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Integrate mental health care


Talk to mental health professionals and it’s clear many would like to see Oregon’s delivery of mental health care changed. 

Two bills now before the Oregon Legislature, Senate Bill 831 and Senate Bill 832, would do that and in the process would improve mental health care for Oregon Health Plan clients.

They should be approved.

Mental and physical health care are two largely separate systems. Family practitioners, orthopedic specialists and pediatricians work on one side of the health care block, while psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health care providers work on the other. The two sides may or may not talk with one another on a regular basis. That split often means a person with mental health problems does not receive the care he or she needs.

The result, Robin Henderson, chief behavioral health care officer at St. Charles Health System, told the Senate Human Services and Early Childhood Committee on Tuesday, is that about 10 percent of patients referred to mental health providers actually see those providers.

The two measures would change that by integrating the two systems more fully than they are today.

Under SB 831, Oregon’s coordinated care organizations, including the Pacific Source CCO that operates in Central Oregon, would be required to hire or contract with mental health professionals. SB 832, meanwhile, would provide grants for integrating the two arms of medical care in a way that is not always done today. It would also bar CCOs from restricting patients’ access to mental health care.

The changes would, those testifying before the Senate committee this week said, mean better and earlier mental health care for those who need it. And that, in turn, could save the health care system money in the long run.

The two bills are in their infancy, and there will be revisions along the way. The Association of Oregon Community Mental Health Programs is concerned about mandates, grants and other aspects of the measures, and supporters will work with them to try to resolve their concerns.

But if receiving mental health care early is important to keeping Oregonians healthy, integration is likely to prove the best way to get there. The bills should be approved.


End records law exemption


Let’s hear it for state Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn. She believes Oregon lawmakers should live by at least some of the rules that apply to members of the Bend City Council and other public bodies in Oregon.

Parrish is working on legislation that would end the Legislature’s in-session public records law exemption. We can only say, more power to her.

It’s not the only thing lawmakers are exempt from while they’re meeting in Salem — the state constitution gives them broad freedom to do the state’s business without the sorts of restrictions applied to the governor’s office and most other state and municipal agencies.

Among other things, legislators have far more ability to determine the fate of their in-session emails than other public officials do, and they need not respond to public records requests while they’re in session. In addition, they cannot be sued for what they say in debate.

That latter provision makes sense, actually. Lawmakers must be able to express freely their feelings about proposed legislation, and worry about libel suits and the like might hinder those discussions.

Parrish’s bill would require lawmakers to live by the same disclosure rules that apply elsewhere in Oregon. They can do so now, of course, and some do, at least under certain circumstances. But they’re not required by law to do so, and that’s just wrong.

She also would require lawmakers to store their emails on state servers, a change from current rules. They now may use personal email accounts, a la Hillary Clinton, which puts those emails conveniently out of the public’s reach.

Oregon’s open records law is designed to do one thing, but it’s a biggie. It was written to ensure that the public can track what their government officials do. It allows citizens to see where officials’ money comes from and determine who is trying to influence their decision-making.

In an era when trust in government has been damaged again by the events surrounding former Gov. John Kitzhaber, timely public disclosure of information is critical. Parrish recognizes that. So, too, should the rest of the Legislature.


Guest Editorial


The fight over the Confederate battle flag and whether it can be included on a Texas specialty license plate has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case Monday.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, finding the symbol offensive to others, denied an application by the state division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to place its logo containing the flag on a specialty plate.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the state should not discriminate against the expression of the group’s point of view, a free speech right.

The high court should reject that argument. Texas should have the right to determine what goes on a state-issued license plate bearing its name. Otherwise, practically any image or language must be allowed.

As the Star-Telegram Editorial Board has previously stated, if the Supreme Court says Texas can’t keep the Confederate flag off its license plates, the state should get out of the specialty plate business.


Why the federal budget matters


Voters often wonder if Congress can ever get spending under control. Well, both the House and Senate have introduced their latest budget blueprints, so we’ll soon know if they plan to keep kicking the can down the road — or get serious about reform.

Why care about the budget? Because it’s the only legislative document through which Congress addresses the entirety of the federal budget: all spending and taxes.

With more than $18.1 trillion in national debt and an annual deficit projected to grow from more than a half a trillion dollars last year to over a trillion dollars by the end of the decade, the budget presents a critical opportunity for Congress to address the key drivers of spending and debt.

Congress should put the budget on a path to balance to reduce debt and enable economic growth to raise living standards — for all Americans.

In a typical year, Congress addresses only one-third of the federal budget as part of its so-called “discretionary” spending bills (meaning the part of the budget not set to rise automatically, such as Social Security and Medicare). But this discretionary budget, which covers defense and most domestic programs and agencies, has become smaller over the years, both as a share of the economy and of the budget.

Discretionary spending’s share of the federal budget fell from two-thirds in 1964 to about one-third of the budget today. This spending is on course to drop to less than one-quarter of the budget within the next 10 years.

The congressional budget has the most direct impact on next year’s discretionary spending. It establishes the maximum level allowed for defense and discretionary domestic programs.

Congress should certainly eliminate bad discretionary spending that benefits special interests at the expense of the broader public, although this spending isn’t driving the growing debt crisis the way entitlement spending is.

