Political News

Editorials from around Oregon

Posted April 17

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, April 17, on limiting education reform:

Rep. Sherrie Sprenger isn't harboring any illusions about her House Bill 3208, which essentially would block the Legislature and the state Board of Education from enacting new legislation or rules pertaining to public education.

She knows the bill isn't going to pass the Legislature. Furthermore, she knows the bill is unconstitutional — you can't enact legislation that binds future sessions.

But Sprenger, the Scio Republican, has a point to make to her legislative colleagues, Oregon educators and members of the public.

In part, that point becomes clear as you look at the various "whereas" clauses at the start of the bill.

The bill notes that from the beginning of 2008 to 2016, a total of 3,804 bills became law in Oregon and adds that many of those laws "related to education and imposed mandates and other requirements of the school districts of this state."

Even a partial list of those educational reforms is dizzying:

-In 2012, the 139-year-old statewide superintendent of public instruction position was dismantled, and the governor became the superintendent.

-The Oregon Education Investment Board was created in 2011 and then, just four years later, was restructured as the Chief Education Office.

-Oregon adopted the controversial Common Core State Standards in 2014, causing confusion and frustration in school districts and classrooms.

-The Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, the statewide test given to students, was scrapped in the 2014-15 school year in favor of the Smarter Balanced assessments, which were intended to align better with the Common Core standards.

Any way you look at it, even this partial list amounts to a lot of change. Sprenger's point isn't that all this change is necessarily bad — although the jury still is out on many of these reforms. Her point is more basic than that: Sometimes, she said, we make major policy changes simply for the sake of change, and without any data driving the change. And if we keep changing our educational baselines, she noted, we lose any useful point of comparison. The switch to the Smarter Balanced tests presents a good example of that; it will be another few years before we have useful points of comparison for that test.

Sprenger, who is not among those legislators who floods each session with bills, wants to make another point to her legislative colleagues: Even if all of these reforms are good ideas, the state does not have "the resources to do every good thing," she said. That point is underlined this session by the state's looming $1.6 billion shortfall in the 2017-19 budget.

Even though Sprenger knows House Bill 3208 won't survive the session, she said a hearing on the measure last week drew appreciative nods from legislators.

And, she said, she's heard supportive words from educators: One principal told her about an in-service day that included a briefing on some new educational changes for a group that included both veteran and younger teachers. A younger teacher expressed doubt about the school's ability to put a particular reform into place.

"Oh, don't worry about it," a veteran teacher responded. "It'll be gone next year."

Sprenger fears that the result of our constant tinkering with our schools leaves the impression with educators and the public that the government is doing little more than instituting another educational flavor of the month. If you don't like this one, just wait: The next one will be along soon.

Sprenger knows her bill won't be getting out of committee, but that's not really the point. Her main hope is that the measure prompts some additional thought among legislators as they prepare to cast votes on yet another bumper crop of education-reform proposals.

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The (Medford) Mail-Tribune, April 12, on protecting wild salmon:

Wild salmon face enough challenges to their long-term survival — drought and the related warm-water parasites, poor ocean forage conditions, fishing — without adding suction dredges in their spawning grounds. A temporary moratorium on suction dredging now in effect on Western Oregon streams should be made permanent.

A bill to enact a permanent ban passed the Oregon Senate last week.

Senate Bill 3 would ban suction dredging in wild salmon and steelhead spawning habitat in creeks and rivers identified as "essential salmon habitat." The practical effect of that language would ban dredges from the Illinois River, the Rogue River and its tributaries below Lost Creek Lake, and the Applegate River and its tributaries below Applegate Lake.

Suction dredge operators argue they have a right to vacuum up gravel from riverbeds under the federal Mining Act of 1872, extract gold and other heavy metals and discharge the silt back into the water. They frame their argument in terms of what they call the "War on the West" — restrictions on traditional resource extraction for environmental reasons.

The miners lost a court battle last year when a U.S. magistrate judge tossed out their lawsuit claiming federal law trumped state regulations. They had sought to overturn the state's five-year moratorium on dredging that took effect last January. But Magistrate Judge Mark Clark ruled that the federal Clean Water Act gave states the authority to regulate water pollution, and that the dredging moratorium was not an absolute ban because dry-land mining still can take place outside of salmon streams.

The state had good reason to limit dredging. The number of miners requesting permits to dredge in Oregon streams increased dramatically after California and Idaho restricted dredging, causing concern among Oregon water quality officials and environmental groups who feared the increased activity could harm fish.

The passage of SB 3 is a fitting legacy to the late Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, who championed restrictions on dredging and sponsored legislation to enact a permanent ban, although that effort did not succeed.

This year's bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, including freshman Sen. Alan DeBoer, who was elected to succeed Bates. The bill is headed for the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which includes Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford. Esquivel and his fellow committee members should follow the Senate's lead and send the measure to the governor.

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The East Oregonian, April 12, on wolves and hunting:

Wolves are never far from the minds of Oregonians, and never far from our front pages.

Re-establishing a predator that had been absent from the state for a century has been a continual process with plenty of ups and downs. Many of us have come to terms with sharing our space with another apex predator, others are not quite there yet, and some never will be. Those whose economic livelihood is negatively impacted by wolves are understandably opposed to long-term population growth of animals that harass and sometimes kill livestock.

Last week, two bits of recent news once again changed the trajectory of the wolf debate.

The first is that wolves did not fare as well in 2016 as many experts predicted. After fast-paced population expansion from the northeast corner of the state in westerly and southerly directions, wolf populations saw little or no growth in the last year, according to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Although these counts are notoriously unscientific and likely missed many wolves living in Oregon, the results were still rather shocking.

Could wolves have run up against the limit of habitat where they can repopulate? Seems unlikely. Still, the surprising results require additional study and a tap on the brakes when it comes to parroting Oregon's superior record, compared to neighboring states, on reintroduction.

