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Watered down wolf bill


As we expected, the Oregon Legislature has watered down a bill that would give landowners much more authority to kill wolves on their property.

The amended version of House Bill 3452 is a slight improvement over the current situation, but it’s not likely to benefit ranchers in Northeastern Oregon, where all of the state’s known wolf packs live and where all confirmed wolf attacks on livestock have happened.

The original version of the bill would have allowed landowners, on their property, to kill any wolf that is “reasonably believed by the person to have attacked or harassed, livestock or working dogs.”

That’s an attractive standard for ranchers, to be sure, but it’s too subjective to pass muster in the Democrat-controlled Capitol.

Besides which, that word “reasonably,” so beloved by lawyers, would likely lead to prolonged court battles that would more than offset any advantages the law might afford ranchers.

On the one hand, since wolves have proved that they will attack livestock in Oregon, a rancher could argue that any wolf he sees near livestock has at least “harassed” livestock, another less-than-concrete term.

On the other hand, were a rancher to shoot a wolf and then be unable to prove the animal had harassed livestock — offer up a calf with claw marks, for instance — odds are high that pro-wolf groups would complain despite the law.

The amended version attempts to strike a balance, albeit one which does little to help ranchers.

The main change from the current situation is this: A landowner who sees a wolf attacking livestock or working dogs could, if the bill becomes law, kill the attacking wolf without getting a permit from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

This isn’t likely.

Although ODFW has issued kill permits to many landowners in Wallowa County over the past several years, none has caught a wolf attacking livestock.

But as rare as such an episode might be, it makes more sense to allow the rancher to act at that instant to protect his animals than to require that he obtain a permit that he might never have occasion to use.


No need for ban on tobacco


Sometimes good intentions don’t make good laws.

Such is the case with a proposed Baker City ordinance that would prohibit people from using tobacco products — including smokeless chewing tobacco — in city-owned parks and recreation areas, including the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway.

The City Council is considering the idea, which was suggested by Benjamin Foster, a student at Eastern Oregon University who’s also an intern for City Manager Mike Kee.

We don’t think there’s any compelling reason to impose such a restriction on an activity that’s already banned in most buildings except private homes.


We are far from powerless


As the nation sends it collective condolences to Boston, the city from which so much of America’s history derives, we’ve noticed that, besides the grief and the anger, there is a sense that such random attacks are beyond our ability to prevent.

Sadly, this is true.

No matter how robust our security, no matter how vigilant our citizens or dedicated and skillful our law enforcement officials, a certain number of the terrorists who are bent on killing the innocent will find a way.

Yet as terrible as the Boston Marathon bombings were, another tragedy happened just two days later that was both more deadly, but also one we might have had some control over.

The explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant in West, Texas, killed at least 14 people.


Pull plug on water rights fee


The state of Oregon’s insatiable appetite for new sources of money might soon extend to charging a fee for documents which date, in some cases, to the Civil War.

Although “thirst” is more appropriate than “appetite” in the case of Senate Bill 217.

The bill, introduced by Gov. John Kitzhaber on behalf of the Oregon Water Resources Department, would impose a $100 yearly fee on each of the 85,000 water rights in the state. Each permit would be subject to the fee, although individual farms and ranches, many of whom have more than a dozen separate water rights, would pay a maximum of $1,000 per year.

According to the Water Resources Department, the new fee is needed because the department’s share of the state’s general fund has dropped.

The clear implication is that water rights holders should be paying more to the agency that oversees the distribution of water in Oregon.

Which sounds fair in a theoretical sense.

Except the actual connection between the state agency’s budget, and the administration of the approximately 3,700 water rights permits in Baker County, is in fact quite tenuous.


Revamp sidewalk program

Baker City’s sidewalk fee has made meaningful progress toward fixing the city’s dilapidated walkways, and at a modest price.

The fee, instituted in 2008, collects $1 per month from households, and $2 per month from businesses. This amounts to about $50,000 per year.

The city makes 75 percent of the money available to property owners to pay a portion of the cost to repair or replace sidewalks.

 


Secrecy from Salem


The terms “public record” and “public meeting” sound pretty straightforward.

And they should be.

Except that some members of the Oregon Legislature think the public — which is to say, all of us — have too much access to information about what our government is doing.

Oregon’s laws regarding public records and laws are decent, by American standards.

Yet the list of reasons why members of the public can be kept out of a public meeting, or denied access to a public record, takes up several pages.


Frivolous lawsuit in bus crash


No one ought to be surprised that the legal aftermath of the awful bus crash on Interstate 84 that killed nine people on Dec. 30, 2012, now includes a lawsuit naming the state of Oregon, and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), as defendants.

But everyone should be disappointed by this latest ploy, which seeks at least $10 million in punitive damages.

The allegations against the state and ODOT made by attorneys for the estates of three crash victims, and one survivor who sustained severe injuries, are not so much without merit as they are ridiculous.


