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Editorials from around Oregon

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 23, 2015 at 4:11 pm •  Published: March 23, 2015
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Albany Democrat-Herald, March 22, on the gun background check bill

It's likely that the Oregon Legislature soon will be considering a bill to expand background checks on almost every gun transaction in the state.

And it seems just as likely that this particular Legislature, with Democrats enjoying increased majorities, will be able to send the measure to the desk of Gov. Kate Brown. Similar bills have failed to advance in the Legislature in 2013 and 2014.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Floyd Prozanski, told The Oregonian last week that he's finishing work on his proposals. Prozanski told the newspaper that this version of the bill offers more specifics than previous versions, and hoped that would defuse some of the criticism the proposal drew in past sessions.

This is one of those Oregon issues (the list includes the state clean-fuels program) that has attracted national attention — and some campaign dough — for state Democratic candidates in the last election. Michael Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety group donated $200,000 this past election season to Oregon candidates, with a specific eye on increasing the Democratic majority in the state Senate.

The problem is that the proposal likely would not do anything to make Oregonians safer. In fact, another prominent Democrat, House Judiciary Chairman Jeff Barker, a retired Portland police officer, has said he doubts that expanding background checks would have much impact.

At present, Oregon requires background checks for gun purchases from a licensed dealer or at a gun show. The state currently runs checks on about 20,000 gun sales a month; of those, about 200 sales are denied because prospective buyers fall into a prohibited category, such as having a felony conviction or having been committed because of a mental illness.

Prozanski proposes expanding the background check to gun transfers between individuals.

Opponents of the proposal say it's silly to require background checks in all instances — when a hunting buddy lets a friend borrow a weapon, for example, or when family members swap guns. Prozanski says he's working to iron out those exceptions.

Which is fine, but it doesn't address the key issue: How would the expanded background checks keep weapons away from people who intend to commit crimes?

After all, it's not as if police agencies have the resources to follow every case in which a prospective buyer fails a background check. Prozanski recognizes that, but said his bill would order that local law agencies be informed whenever someone fails a background check so at least they have access to the information.

All of which again bolsters our primary objection to the measure: It limits our Second Amendment rights, but it offers little, if anything, in return in terms of enhanced public safety. If we were serious about public safety, we would take the money we're about to invest in expanded background checks and spend it on mental health programs — areas where we might see an actual return on our investment.

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The Baker City Herald, March 20, on an Oregon sage grouse bill

The potential effects on Baker County's economy if the federal government lists the sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species can hardly be underestimated.

Most directly, most of beef cattle that produce about $53 million annual sales for local ranchers also spend part of the year grazing on public land that that feds might deem critical habitat for sage grouse.

Although it doesn't seem likely that a sage grouse listing would end public land grazing, even a moderate reduction in grazing could cause considerable problems for ranchers and, inevitably, create a ripple effect throughout the local economy.

All of which goes to explain why we support efforts to prove to federal officials that the sage grouse, at least in Oregon, doesn't need federal protection.

The latest example is House Bill 3334, sponsored by Baker County's legislator, Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario.

Bentz's bill would require the state to spend $2 million per in year in Lottery revenue to protect and restore sage grouse habitat.

That's a relatively modest amount by Lottery standards — the state doled out more than $46 million in the most recent two-year budget cycle.

But it can only bolster the state's case against federal protection for sage grouse if it can point to a $2 million state investment — and not involving tax dollars — in helping the bird.

As for the bill, we're optimistic about its prospects in Salem.

Legislators certainly should not ignore the testimony from Baker County business owners who addressed the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources via video link on Tuesday morning.

Business owners said they fear a sage grouse listing would ravage the local economy. If the state can help to avoid that disaster by spending a relative pittance, then lawmakers should do so.

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The (Bend) Bulletin, March 22, on the continuing saga of restoring land to the Klamath Tribes

The efforts of the Klamath Indian Tribes of Southern Oregon to get back some land are back again where they started: No land.