Congress’s budget is especially important in its ability to establish new entitlement spending and tax policies. Since the 1970s, Congress has had a fast-track mechanism known as “reconciliation” to enact legislation that reduces the deficit with a simple majority vote in the Senate. Because reconciliation is protected from the filibuster, it is a key mechanism to address out-of-control entitlement spending. Without the filibuster, it’s easier, for example, to repeal Obamacare and bring down interest costs by controlling the debt.

Entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare and Social Security, are responsible for more than half of the projected growth in spending over the next decade. Including what the federal government is expected to pay to service the massive and growing debt, the share of projected spending growth due to these areas of the budget rises to 85 percent by 2025.

Unless Congress gets control of entitlement spending and puts the debt on a downward path, it will be impossible to prevent government from expanding and choking off economic growth and depressing personal incomes.

On the tax side, Congress can make the U.S. a more attractive place to do business by lowering America’s corporate tax rate (the world’s highest). And it can unleash economic growth by simplifying the needlessly complex income tax system to reduce distortions to saving and investing. These pro-growth tax policies will have the added benefit of getting people back to work.

Only when the House and Senate agree on a concurrent budget resolution can reconciliation effectively be evoked to reduce the deficit and to make Congress live within the confines of the budget plan. With governing majorities in both chambers of Congress controlled by the same party, the chances for such an agreement are higher.

On the most fundamental level, the budget enables Congress to establish a comprehensive governing philosophy and to reassert the power of the people’s body against the executive. According to budget committee veteran Patrick Knudsen, “Budgeting is an essential act of governing.”

Through the budget, Congress can reallocate spending in accordance with constitutional national priorities and free the state, local and private spheres to handle functions that are better and more legitimately suited to their level. Congress can also rearrange current spending priorities to better meet the national interest.

The budget is a critical tool in Congress’s legislative arsenal to correct the current fiscal course. It’s time to put the budget on a path to balance to protect Americans against undue debt and tax levels, and to unleash economic growth.

The budget affects us all. Lawmakers should act like they understand that.

Romina Boccia is the Grover M. Hermann Research Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs and research manager of the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.


More voters, but will they vote?


Voting is such a fundamental right that questioning anything which encourages people to exercise that right is to tread on treacherous rhetorical ground.

But we’ll risk it.

Last week Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed into law a system designed to register an estimated 300,000 Oregonians as voters.

Known by the moniker “motor voter,” the concept is simple. When people who are otherwise eligible to vote — at least 18, with proof of citizenship — either receive or update their driver’s license at the DMV, they will also be designated by the Secretary of State’s office as “provisionally” registered to vote.

These people won’t automatically get a ballot for the next election, though.

Instead, the state will send them a notice that gives them the option, within 21 days, to decline to be formally registered to vote. If they don’t do so, they will be registered and will receive a ballot.

In effect, registering to vote, for this group, becomes a case of “opt out” rather than an “opt in.”

There is nothing sinister about this system.

But we’re not convinced that the government ought to be putting the onus on citizens to exercise a right which, even in the case of one as important as voting, also happens to be strictly voluntary.

The ultimate measure of this law, of course, isn’t how many people Brown and other state officials can boast about having registered.

It’s the number of votes that counts, not the number of ballots printed.

And considering how easy it already is to register to vote in Oregon — you can do so online or at the DMV — we’re skeptical that any significant percentage of the people who end up as registered voters after a visit to the DMV will actually fill out and return their ballots.

The state and counties will still have to pay for the additional ballots, whether they’re used or not.

The expense won’t be horrendous. Baker County Clerk Cindy Carpenter said that in January the Secretary of State’s office estimated the motor voter law would increase the number of registered voters in Baker County from 9,840 to about 11,100. That would boost the county’s cost for each primary and general election by about $2,000.

Still and all, this law seems to us more of a public relations coup, one that allows Brown and other proponents to brag about how many more Oregonians are registered to vote, than a meaningful move toward greater participation in democracy.


Pass bill to help sage grouse

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.


The city’s expensive mistake

It looks increasingly likely that a decade-old mistake by a former Baker City attorney will cost the city thousands of dollars.

If nothing else, the lawsuit that current City Councilor Richard Langrell and his wife, Lynne, filed against the city last year illustrates how vital it is that officials go over contracts with the proverbial fine-toothed comb.


5J deal overly complicated

We’ve known since last October that the Baker School District would need to hire a superintendent to replace Walt Wegener, who is retiring June 30.

What we didn’t expect is that the school board would end up paying three people, one of whom is Wegener, for the final 3 months of his tenure.

This seems an unnecessary jumbling of jobs, and an extra expense to the district, which is at the same time lobbying the Oregon Legislature, and with good reason, to allocate more money for public schools.


Clean fuel, dirty deal

By the time you read this it’s likely that Gov. Kate Brown will have signed a law that will take money from every Oregonian’s wallet.

What we’ll get in return — a reduction in the state’s carbon emissions — might be tolerable if it were significant enough to have a measurable effect on the potentially harmful climatic changes that atmospheric carbon is contributing to.

But it’s not even close.


Not really a burning problem

The government’s campaign against woodstoves continues.

But the latest missive might have the unusual effect of uniting people in Portland with their counterparts in Baker County and other rural sections of Oregon.


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