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Editorials from around Oregon

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 11, 2015 at 1:32 pm •  Published: May 11, 2015
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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, May 11, on pumpin' gas in the boonies

You know those T-shirts that say "Keep Oregon weird"? They should include a drawing of a hippie (it's always a hippie, right?) merrily pumping his or her own gas into a VW microbus.

For those not steeped in service-station lore, Oregon banned self-service gasoline in 1951, seven years before the nation's first pump-your-own gas station opened in Omaha, Neb. The prohibition is embedded in statutes dealing with explosives, suggesting that safety was lawmakers' primary concern six decades ago.

Opponents argued that a 1982 initiative to lift the ban would cost jobs, and would inconvenience the elderly and people with disabilities. The initiative ran into an electoral ditch, failing 58 percent to 42 percent. Oregon remains one of only two states — the other is New Jersey — that ban motorists from pumping their own gas.

So far the same arguments have not been marshaled against legislation authored by Rep. Cliff Bentz, D-Ontario, that would allow stations in counties with fewer than 40,000 residents to keep self-pay pumps turned on when no owner, operator or employee is around to serve customers.

Bentz and co-sponsor Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, say the bill is needed because businesses in remote areas can't afford to man the pumps 24 hours a day. The bill would apply to roughly half of the state's counties and would include the Columbia Gorge, Eastern Oregon and most coastal communities. "If you're a tourist going into the outback of our state without a full tank of gas, you better be prepared to sleep in your car, because it's going to be tough to find a gas station that's open after a certain hour," Ferrioli says.

Ferrioli emphasizes that House Bill 3011 is not likely to lead to a full repeal of the ban on self-service. That's a pretty safe bet, since Oregonians have swatted down every attempt to overturn the ban since it was instituted 64 years ago. Opposition has been so overwhelming that state lawmakers, despite industry prodding, haven't dared introduce a measure to overturn the ban since 2003.

With the proliferation of credit-card-reading pumps and spill-prevention mechanisms, another look at self-service gas might make sense. Most of the official reasons for the law, listed in statute, don't stand up to scrutiny, including "Exposure to toxic fumes represents a health hazard to customers dispensing (gasoline)," which is followed by "The hazard described ... (above) is heightened when the customer is pregnant."

Then there is "Self-service dispensing at retail contributes to unemployment, particularly among young people," a claim that might make sense if economists didn't dismiss it as unsubstantiated, based on the experience of the vast majority of states that have self-serve.

The House has unanimously approved HB 3011, and the Senate should do the same. But there's no evidence of widespread public support for changing Oregon's self-service ban. It's one of those quirks that Oregonians find endearing — and that, well, helps keep Oregon weird.

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(Medford) Mail Tribune, May 8, on pumpin' gas in the boonies

Though some longtime Oregon residents may consider it a sign of the apocalypse, it's actually a common-sense solution to a real problem, and it might be the beginning of the end for one of the quirks that makes Oregon different from other places.

We're talking about Oregon's ban on self-service gasoline, a law the state shares only with New Jersey.

State Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, is the sponsor of House Bill 3011. If Bentz's name sounds familiar, he's the guy backing a bill to raise speed limits on rural highways.

HB 3011 is aimed at rural parts of Oregon, too: very rural. It would allow gas stations in counties of fewer than 40,000 residents to provide self-service pumps — but only when no owner or operator was on hand to dispense gas.

It seems the owners of those rural stations, which can be hundreds of miles apart in the wide-open expanses of Eastern Oregon, are tired of being awakened in the middle of the night by a sheriff's dispatcher calling on behalf of a motorist who's out of gas in the middle of nowhere.

The bill passed the House unanimously, and is awaiting a committee hearing in the Senate. There is no rational reason why it shouldn't pass there as well.

Oregon's ban on self-serve gas has never made much sense, and it's been retained more out of a sense of tradition than anything else. Frustrating as it is for out-of-state drivers accustomed to pumping for themselves, longtime Oregonians rather like not having to do it.

