- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The Register-Guard, March 13, on doing away with prescriptions for Sudafed:

Oregon’s illicit drug marketplace has changed, and it’s therefore time to change how the state regulates allergy medicines.

In 2006, when Oregon passed its toughest-in-the-nation law making Sudafed, Claritin-D and other medicines containing ephedrine available by prescription only, the state was in the middle of a methamphetamine epidemic. Much of that meth was locally produced in clandestine labs set up in homes, trailers, abandoned businesses or other locations.



Meth-makers needed pseudoephedrine in quantity, so limiting the ability to buy it over-the-counter seemed like a reasonable tool that was worth the inconvenience to allergy sufferers seeking relief from their symptoms. Some data show that the number of labs in the state had begun to decline significantly after a 2004 law requiring an ID to purchase pseudoephedrine products, but the 2006 law seems to have sealed the deal.

Today, the meth epidemic might be making a comeback, but not because local meth labs are popping up again. Experts believe laws making it more difficult to buy pseudoephedrine in mass quantity were effective in cutting down on production in the U.S., but Mexican cartels have picked up the slack with more potent, cheaper versions.

Addiction is a deadly serious problem in Oregon, and the state has had some of the highest numbers of meth-related deaths in its history in recent years. Despite this, local production has been all but eliminated.

Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, thinks it’s time for the law to reflect this reality and make it easier for those with legitimate medical needs to get Sudafed and other allergy medicines.

For the second year in a row, he’s sponsoring legislation to end the prescription requirement. He and other supporters make compelling arguments. If the law’s intent was to stop local production, it seems to have worked.

The legislation wouldn’t end all restrictions on pseudoephedrine, risking a resurgence of local meth labs. Customers would still need to show an ID, and pharmacists would check a national tracking database to ensure individuals don’t purchase more than the legal daily or monthly limits at multiple pharmacies. The drugs would remain behind the counter.

That national database is key because it allows for discovering prescriptions filled at multiple locations, even across state lines, and can help identify fake prescriptions. Access to the database is free to pharmacies and law-enforcement when states opt-in.

The current law inconveniences customers and makes allergy medicine more expensive. If it is no longer serving a reasonable purpose, it only makes sense to try a different approach.

Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Association of Oregon Counties and author of the current law, is opposed to changing it, with the possible exception of allowing pharmacists to write prescriptions to ease the burden on customers. It seems like that would mostly increase the burden on pharmacists, though.

Mississippi and Oregon are the only states that require patients with allergies to get a prescription. Every other state has found that using a database, requiring an ID and keeping these allergy medicines behind the counter to be just as, if not more, effective.

Lawmakers should pass HB2303 and align policies here with the rest of the country.

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The Oregonian/OregonLive, March 13, on public records deadline needing teeth:

Legislators in 2017 took a principled stand on government transparency when they passed a bill imposing deadlines for public agencies to fulfill records requests.

Senate Bill 481 - introduced at the request of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, endorsed unanimously by legislators and signed by the governor - was a unified declaration from top elected officials that timeliness is a critical element of transparency. Individuals and members of the news media should be able to review documents showing how city bureaus, county departments, school districts and other governmental agencies conduct the public’s business without having to wait weeks, months or longer to see them. The bill, which established a 15-business-day timeline for agencies to acknowledge and fulfill requests among other improvements, marked a promising step forward in the long campaign to increase transparency in Oregon.

One problem has emerged however: Agencies can - and do - blow past deadlines with no penalties for failing to follow the law, as last year’s report by the Public Records Advocate Council noted. House Bill 2353, sponsored by Rep. Karin Power, D- Milwaukie, would address this problem by allowing district attorneys, the attorney general or a judge to impose a $200 penalty if the agency fails to respond or responds with “undue delay.” The bill, which is scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee, should move forward and merits the same unanimous support that lawmakers gave in 2017.

HB 2353 is a smart, targeted and reasonable fix that reinforces the message that compliance is not optional. Attaching a penalty makes clear to agencies that their failure to release public records in a timely fashion carries consequences. Washington state already has such a penalty - allowing fines of up to $100 for each day an agency is found to have delayed turning over a record.

The bill leaves it up to the discretion of the legal authority in charge to decide whether to levy the penalty. And the penalty is modest enough that officials might actually impose it - helping ensure that behavior changes the next time an agency receives a public records request.

Reporters at media organizations across the state can attest to poor responses by public agencies at all levels of government, even with the new law - at least, until they bring pressure. The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Gordon Friedman recently requested information from the Oregon Health Authority about its drafting of a bill to address treatment for people with mental illness who are charged with crimes. The deadline to acknowledge and fulfill the request went by, with no one responding to Friedman. He then wrote and submitted an appeal to the attorney general’s office, which finally triggered a response from the health authority.

That’s going on locally as well. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office, which oversees records appeals filed against city bureaus, county departments and Portland school districts, already considered and determined that at least two agencies violated the “undue delay” provision in 2018.

The potential of a $200 penalty could provide that pressure and save reporters and the public from having to file an appeal in the first place.

There’s still a lot to fix in Oregon’s public records law: Hundreds of public-disclosure exemptions are tucked into statutes and a fair fee structure is needed to bar agencies from charging excessive amounts as a way to dissuade requesters. In reality, it takes a deep familiarity with Oregon law, stubborn persistence, and the time and will to file appeals before many requesters secure the records that they seek - records that have, as past news investigations have shown, revealed fraud in a signature state tax-credit program; exposed a systemic failure to protect students from a Portland teacher accused repeatedly of misconduct; and demonstrated how the former governor’s fiancee used her role for personal gain. Access to public records is more than just an academic exercise - it can be the only way media organizations and others can examine how people we elect to power are using it.

HB 2353’s public hearing coincides with Sunshine Week, journalists’ annual week-long campaign focused on government transparency and increasing access to public information. It’s exactly the kind of remedy that should be celebrated. Lawmakers should move this bill forward and show once again that they’re on the side of transparency.

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The Bend Bulletin, March 11, on unions not getting the money intended for the classroom:

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision changed how public-sector unions can operate, those unions and their allies have been working to change laws to their advantage.

House Bill 2016 is one example in the Oregon Legislature. It basically hands Oregon’s public-sector unions a direct subsidy from the state and should be rejected.

The bill allows union members to work for the union while they are at work for their government job. In Oregon schools for example, it could divert money that could go to the classroom to pay people to work for unions during the school day. Why is that OK?

Under the bill, the state would collect fees for the unions. Why should the state perform that task? It should be up to the unions to figure out how to get their fees. The bill allows unions to use the government’s electronic mail system for its own purposes. Why should the state allow its system to be used by anyone else?

The bill also gives unions access to employee information that state may have without the employee’s consent - including an employee’s home and cellphone numbers, personal email address and home address. That is not right.

HB 2016 would do all those things and more.

Public-sector unions are entitled to represent state employees who want the union’s representation. That’s the law. But the state should not subsidize the unions. And it should not provide the unions with information that is otherwise exempt from public disclosure.

The Janus decision did arguably hurt the ability of such unions to collect fees, but it was for good reason. The court said public-sector unions must stop forcing nonmembers to pay fees in lieu of dues without their consent. The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them, the court said.

That decision does not justify HB 2016.

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