, on fire season opening with ominous signs:

It’s a sign of the season: Whenever firefighters and instructors gather for the annual Mid-Willamette Valley Interagency Wildland Fire School in Sweet Home, you usually can be sure that fire season is underway.

That timing held true this year as well: Even as 200 firefighters started going through their weeklong training on Monday, yet another of Oregon’s 12 fire districts (the Northwest Oregon District) was getting to ready to declare that its fire season is officially on. That declaration is expected today. Eleven of the state’s 12 districts have declared their fire seasons; only the Northeast Oregon District has not done so, but it’s just a matter of time.

In this neck of the woods, fire season was declared on June 21. (When fire season is declared in a district, it means that the Oregon Department of Forestry and related agencies impose certain restrictions on public and work-related activities in the state’s forests.)

If you think that fire season seems to start earlier and earlier each year, you’re not wrong: Last year, the Northwest Oregon District, typically one of the last in the state to declare the start of fire season, didn’t do so until July 10.

The district (and, for that matter, much of Northwest Oregon) typically gets a good dose of rainfall during the spring, and that delays the start of an active fire season. But this spring was drier and warmer than usual, and that presages a busy fire season.

And, certainly, the early signs suggest that we can expect a fire season that could stretch into September and beyond: Already, more than 156 square miles (more than 400 square kilometers) are burning in Central Oregon. As of last week, more than 200 wildfires already have been reported on Oregon Department of Forestry lands. More than 80 percent of them were caused by humans, the department said.

Which brings to mind another bit of timing surrounding fire season: It’s not at all unusual to have the start of the season roughly correspond with the stretch of time during which fireworks legally can be sold in Oregon. Fireworks stands in Oregon opened on June 23 and will continue sales through July 6.

In the wake of last year’s Eagle Creek fire, started when a teenager dropped a smoke bomb onto extremely dry ground in the Columbia River Gorge, we probably don’t need much of a reminder about the potentially dangerous combination of fireworks and tinder-dry forest lands. But here goes anyway: Oregon law prohibits possession, use or sale of any firework that flies into the air, explodes or travels more than 12 feet horizontally on the ground, unless you have a permit issued by the Oregon State fire marshal. Bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers are illegal in Oregon without a permit.

All fireworks are prohibited on all Oregon beaches, in state parks and campgrounds and on all federal public lands.

Officials can seize illegal fireworks and charge offenders with a class B misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $2,500 per violation and a civil penalty of up to $500. People who misuse fireworks or who allow fireworks to cause damage may be required to pay fire suppression costs or other damages - witness the Washington teenager who started the Eagle Creek fire, now saddled with a $36 million restitution bill.

Here’s the thing to remember about wildfire, and it’s a point that they’re hammering home to those firefighters training this week in Sweet Home: Fighting these fires, even small ones, can be dangerous work. That’s why safety is the No. 1 topic during the training.

But in addition to the potential for criminal charges and mammoth restitution bills, here’s something else to keep in mind as we approach the heart of fire season: If you’re responsible for starting a blaze, you put firefighters at risk. Those firefighters will have plenty to do this summer; lightning strikes will keep them busy. There’s no need for you to add to their workload. Act with care this summer while you’re enjoying our wildlands.

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The Eugene Register-Guard, June 24, on preventing deaths of children in hot cars:

A Roseburg mother was charged with second-degree manslaughter Thursday when her 21-month-old daughter died after being left unattended in a vehicle for several hours; the mother said she thought she had left her baby at day care.

Even on mild days - it was only about 80 degrees in Roseburg - temperatures inside a vehicle can rise by more than 20 degrees in 15 minutes. Children have died in parked cars when outside temperatures were as low as 63 degrees.

Leaving windows partially open makes little difference, nor is parking in the shade a reliable safeguard, according to a University of California at San Diego study, which found that a child’s body temperature could reach 104 degrees in less than two hours, even in the shade.

An Oregon law that went into effect last year absolves bystanders of liability for damage if they enter a car to rescue a child or pet they believe is in imminent danger. But no one should rely on bystanders to keep a child from harm. The only way to prevent needless deaths of children, and pets, is to never leave either unattended in a parked car in warm weather, not even for what is expected to be just a short errand. This includes guarding against accidentally leaving a child in a car - by putting a purse or other needed item next to a child in the back seat, for example.

So far this year, 18 children have died from heat stroke in the United States after being left in cars. That is 18 too many.

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