HB 3011, however, might be the beginning of the end for the ban. Once self-serve proves its worth in the boonies, it may be only a matter of time before we see a bill to end the ban statewide, and not just in the middle of the night.

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Albany Democrat-Herald, May 7, on keeping marijuana from minors

While the Legislature continues to wrestle with crafting regulations regarding the use and sale of recreational marijuana, we expect that one of its primary concerns will be keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors.

To that end, we were intrigued by a recent commentary that appeared in the May 4 edition of the journal Pediatrics. And we thought legislators might benefit from a quick summary of the commentary, which was written by three researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The researchers noted that when marijuana use is legalized for adults, it normalizes the behavior and can make it easier for young people to use the drug. And both proponents and opponents of legalization agree that it's important to do what we can to discourage marijuana use among minors.

Efforts to discourage minors from using alcohol and tobacco products offer some clues about how to proceed, the researchers said, pointing specifically to research that links weak monitoring efforts and low prices to underage use of alcohol and tobacco. But they said that marijuana offers some unique challenges as well.

The researchers offered four overall suggestions to lawmakers working on these issues in Oregon and other states wrestling with how to implement legalization:

. First, they suggest that regulators should use tax policy to keep prices high. Research on cigarettes and minors shows minors are particularly price-sensitive: An increase in cigarette prices tends to reduce use more among minors than among adults. The tricky issue for regulators here is that if you set prices too high, that could encourage the black market, which would be counterproductive for the entire legalization effort.

. Second, retail availability of marijuana should be tightly regulated, the researchers say, including keeping a close eye on the location of retailers. Lawmakers have some time to work on this issue, since sales of recreational marijuana don't kick in until next year.

. Third, regulators need to pay special attention to issues involving marijuana edibles. The researchers said that regulators need to be aware of how appealing marijuana-laced cookies and candies can be to youths — and also suggested restrictions on the allowable amount of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in edibles. Here's a clear case where policymakers must pay close attention to how this issue has unfolded in Washington and Colorado, the two states that legalized recreational use of marijuana before Oregon.

. The final point: The researchers advised that marketing of marijuana be limited. Studies have shown that exposure to tobacco and alcohol advertising is associated with increases in youth use.

Overall, researchers urged regulators to be flexible and fast on their feet, noting that marijuana presents issues that aren't at play with tobacco and alcohol — for example, users have the ability to grow their own pot, which raises fresh headaches for regulators.

But it makes sense to be thinking now about the best ways to discourage marijuana use among minors.

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The Daily Astorian, May 7, on public records

Just how public are Oregon's public records?

Public Records and open meetings are two of the foundational elements of democracy. Oregonians like to believe that we have an open system of government. That is not entirely true.

The crash-and-burn ending of the John Kitzhaber administration opened our eyes to what our governor wasn't telling us. Within his own office there was a subsidiary operation run by his companion, Cylvia Hayes, who was styled as first lady to heighten her political currency.

Kitzhaber's successor Gov. Kate Brown immediately grasped the need for Oregon state government to come clean. In her inaugural address, the principal topic was ethics reform.

This week the state Senate passed Senate Bill 9, one element of Gov. Brown's package. Assuming enactment by the House, this law will set in motion an audit of all state agencies' response to public records requests.

Promoting her legislation, Brown told a Senate committee: "Oregon's public records law is like a Victorian house that has been remodeled one room at a time by multiple owners over the course of several decades. There are currently over 400 exemptions in Oregon law, spread throughout our 838 chapters of Oregon Revised Statutes."

We in the media understand exactly what Gov. Brown was saying. We deal with those myriad exemptions to the public records law.

The other two elements of the governor's ethics package are about the state Ethics Commission. They would do three things: shorten the amount of time the commission has to take action, increase penalties for using public office for personal gain and change how commission members are appointed.

To some lawmakers, this ethics package might seem like niggling, bothersome concerns — not the sort of votes for which PACs will reward them. But they represent the essence of democracy. Ethics also has a lot to do with how efficiently the massive business of state government operates. We in the private sector know candor is the smartest way to deal with our customers. A measure of candor is what state government's customers — the voters and taxpayers — have a right to expect.