The tribes signed on to the agreement aimed at settling the Klamath Basin's water problems last year. As part of the agreement, the federal government would pay to purchase the Mazama Forest. It was owned at the time by Fidelity National Financial, the same group that owned the Skyline Forest west of Bend. That land could be a critical piece of the effort to restore the tribes to financial health.

Before the efforts to terminate the existence of tribes in the mid and late 1950s, the tribes' finances were in relatively good shape. They owned nearly a million acres of land in south-central Oregon, much of it timber. When their tribal status was ended over their objections, they were paid $44,000 per member for the land.

The tribes went from a group whose income was at least 93 percent of their neighbors' to one whose numbers on welfare were extraordinarily high.

In the summer of 1986, the tribes had their status — minus the land — restored. They've been working to get at least some land back ever since.

The water settlement promised to do that. The tribes held an option to purchase the Mazama Forest from Fidelity once Congress allocated the money to make that possible. But Congress dallied, negotiations with Fidelity had their problems, the option lapsed, and they have no land.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., worked to push a bill through granting money for the tribes at the end of the last session. He's reintroduced that bill.

Equally important, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., are working together to find a solution that makes all sides happy. It will take more than Congress to get the job done.

The forest's new owners have not yet made clear what they think of divvying up the land they bought for several sellers. Unless they're willing to do so, congressional action can't make the sale a reality.

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The (Coos Bay) World, March 19, on some good news about Obamacare

We wonder if opponents to the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — saw this one coming.

This week in Salem, Andy Davidson, the president of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, told The Associated Press that hospitals in the state are spending far less on uncompensated charity care since more Oregonians signed up for health insurance — Obamacare.

"The ACA has been so successful, and the uptick happened so quickly that charity care has really dropped significantly," Davidson said.

The result, Davidson added, is that hospitals around the state will continue to spend the amount of money they used to spend on charity care to fund other public services like research, health screenings and education.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, hospitals spent more than $400 million on charity care in 2013. All but two of Oregon's hospitals are nonprofit enterprises, and those nonprofits are required to benefit the community to retain tax-exempt status.

Simply put: Fewer Oregonians needing charity; more funding for community health needs.

Despite all the continuing debate about the ACA and the constant drumbeat from Republicans who continually promise they will kill the bill, this news sounds like a benefit, doesn't it?

Some of us may remember, others not, that the same debate surrounded the birth of Medicare, which turns 50 this year.

While most Americans have come to see Medicare as a given, existence of a national health care program was never assured. Through the 20th century, conservative opposition branded such medical programs as socialism and said any form of national health care would create a Soviet-style model. Even the Communist Party of America opposed a proposed health care bill in the 1930s.

Conceived during the Cold War era, Medicare was under attack even by the American Medical Association, which viewed the measure as an attack on personal freedom. AMA president, Dr. Morris Fishbein, warned the public against "peasant medicine" and "medical Soviets." Ronald Reagan cut a record for the AMA played for their "ladies auxiliaries" (doctors' wives) in homes across America warning that the program would lead to the destruction of freedom.

Such fuss over a program that many Americans now feel is their birthright.

Makes one wonder how Americans will feel about Obamacare in 50 years.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, March 22, on need to improve Oregon ethics and transparency laws

As far as political scandals go, Oregon has long been a featherweight compared to other states such as Illinois. Just a few years ago, an Illinois governor was convicted of trying to sell an open seat in the U.S. Senate, and after the death of a former Illinois secretary of state, shoeboxes containing more than $800,000 in cash bribes were found stashed in his hotel suite.

Oregon has a long way to go to catch up with the corruption-rich likes of not only Illinois, but New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio and others. But the allegations of influence-peddling involving former Gov. John Kitzhaber and Cylvia Hayes, the governor's fiancée and a selfemployed environmental consultant, show that Oregon is capable of generating national headlines — and notoriety. Unfortunately, the episode is also capable of eroding Oregonians' faith in their state government. That confidence has been further shaken by a flurry of controversies in the wake of the Kitzhaber-Hayes scandal, which remains under federal investigation.

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