Misguided in Salem

Certain Oregon lawmakers seem more concerned about the health of state workers than the state’s economy, which isn’t exactly in marathon-ready shape these days.

It’s not that we don’t want public workers to be in fine fettle.

But we’re confident that they know what’s good for them and what’s not.

Yet Rep. Jim Thompson, a Republican from Dallas, has introduced a bill (HB 2767) calling for the state’s Public Employees Benefits Board to buy at least 10 desks which are equipped with a treadmill. The idea is that workers can get a cardio workout while they’re dealing with their paperwork. The bill also would require the state to study, over two years, whether the employees who have treadmill desks are healthier.

Meanwhile, Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, a Democrat from Portland, is sponsoring House Bill 3403, which would restrict the items in vending machines in public buildings based on such factors as total calories and percentage of calories from fat.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with either idea.

Nothing, that is, except that neither has anything to do with what should be the Legislature’s main concern, which is making sure the state can pay its bills.


Police mugshots are public records


Depending as we do on access to public information, we tend to bristle when anyone tries to restrict such access.

And so we oppose a bill, pending in the Oregon Legislature, which would make it more difficult for the public — and, potentially, the media — to get mugshots of criminal defendants from county jails.

House Bill 3467, which is sponsored by two Democratic representatives from Portland, Mitch Greenlick and Jennifer Williamson, has one strike against it from the start.

It wasn’t written by either of those lawmakers, but rather by Ryan Anfuso, a criminal defense attorney from Portland. We’ve nothing against defense lawyers, but in defending their clients they’re often more inclined to conceal information from the public rather than make it readily available.

The claimed purpose of HB 3467 isn’t so terrible. Anfuso said his goal is to thwart websites which use software to automatically search the Internet for mugshots, then post the photos online and, in some cases, charge people a fee if they want to have the mugshot removed.

That’s not an especially compelling use of public information.

But that’s also not the point.

Mugshots are public records, and the government should be striving to make such records more readily available, not less.

Which is where HB 3467 fails miserably.

The bill not only would prohibit police agencies from posting mugshots online, it would require that anyone who wants a copy of a mugshot to go to the agency, submit a written request, and then pay a fee (no amount is listed in the bill).

This is an awfully heavy-handed way to deal with those predatory websites that Anfuso is worried about.

And although Williamson said she is open to changing the proposed bill to make exceptions for the news media, that wouldn’t alleviate our concerns.

Mugshots are public records. That a handful of website operators take advantage of that in no way justifies punishing the vast majority of the public that merely wants access to information to which each of us is legally entitled. 


On cougars, bears: Let locals choose


Attempts have been made to change, or even eliminate, Oregon’s ban on using dogs to hunt cougars and bears, and using bait to attract bears, since voters approved Measure 18 in 1994.

The latest proposal strikes us as a reasonable compromise between the current situation and an outright reversal of those restrictions.

It’s House Bill 2624. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee had a public hearing on the bill Tuesday.

We like the legislation because it would give voters a chance to decide whether the limits on cougar and bear hunting should continue.

But here’s the best part of the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Brian Clem, a Democrat from Salem: It would let voters in each of the state’s 36 counties decide how to manage cougar and bear hunting in their countioes.

Measure 18, by contrast, was a statewide vote.

Although 52 percent of voters were in favor of the hunting restrictions, the measure was opposed by a majority of voters in most counties. In Baker County, 72 percent of voters cast a “no” vote on the measure.

Measure 18, then, was a classic example of how voters in the state’s most populous county — Multnomah, which includes Portland — can, in effect, overrule their fellow Oregonians.

That’s always a possibility in our electoral system, of course, and we’re not suggesting it should be changed.

But neither is it undemocratic to have elections at the county level.

We don’t, after all, let voters in Portland or Eugene or Astoria decide who serves on the Baker School Board or the Baker City Council.

Managing cougars and bears isn’t quite equivalent — like other game animals, they are legally considered the property of the state, which is to say all Oregonians.

Except the effects cougars and bears can have hardly apply equally across the state.

That Oregon’s cougar population has doubled since voters approved Measure 18 — from about 3,000 to 6,000 — is of little consequence to urbanites.

But for ranchers, such a significant increase in the populations of predators such as cougars and bears can directly, and negatively, affect their business.

Fortunately, Oregon is not at a crossroads where we must choose either to slaughter our bears and cougars or spare them.

Bears were plentiful even before Measure 18, and cougar populations were already rising — though the rate increased sharply after 1994.

HB 2624 would in no way imperil either species.

Although we’re confident that voters in many counties, including Baker, would choose to overturn Measure 18, the current annual limits would remain on the number of cougars that can be killed in the six regions of the state (the annual quota for the Blue Mountains is 245 cougars, and in 2012 a total of 161 cougars were killed: 99 by hunters, 62 for damage complaints or other causes).

The bottom line is that HB 2624 would give residents across Oregon a voice in an important local issue, without threatening the state’s thriving cougar and bear populations.


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