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The (Bend) Bulletin, May 9, on vaccination legislation

Everyone who can get vaccinated should. It helps to protect those who can't.

Most parents in Oregon do get their children vaccinated. Doctors tell them what is recommended. The shots are given.

But there have been more parents in Oregon that shun shots than in other states. Last year, Oregonians had the highest opt-out rate for kindergarteners in the country at 7 percent.

This year, for the first time in 10 years, Oregon has made some progress. Oregon's rate was 5.8 percent.

The Oregon Immunization Program said "5.8 percent of all kindergarteners — 2,693 students —claimed religious, philosophical or other nonmedical exemption to one or more required vaccines."

Crook County's rate was 2.7 percent. Jefferson County's rate was 1 percent. Deschutes County had the worst rate in Central Oregon at 8.3 percent.

Part of the reason for the drop could be a 2014 law that compelled parents seeking an exemption to get information about the benefits and risks of vaccines from a health care worker or watch a video.

The target public health officials frequently cite is for a 95 percent vaccination rate. That way it makes it more difficult for disease like measles and whooping cough to spread.

But even if Oregon ever hits that average 95 percent rate across the state, the distribution of people with and without their shots is not completely random. There will be clusters of children without shots. Two magnet schools in Bend — Amity Creek and Westside Village — have had exemption rates of 30 percent or more in the past.

Senate Bill 895 would require schools to report publicly and make available information about the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

That's the least Oregon should do.

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Corvallis Gazette-Times, May 7, on updating the Northwest Forest Plan and speaking plain English

The U.S. Forest Service has started its "listening sessions" throughout the region on its update to the Northwest Forest Plan. The Siuslaw National Forest held one of those sessions last week in Corvallis.

This week, the Willamette National Forest held a pair of sessions, one Monday night in Pleasant Hill, south of Eugene, and another one that was scheduled for Wednesday night in Stayton.

The Forest Service plans to hold these meetings in every national forest that has been affected by the Northwest Forest Plan, which is to say, pretty much every national forest in the Northwest.

These sessions are part of what is certain to be a drawn-out process to revise the Northwest Forest Plan, which has guided management decisions by the Forest Service and the BLM in this area since 1994. Designed to protect the northern spotted owl and other threatened species that rely on old growth forests, the plan sharply reduced logging on federal lands throughout the region — cutbacks that gutted the economies of timber towns.

The session in Corvallis, as you might imagine, brought out people with dramatically divergent ideas about how to manage the nation's forests, and you saw the same split of opinions in Pleasant Hill. (This editorial was written before the Stayton session, but it would be surprising indeed if the story was different there.)

But there was one notable point of agreement among virtually all the participants in the Corvallis and Pleasant Hill sessions: People on all sides of the political spectrum asked for assurances that the Forest Service was sincere about truly listening to what the public has to say.

And there's a related point that's just as important: A representative of the Siuslaw Watershed Council at the Corvallis meeting urged agency officials to make a point of communicating in plain English "because so many people do not understand Forest Service-ese."

(To be fair, the Forest Service is not the only federal — or state — agency that speaks in its own lingo. Consider, for example, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which last week released its four-volume draft resource management plan and environmental impact statement for western Oregon. The last two volumes are entirely devoted to appendices.)

But even though the Forest Service is not the only offender, these still are legitimate issues for agency officials to keep in mind as they go through these sessions. They've hit all the right notes so far, but it's early (very early) in the process. And, in some cases, the Forest Service brings decades worth of baggage to each of these meetings.

That baggage won't get swept away overnight. It would be silly to expect otherwise.

But by following through on its promise in these meetings to let others do most of the talking, taking pains to make sure that all of the interested parties are kept apprised of the status of the plan update, and doing everything possible to translate Forest Service-ese into English, the agency might well find in years to come that its load of baggage has grown a little lighter.