And that brings us to the second bit of news.

Nineteen Oregon legislators, all from the west side of the state, wrote a letter to Gov. Kate Brown and ODFW noting their opposition to any revision to the wolf plan that would allow for the hunting and trapping of wolves.

They ended their letter with: "Taking a strong stand today (against wolf hunting) will help Oregon avoid the bitter social conflict and divisiveness sport hunting and trapping of wolves has caused in other states."

We don't buy it. Not being willing to consider hunting is what's truly divisive, especially to us out here who are much more apt than our urban counterparts to fish and hunt.

We've always tried to be right down the middle on wolves. We understand their biological role in our ecosystem. We understand they need additional protections as they re-establish, especially from poachers who have ingrained disdain for the animal.

But we also think, once they are recovered, they should be managed like each and every animal in Oregon. We do not think 19 west side legislators (who likely have no wolf packs living in any of their districts) should be able to keep an important management tool and sporting opportunity from Oregonians.

In the future, Oregon should be home to a healthy population of wolves and a season for hunting them. Perhaps 2016's poor results delay both, but it doesn't mean either should be forgotten.

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The Bend Bulletin, April 16, on right-to-work laws:

When is Oregon government going to make jobs a priority?

The Legislature seems intent on making it harder to create and keep jobs. It's looking at meddling in scheduling for businesses. It's looking at new taxes on businesses. And in Senate Bill 1040, it's looking at ensuring that before an Oregonian can get a job he or she could be compelled to join a union or at least pay dues to support it.

SB 1040's chief sponsors are Sens. Ginny Burdick of Portland, Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay and James Manning of Eugene and Reps. Jennifer Williamson of Portland, John Lively of Springfield and Dan Rayfield of Corvallis. They are all Democrats.

The bill is about so-called right-to-work laws. Unions hate them. That's because right-to-work laws remove mandatory union membership dues as a condition of getting a job.

Oregon is not a right-to-work state. In Oregon a private employer can have an agreement — called a union security agreement — that union membership is essentially compulsory. If an employee doesn't want to join the union, they can still get a job, but the employee has to pay dues to the union.

That compulsory support for unions is problematic, at the very least. It is easily a violation of free speech. Is it right to force people to pay to support a union when their political views may not agree? No. Most states have banned union security agreements as a tool to attract and retain businesses. Not Oregon.

SB 1040 fits into this debate by prohibiting any local government in Oregon from banning union security agreements.

Why do that? Why not allow a local community to decide what's right for itself rather than legislators dictating one policy for the entire state? What problem does this bill solve other than providing a way for some legislators to cozy up to unions?

Oregon has every reason to try to make itself more attractive to employers and not invent new ways to be less attractive. Unfortunately, the state's Democratic leaders would like to go in the opposite direction.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, April 13, on limiting the use of antibiotics:

The tenacity and adaptability of life guarantees that the world's arsenal of antibiotic drugs will be depleted one day. All that can be done is to reserve antibiotics for their highest priority uses — uses that do not include protecting otherwise healthy livestock and poultry against diseases caused by unsanitary conditions. In the absence of federal action, a bill in the Oregon Legislature to prohibit such agricultural uses should be approved.

Antibiotics kill microbes — most of them, anyway. A few survive, and the traits that allow them to withstand the antibiotic onslaught are passed to succeeding generations. These drug-resistant microbes kill an estimated 23,000 Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The problem is worsening as microbial drug resistance strengthens — public health authorities warn of a post-antibiotic world in which common diseases become fatal and minor infections become deadly.

A post-antibiotic world can't be avoided, but it can be delayed — perhaps until researchers develop new generations of drugs or an entirely new means of combatting microbes. The strategy for delay requires limiting misuse of antibiotics. Human misuse is common, as when antibiotics are prescribed for viral diseases. But 70 percent of antibiotics used by humans are also used on livestock and poultry, turning farms into breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria.

Senate Bill 785 would limit those uses. Farmers and ranchers would still be able to use antibiotics to treat sick animals, to protect against contagion when diseases are present or to prevent infections after surgery. But SB 785 would prohibit the use of antibiotics as a routine substitute for clean and sanitary conditions. About 100 of Oregon's largest farm operations would be required to track their use of antibiotics and file reports with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The federal government, not the states, ought to be protecting what remains of the antibiotic arsenal. The Food and Drug Administration has been tightening regulations on agricultural antibiotics since 1977. New federal rules took effect this year encouraging pharmaceutical companies to stop selling medically important antibiotics as growth-promoting drugs for farm animals.

The FDA rules do nothing, however, to discourage or prevent the use of antibiotics to protect poultry or livestock from the effects of living in crowded or unsanitary conditions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says animals' health could be protected just as effectively by providing clean pens and by monitoring diseases. In the wake of the FDA's modest new rules, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that more action is needed — specifically in the area of overuse of antibiotics for disease prevention.

In the anti-regulatory climate now prevailing in Washington, D.C., however, no further action is expected. Through SB 785, Oregon would do its part to fill that gap. California has already passed similar legislation, and if other states follow, the path for federal regulators will be smoother.

In the meantime, many leading poultry, beef and pork producers are going antibiotic-free. They're making the transition partly because they can produce their products without the drugs, and partly because of consumer demand — including demand from such giants as McDonalds. Increasingly, the absence of laws such as SB 785 protects industry laggards who still find that it's cheaper to give animals drugs than to provide adequate amounts of clean living space.

If humanity were fighting a war, any soldier who wasted ammunition would be subject to discipline. The metaphor fits, because microbial diseases and infections have killed more people than all wars combined. Oregon can, and should, make an important contribution toward extending the usefulness of the most effective weapons against those killers.

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